Shutterstock / Oksana Shufrych
It’s so frustrating: you buy groceries, drag your delicious goodies home, tuck them away, but when it’s time to make that knock-your-socks-off meal and you grab for a certain ingredient, you find it’s already spoiled. Argh!
Letting food go to waste is a big bummer in terms of losing money and throwing off your dinner plans. But if you’re mindful about what you’re buying and how you store it, some ingredients can last years, decades or-seriously-forever. Here are a few of our favorite things to stock your pantry with now that have a nearly indefinite shelf life when you store them right. And speaking of how to store things, here are some tips for storing more perishable food items!
How to store it: Keep in its original airtight container in a cool, dry place, away from heat sources.
Fun fact: In 5000 B.C., Babylonians used vinegar for food preservation and pickling. Because of its high level of acidity, vinegar is self-preserving, antimicrobial and can last for centuries. White distilled vinegar will not change in color or potency if you keep it in an unopened container. You may notice some hazing or discoloration in apple cider vinegar, but as long as the bottle has not been opened, it has an indefinite shelf life. After it’s opened, it will slowly lose its acidity. So you can use it, but you probably should get fresh stuff if you are canning or pickling.
How to store it: Keep in a cool, dark, dry place, where temperature remains constant.
Fun fact: Salt has been used a natural preservative for centuries (it’s a dehydration powerhouse), and both sea salt and table salt won’t expire when stored correctly. Keeping it stored at a constant temperature ensures it will stay edible forever.
How to store it: In its sealed, original bottle.
Fun fact: Soy sauce has been used as a condiment in China for more than 2,500 years. Because of its high concentration of salt, soy sauce will last forever-as long as it stays sealed. Once opened, soy sauce is safe to eat for two to three years when kept in the refrigerator.
How to store it: Keep tightly sealed in a jar to keep out humidity.
Fun fact: Archeologists who excavated ancient Egyptian tombs discovered raw honey in sealed pots that was still edible! (Let’s hope they tested it out with these Golden Pan Rolls.) The natural sugars and low water content make honey last forever, as long as it’s stored to keep out humidity. If you notice honey crystallizing, just place the jar in warm water until the crystals dissolve. (Even though it lasts forever, it’s a good idea to use it up in a year or two, just because the flavor can dull over time.)
Lasts: 30 years to forever
How to store it: Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Fun fact: Like honey, rice has been found preserved in ancient tombs, completely edible-just pay attention to which type you’re stocking. White, jasmine, wild, basmati and Arborio rice have low oil water content, and therefore have an indefinite shelf life. Brown rice, however, is higher in oil, so it spoils much faster than its white counterparts.
How to store it: Keep dried beans in a cool, dry place, where the temperature won’t exceed 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fun fact: Dried beans can last almost indefinitely when stored with little oxygen and light, but they will begin to lose their moisture over time. If your beans have been sitting in the pantry for a year or more, they may need to be soaked or cooked longer than originally stated on the package directions. Ready to use them? Try this easy bean-stuffed casserole.
How to store it: Keep pure vanilla extract in a dark container, away from sunlight, heat sources and moisture.
Fun fact: Pure vanilla extract is made from dried, cured vanilla beans soaked in alcohol, and that alcohol acts as a preserver for the beans, ensuring it will stay fresh and flavorful forever. But imitation vanilla will expire after just two to four years. So if you don’t want to toss out that bottle, spring for the higher-quality pure vanilla extract (or better yet, learn how to make your own).
How to store it: Keep white sugar in a dark, dry place, in its original packaging. After opening the bag, pour into an airtight container.
Fun fact: Because sugars don’t support bacterial growth, granulated white, white cubed and raw sugar can last forever. Brown and powdered sugar may also have an indefinite shelf life, though it’s best to use both within four years of their best-before date. If your sugar hardens over time, break down the chunks by warming it up and stirring out the clumps. And remember: white sugar stays fresher in a dry environment, while brown sugar benefits from being stored in a more humid environment. Here’s another trick for softening brown sugar.
How to store it: Store unopened maple syrup in a cool, dry place. After it’s been opened, store in the freezer or refrigerator.
Fun fact: During the boiling process that turns sap into syrup, most of the water content evaporates. So maple syrup won’t freeze! In fact, opened maple syrup will stay its freshest when stored in the freezer. And with its naturally high sugar content, maple syrup can last forever. (That means you’ve got a waffle topping for life-or add these to your repertoire!) If your maple syrup crystallizes, warm up the jar in warm water until the crystals dissolve. And in the rare instance you find mold in your jar, heat the bottle and skim the mold from the top-the rest of the syrup will be safe to eat after the mold has been discarded.
Lasts: Up to 20 years
How to store it: It’s essential to keep instant coffee dry. Keep unopened instant coffee granules in the freezer.
Fun fact: Instant coffee is made by spraying brewed coffee in a fine mist through very dry, hot air, which dehydrates the droplets into a powder. Because of its low moisture content, instant coffee could potentially last a lifetime if stored properly. After it’s been opened, it can last up to 20 years when stored in the freezer.
How to store it: Keep in its original container, stored in a cool, dark place away from moisture.
Fun fact: Cornstarch will begin dissolving as in comes in contact with water. But as long as it’s kept dry, cornstarch can last indefinitely, so stock up on this natural thickening agent.
Lasts: A long time
How to store it: If you want these tasty cubes to last a really long time, just store them in a Mylar bag to keep out moisture, air and light. Or seal the package with a food sealer to ensure it’s super airtight. This will also keep out any bugs that might be looking for the stuff (yuck)!
Fun fact: Bouillon is packed with salt, which helps extends its shelf life much longer than traditional meat or vegetable stock, which is why it’s handy to keep around in a cooking pinch. However, it’s important to note that as time passes, the intensity of the bouillon’s flavor can change-it will still be safe to eat, it just might not taste as delicious.
Lasts: Up to 20 years
How to store it: With a moisture-absorbing packet in a cool, dark place.
Fun fact: Powdered milk is made by dehydrating standard milk through an extensive process of evaporation and condensing. Because it’s been dehydrated, it’s got the potential to last for a couple decades when stored properly. However, if you notice the powdered milk is discolored or smells a bit off, go ahead and toss it out. Not sure what to do with powdered milk? Try this instant latte mix!
How to store it: Whether opened or unopened, bottles of hard liquor can be kept at room temperature.
Fun fact: The high alcohol content of hard liquors helps ward off bacterial growth. That’s why they can last a lifetime or more. It’s not necessary to keep them in the freezer to extend their shelf life (though it helps if you like a chilled martini!). Stock your home bar with rum, whiskey, tequila, vodka, gin and other similar liquors, and you’ll always be prepared for an impromptu get-together.
How to store it: Keep in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
Fun fact: Corn syrup is derived from corn starch. It’s made after the starch has been converted to sugar through a process called acid hydrolysis. The longer the hydrolysis takes place, the sweeter the corn syrup will taste. Corn syrup’s high sugar content is the reason it keeps indefinitely when properly stored.
In a perfect world, we’d never have to worry about food spoiling, but if it’s not one of these long-lasting powerhouses, check out these six simple ways you can easily identify food that’s gone bad. Plus, here’s a master list of how long your favorite produce will last after purchased.