Sauces and condiments can add an important boost of flavor to any dish. Whether they act as a layer in a sandwich, a drizzle on top of your meal, or a dip for a favorite side dish, no pantry is complete without a collection of these enhancements. And while most of these foods are considered non-perishable (especially when unopened), condiments still have a defined shelf life, and proper storage is key to prolonging the period of time they will be edible.
Where you choose to store opened food is crucial when determining how long an item will stay good. While some foods are obvious, like frozen foods and dairy, other foods are not so black and white when it comes to storage. Condiments can be tricky, but as it turns out, there are tons of them that require little to no refrigeration to maintain their shelf life. Here are a dozen condiments that can last for quite a while as long as they are stored in a cool, dark place like your cabinet and do not need to take up precious real estate in your refrigerator door.
Whether you use it as a sweetener in your tea or as an ingredient for your favorite type of glaze, honey is a versatile condiment that you will want to have nearby for regular use. But should you store it in the refrigerator once the container is open? Or will its shelf life be just as long if you keep it in your pantry?
While honey technically does not go bad, improper storage can alter the flavor profile and texture, according to Sioux Honey. With proper care, however, your honey can last for years. Proper care involves storing honey at room temperature, ideally between 64 to 75 degrees. In fact, storing honey in the refrigerator is counterproductive and will actually solidify your honey over time. So, you can rest assured that honey does not need to take up any precious storage space in your fridge, and you can safely keep it in your cupboard without worrying that it will expire.
Oftentimes, we might associate the foods that need to be stored at cool temperatures with whether or not they were purchased in a refrigerated section at the grocery store. But in some situations, you may have more flexibility than you realize. In the case of butter, where you choose to store it may ultimately depend on how quickly you intend to consume it.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, butter (as well as margarine) is perfectly safe to store at room temperature, given that it is eaten within a few days. The site also points out that margarine may separate if stored at room temperature, though it is still safe to eat.
Leaving butter at room temperature is ideal if you are looking for that soft, spreadable texture, as the butter hardens if kept in the refrigerator. While it is absolutely not necessary to store your butter in the fridge, it will extend its shelf life if you are not planning on eating all of it within a few days after purchase. So, you definitely want to store your extra sticks and tubs of butter in the refrigerator, but once it is in use, keeping it under a glass container on your counter for a couple of days is completely acceptable.
3. Hot sauce
Hot sauce comes in a variety of flavors with a wide range of heat from mild to tear-inducing. Because no two are exactly the same, the question regarding how they should be stored is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
In general, it is fine to leave your hot sauce in the pantry because vinegar is often one of the main ingredients and the high level of acidity makes it very shelf stable, per Pepper Scale. If you are unsure, double-check the list of ingredients to make sure you are purchasing a vinegar-based sauce. Oil-based hot sauces will not last as long and should be refrigerated.
An unopened jar of hot sauce will last for quite a long time in the cupboard, and even once opened, it should remain fresh for several months. If you are not someone who flies through a jar of hot sauce and want it to last longer, however, you will want to consider throwing an open bottle into the fridge. But there is no need to fret if you walk into the kitchen one morning and realize you left the bottle of hot sauce on the counter overnight after Taco Tuesday.
4. Peanut butter
There are those who fly through jars of peanut butter at lightning pace and need to restock on a near-weekly basis, and then there are those who rediscover their long-lost tub at the back of the cabinet while looking for something to eat. If you fall into the second camp, you may have experienced moments of pause before opening a jar to see if it was still safe to eat weeks, months, or even years after buying (we won’t tell anyone, don’t worry).
If you purchase big, name-brand peanut butter, you are likely going to see a longer shelf life thanks to the added preservatives. These butters can last for months once opened without any refrigeration necessary, according to Food Network. Those peanut butters will usually have an expiration date printed somewhere on the jar, so you can always use that as a reference if you are not sure if the food is still good to eat. If you purchase more natural-leaning peanut butter with less or no preservatives, then you will be racing against the clock sooner and should keep it stored in the refrigerator since those ingredients will tend to separate (per Food Network).
Double check your label before opening, as natural peanut butters may instruct you to refrigerate after opening to extend the shelf life (via Healthline). But the more widely-available brands of peanut butter do not need any refrigeration at all.
5. Olive oil
No pantry is complete without some kind of oil to use when cooking. Many home chefs turn to olive oil as a jack of all trades condiment, thanks to its versatility and long shelf life. As long as it is stored in a dark, cool location, your olive oil can last for a very long time without any refrigeration.
It is worth noting that some experts suggest storing the bulk of your olive oil in the refrigerator, and taking small amounts out for weekly use, as one study out of the University of Virginia claims. This tip is more suited for those who do not use olive oil regularly, but if the condiment is a normal part of your meal prep on a near-daily basis, then the use of your refrigerator is not necessary to prolong the shelf life. If you do choose to store your olive oil in the fridge, however, you will want to let the condiment return to room temperature before use, according to ConsumerLab. The cooler temperatures can alter the olive oil, and you may not get the same results if you use it for cooking while it is still cold. As long as you use it on a semi-regular basis, you are better off keeping olive oil in the cabinet.
6. Soy sauce
Soy sauce is already a kitchen staple if you cannot last a week without enjoying some kind of Asian cuisine. However, everyone would benefit from having a bottle in their pantry as it can be used to add flavor to sauces and glazes for a variety of other dishes. But with limited space in the refrigerator, you may be wondering if you need to store your bottle of soy sauce in cooler temperatures at all, especially when you consider the acidic quality of this particular condiment.
The short answer is no, soy sauce does not need refrigeration before or after the bottle is opened, according to PureWow. This is thanks to the fermentation in its main ingredients that acts as a natural preservative. That means that your opened bottle of soy sauce will do perfectly fine in your cabinet for months, if not up to a year, before any sort of spoiling happens. The flavor may start to break down before that time, but it is still safe for consumption. But if you are an avid fan of soy sauce, you will work your way through the bottle in no time before you have to worry about any of that happening.
7. Strawberry jam
While some condiments are clearly better suited for storage in the cabinet, others are a little more tricky to determine what is best. For starters, all jams and jellies are shelf stable prior to opening, so there is absolutely no rush to throw them in the fridge when you bring them home from the store. However, once the jar is open, you may want to keep a close eye on your jellies if you are choosing to store them in the cabinet. Like other condiments, if you know you will work through it quickly, then you need not worry.
If your jams and jellies will be stored for several days or weeks, however, you may want to consider storing it in the fridge just to be safe. In fact, according to microbiologist Dr. Peter Barratt per Daily Mail, jams and jellies do not need to be refrigerated for the first couple of months after opening, thanks to the natural acidity found in the fruits used to make the condiments. This is one item that you may want to err on the side of caution, however, if you know it will take a little bit longer to work your way through a jar.
8. Coconut oil
In a quest for healthy alternatives for everyday products, coconut oil has risen in popularity. But should you treat it any differently than other oils in your house? The answer is no, coconut oil can be safely stored in the pantry as long as it is out of direct sunlight. Coconut Merchant points out that storing coconut oil in the refrigerator may cause it to harden, but it should be able to soften when you are ready to use it. If your house tends to run on the warm side, especially during summer months, you can simply leave the oil out on the counter to soften.
The good news is that, when stored properly, coconut oil has a long shelf life, ranging from 18 months to as long as several years depending on how much raw coconut meat is used in it. That said, you should always check the best-by date to make sure you are using oil that has not gone bad, even with proper storage.
9. Fish sauce
Used in a wide variety of southeast Asian-inspired dishes (particularly Thai and Filipino cuisine), fish sauce is a pantry essential for many home cooks, but it has risen in popularity around the globe as well. If you have not given it a try, you might be surprised to see just how well it goes with a number of dishes. A little fish sauce goes a long way, so any one bottle of it can last for quite some time, even when used on a regular basis. But does it need to go in the refrigerator to maintain its freshness?
According to Martha Stewart, you actually want to avoid storing fish sauce in the fridge due to the cooler temperature’s ability to crystallize the salt in the sauce. For best results, keep it in a cool, dark place like a cabinet and it will last for quite some time.
If you have tried one kind of mustard, you certainly have not tried them all, as this condiment ranges from your basic yellow varieties to dijon to spicy brown, and the list goes on. So, it would make some sense that your approach to storing mustard might vary a bit depending on which kind you have in your kitchen.
There is a whole range of strategies to keep your mustard fresh, but it mostly comes down to what the package suggests. Some of the flavors may remain more vibrant if stored in the fridge, but according to French’s, "…it is not necessary to refrigerate if you prefer to consume your mustard at room temperature. There are no ingredients in mustard that spoil."
Think about it: Mustard is a common condiment that is often left at room temperature all day in restaurants, both in bottled and packaged form. So why not store your own mustard in the cabinet in between uses?
A general guide to determining if your condiments can last without being stored in the refrigerator is to see how many acidic ingredients are found in the sauce in question. The higher the acidity, the more capable it is of being stored at room temperature without spoiling. So, your vinegar-based condiments should fare well outside of the fridge, which means that the root ingredient in all of those sauces, vinegar itself, will also be fine at room temperature. The Vinegar Institute echoes this, noting that the self-preservation found in vinegar comes from its high acidity and does not need refrigeration.
Since there is no need to put vinegar in the fridge, you can rest assured that your opened bottle will do just fine (for months in fact) in the cabinet. Specifically, your opened bottle of vinegar can last for up to a year after opening, according to the University of Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Ketchup may be one of the most controversial and polarizing condiments when it comes to the issue of where to best store it once opened. For starters, ketchup is high in its acidity, thanks to one of the base ingredients being vinegar. Because of this, it should last just fine in the pantry once opened and should not require refrigeration. And, as the Today show points out, we consume ketchup that lives outside of the fridge all the time when we dine at restaurants. The reason room-temperature ketchup is safe to eat at restaurants is because diners will blow through an entire bottle quickly before the ketchup has any time to go bad. However, keeping an open bottle in the refrigerator will extend its shelf life.
A quick glance on Reddit will prove that the debate on ketchup in or out of the fridge will probably never be settled, as ultimately this one may come down to preference. If you use ketchup regularly enough that it won’t sit in the cupboard for years, then it mostly depends on if you prefer it cold or at room temperature.