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These 5 Pantry Staples Actually Go Bad

Bon Appétit logo Bon Appétit 9/27/2017 Alex Delany

© Peden + Munk
BREAKING NEWS: Shelf stable stuff is only kind of shelf stable. Sure, grains and beans and jars of spices won’t spoil on the shelf (as long as they’re stored properly), but when it comes to the finest flavors and textures these pantry staples have to offer, they're anything but stable. Here's how to buy and store the ingredients you cook with every week, and when to ditch them.

© Michael Graydon + Nikole Herriott
Dried Beans

While beans will never lose a ton of flavor, they do get drier—and a lot harder to cook—the longer they hang out on your shelf. Ever tried to cook a batch of beans that just never seem to get totally tender? Yeah, those were old beans. While it may be tempting to buy a year's supply of bulk beans at a time, it actually makes a lot more sense to buy only as much as you'll use over the course of a couple of months. If you're going to spend all of that time soaking and cooking the perfect pot of beans, you don't want to end up with legumes that have an inferior, slightly crunchy texture. You're better than that. It also pays to buy your beans from a place that clearly goes through a lot of them, which will ensure that they haven't been sitting on the store's shelf for years before they start sitting on yours—beware of the dusty bags on the bottom shelf of your local bodega.

WATCH: Chicken Stew with Cannellini Beans and Dried Cherries

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© Peden + Munk
Spices

We all have “buy whole, non-ground spices,” tattooed on our necks over here at Basically. It’s in a scripted font. Real tasteful. They look nice. But that’s how much we believe in whole spices. When spices are ground, their flavor starts to degrade instantly. The longer you keep them around, the less powerful they are. You shouldn’t keep ground spices for longer than three months or whole spices longer than 8-10, if you’re looking for top notch cumin, cardamom, turmeric, or chile flavor. (Labeling them with the date after you buy them ain't a bad idea!) Again, buying your spices at a place that moves a lot of product—i.e. a spice shop, not a 7-11—will ensure that they haven't been pre-aged before they end up in your cabinet.

© Ted Cavanaugh
Olive Oil

You know the whole YOLO philosophy that dominated the internet and terrible t-shirts from approximately 2009-2012? Well, we actually do subscribe to that philosophy when it comes to olive oil. Olive oil is meant to be used. Quickly. The average bottle of olive oil will start to lose the young, bright flavors we love in as little as two weeks after it's opened. (Unopened bottles of oil, on the other hand, will last for at least a year.) Which is to say, as much as it's tempting to save the fancy $20 bottle of oil you splurged on for special occasions only, there's no time like the present—use it or lose it, as the saying goes. Keeping it away from heat, out of the light, and in a tightly sealed container will prevent it from going rancid prematurely, but olive oil definitely does not get better with age.

© Peden + Munk
Vinegar

There’s probably vinegar on your shelf right now. You should go grab it and put it in the fridge. Not because it’s going to kill you, but because vinegar can ferment further when it’s hanging out at pantry temperature. This kills and changes the flavor profile of the sherry, balsamic, white wine, or whatever other vinegar you’ve been mixing into vinaigrettes. Vinegar won't go "bad" per se, but keeping those bottles at a lower temperature will make sure that they maintain the flavor you're after almost indefinitely.

© Laura Murray
Grains

A big bag of rice is great, because a big bag of rice is cheap. The same goes for farro or quinoa or polenta or pasta. But the texture of grains starts to deteriorate after about three months, getting harder, just like those beans we talked about earlier. They also are more likely to be infested with little pantry bugs the longer you keep them too. If you’re sensing a theme developing, you’re a very observant person. The longer you keep things in the pantry, the less tasty they become. Look at you, learning something new. What an inspiration.

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