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That’s all well and fine, but you’re supposed to rotate your food storage items regularly by eating out out your storage, and I am not eager to live off of MRE’s, freeze dried meals with hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and commercially canned goods that may contain mold or other questionable ingredients. (We do keep some MREs and freeze dried meals, but they do not make up the bulk of our storage.)
So what are some of the best options for “real food” storage foods? Here are my top ten choices for foods that can be stored at room temperature for extended periods:
1. Lacto-fermented vegetables: Large containers of properly fermented vegetables can last for months, if not over a year, in cool conditions (for instance, an unheated basement). Captain Cook used kraut on his ships to prevent scurvy, as did other sailors. My husband remembers my mom talking about how they would preserve large crocks (15-20 gallons or more) or kraut from season to season. She said it would sometimes taste a little different but it was still good. In my own experience, this past season I keep two one gallon crocks of kraut in my basement from October until May – seven months – and the quality was still acceptable at that time.
In this photo, you can see that there was mold growth on the top of the kraut container (here’s the original post on how I made the sauerkraut).
vitamin K, which is often deficient in modern diets. Home canned fruits and vegetables are also acceptable, but they are not quite the nutritional powerhouses that lacto-fermented products are. If you decide to purchase canned food items, make sure to buy from a reputable source.
2. Live Culture Dairy- If you keep a yogurt culture that works at room temperature (such as viili from Cultures for Health, which I use), you can use it to culture powdered milk without a yogurt maker. While powdered milk is not ideal, it does store without refrigeration. Culturing makes the nutrients much more digestible. Milk kefir is also an option for a drinkable product. Milk kefir grains can also be used to culture coconut milk, if they are are occasionally revitalized in milk. Kefir provides protein, minerals and B vitamins. Traditional hard cheeses (such as Parmeson) may also last for months in cool dry temps.
3. Whole grains- Whole grains (in general) have excellent shelf lives, much longer than milled flours. Places like Emergency Essentials (listed on my sidebar) sell grains and grain mills (electric powered and hand powered). If you keep a sourdough culture, you can use it to make many baked goods, not just bread, such as sourdough crackers. Again, using sourdough culturing makes the nutrients in the grain more available. Grains can also be sprouted and used to make a simple essene bread, which is very filling and nutritious.
4. Chia seeds- Chia seeds have a shelf life of 4 to 5 years for dried seeds. They have omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, fiber, B vitamins, calcium and protein. They can be used to make drinks and no-cook puddings, as well as adding nutrition to baked goods and smoothies.
5. Sprouting seeds- Sprouting seeds also have a great storage life, generally 2 years or more. They are generally high in vitamin C, and may also contain other antioxidants and essential nutrients. They also provide fresh, growing food in a hurry when it may be in short supply. Sprouting seeds are easy to use. You can grow them in handy sprouting kits, or in sprouting bags or even nylon stockings. Mary Bell (in the Dehydrator Cookbook) suggests bringing sprouting seeds with you while camping. She says to soak them overnight in a bag of water, and then place them in a section of nylon sock attached to your backpack. Rinse daily, and in a few days you’ll have live, crunchy additions to your trail rations.
6. High Quality Saturated Fat- Coconut oil, lard and tallow will all keep for at least 12-18 months (most likely longer) in sealed, airtight containers kept in a cool area. Your body needs healthy fats. Your brain is largely made up of fat, as is protective coating on your lungs, and many other critical body systems. Fats are energy dense, which is also critical during emergency situations.
7. Dried Legumes- Dried beans have a great shelf. They will keep around a year in just the plastic bags from the store, 10 to even 30 years if sealed in airtight containers with oxygen removed. Utah State University Cooperative Extension states: “Dry beans average about 22% protein in the seed, the highest protein content of any seed crop. They contain all essential amino acids, except methionine. Methionine can be obtained from corn, rice, or meat. Beans are an excellent source of fiber, starch, minerals and some vitamins. ”
8. Real Salt- Unrefined salt has many trace minerals that are essential to health. In my experience, the unrefined salts (Real Salt, grey sea salt, pink salt, etc.) have a “saltier” more robust flavor, meaning you can use less to achieve the same result. Salt can also be used to preserve food (such as fermenting vegetables, above, and meats). Since ancient times, salt has been also used as a valuable trade commodity.
9. Bulk Spices, Herbs and Teas- Don’t underestimate the power of herbs and spices. As well as being high in antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, many of them have preservative properties as well. The New Agriculturalist explains:
“Cinnamon is just one of a large number of spices that have long been known to preserve food. Recent research has tried to find out exactly how effective the spice can be, over what time period, and in suppressing which bacteria. At Kansas State University, microbiologists have been testing the effectiveness of cinnamon and other spices in eliminating one of the most virulent bacterial causes of food poisoning, E.coli type 0157. Complications arising from the bacteria can include anaemia and kidney problems, and a serious outbreak can lead to fatalities. The Kansas researchers found that cinnamon added to apple juice that had been contaminated with E.coli, was able to kill 99.5% of the bacteria within three days, at room temperature. They also did tests on meat and sausage, and found that cinnamon, cloves and garlic all had a powerful ability to stop the growth of the bacteria. Other microbiologists in Tennessee have found that oils extracted from oregano, coriander and basil, also have strong anti-microbial properties. In future we may see more natural preservatives supplementing the synthetic compounds currently in use.”I store my spices and herbs in glass jars out of direct light (sometimes using the sock trick). I buy in bulk (generally from Frontier or Mountain Rose Herbs, listed on the sidebar), store a small amount in the cupboard and the rest in the bulk food storage. Both stores sell small, inexpensive glass shaker jars to repackage your spices for easy use. Larger spices, such as cinnamon sticks or other “chunky” spices, can be vacuumed sealed in mason jars to extend shelf life. Under cool, dry conditions out of direct light, spices should have a shelf of two years. They can still be used after this time, but potency will diminish. Spices could also be used as a trade commodity.
10. Sweeteners, Including Refined White Sugar, Raw Sugar, Honey and Maple Syrup- I’m sure some foodies will cringe at the inclusion of white sugar, but it is less expensive than the other options and has a great shelf life (white sugar will last indefinitely if kept in a sealed container in a cool, dry location). It can be used as a preservative for fruits. Sugar can be used to heal wounds (as can honey). (More details on the sugar for wound healing here.) I use sugar to brew my kombucha, too. Raw sugar can store as well as regular sugar, but may be cost prohibitive for many.
Honey can store easily for over a year, possibly decades. They have found edible honey in tombs over 1000 years old. To store honey, Honey.com states:
Processed honey should be stored between 64-75°F (18-24°C).1 Honey can be exposed to higher temperatures for brief periods; however, heat damage is cumulative so heat exposure should be limited. It is best to minimize temperature fluctuations and avoid storing honey near heat sources.Maple syrup has the shortest shelf life – around one year in glass bottles without freezing or refrigeration.
The recommended storage temperature for unprocessed honey is below 50°F (10°C). The ideal temperature for both unprocessed and processed honey is below 32°F (0°C). Cooler temperatures best preserve the aroma, flavor and color of unprocessed honey.
There are many other food options, but these are my top choices for foods that store a long time without refrigeration. I’ll be covering various food preservation techniques in more detail in the coming months (it’s my thing , including drying, canning, freezing, fermenting, preserving in alcohol and whatever else I can think of trying.
In addition to food, water is critical. We just bought a new Berkley water filter, and I’ll be writing a review of that soon, along with with other tips for storing water. We’ve got the Berkley on the counter right now, filtering our tap water. I’m not sure I’m brave enough to try mud puddle water, but I’m considering it…