Have you ever tried preserving food at home? I don’t know about you… but I HATE throwing out food. As much as I try only to buy the groceries I need, sometimes I purchase something that starts to go bad faster than anticipated.
If you have ever found yourself in this situation, you know how frustrating it can be. We are trying to promote a more sustainable lifestyle, after all! But you can make only so many zero-waste meals with leftovers, and sometimes your food goes bad faster than you can.
If any of this resonates with you… then you should try learning how to preserve food at home! If you haven’t already guessed, we will cover the BEST ways to preserve food.
Here are my top ten ways to preserve food!
Canning (how to preserve food in mason jars) is one of the most common methods for preserving food for the long term. Canning is a pretty simple process, it involves placing your food in jars and heating them to high temperatures, this temperature will destroy any microorganisms that might make you sick.
There are two main types of canning processes:
- Water bath canning: Water bath canning is when you submerge your jar (filled with food) into a pot of boiling water. Water bath canning is best for high-acid foods like fruits, jams, jellies, salsas, and tomatoes.
- Pressure canning: Pressure canning is a little different and involves heating food-filled jars under high pressures in a pressure canner. This method is better for low-acid foods like vegetables, meats, and poultry.
In both examples, the heat from the water or pressure will create a seal on the jar, keeping all the bad bacteria out and preserving the food inside for a long, long time.
Canning is another great method to preserve jams and jellies. When you have any fruit you want to preserve, like blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries, try cooking them with sugar until the mixture has thickened and reached a gel-like consistency.
While the jam is still warm, you can pour it into your jars and use one of the methods above to seal it… and voila!
Jar Preparation: Before you start canning, jars need to be inspected for any cracks or chips, especially around the rim, as these can prevent a proper seal. Jars should be washed in hot, soapy water, rinsed well, and sterilized. The lids and bands should also be clean.
Filling Jars: When filling the jars with food, leave an appropriate amount of headspace (the space between the top of the food and the top of the jar), as this can affect the vacuum seal. Use a spatula or bubble remover tool to remove any trapped air bubbles in the jar.
Adjustment for Altitude: Remember that the boiling point of water decreases as altitude increases, so adjustments in processing time or pressure may be needed if you are canning at high altitudes.
After Processing: Once the jars have been processed, they should be removed from the canner and left to cool for 12-24 hours. Do not retighten bands after processing, as this may interfere with sealing.
Check the Seals: After cooling, check the seal of each jar by pressing down on the middle of the lid. If the lid does not move, the jar is sealed. If the lid springs up when released, the jar did not seal properly. Unsealed jars should be refrigerated, and the food should be used within several days.
Storage: Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place, ideally between 50°F and 70°F. Jars should be stored upright. Before using, always check the jar lid for a good seal and the food for spoilage.
Rotating Stock: Practice a first-in, first-out rotation in your pantry to ensure you use your oldest canned goods first. Always label your jars with the contents and the date it was canned.
Using Canned Foods: Always heat home-canned low-acid foods (like vegetables and meats) to boiling for 10 minutes before tasting or eating. This ensures that any potential toxins produced by Clostridium botulinum are destroyed.
Remember, canning can be a fun and rewarding, but safety is paramount. Always use recipes from a trusted source that have been tested for safety, and never alter the amounts of each ingredient, as this could affect the pH and safety of the final product.
Pickling is when you preserve food in an acidic brine or vinegar solution (the solution’s high pH level will prevent bacteria from growing). According to Healthy Canning, you want a 50/50 vinegar-to-water ratio.
I really like this basic pickle brine recipe from Southern Living! According to their recipe, you need only a few ingredients to start pickling:
- 1 cup water
- 1 ⅓ cup white vinegar
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
This is the most basic brine recipe, and you can always jazz it up if you want some extra flavor!
Here's a basic step-by-step guide on how pickling works:
1. Choose and Prepare Your Ingredients: Select fresh, ripe fruits or vegetables. The fresher the produce, the better your results will be. Common choices include cucumbers, carrots, green beans, beets, peppers, and onions. Wash your chosen produce thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris. Then cut them into your desired shape (slices, chunks, spears, or you can leave them whole for small vegetables like cherry tomatoes).
2. Create Your Pickling Brine: The basic ingredients for a pickling brine are vinegar, water, and salt. For a simple recipe, combine equal parts water and vinegar and add salt to taste. For fermentative pickling, you typically only use salt and water.
3. Add Your Flavorings: This is where you can get creative. Commonly used flavorings include dill, garlic, mustard, peppercorns, coriander, and hot peppers. However, you can add whatever spices and herbs you like.
4. Pack Your Jars: Place your produce in sterilized canning jars. You can do this by washing the jars in warm, soapy water and then boiling them for about 10 minutes. Pack the produce tightly, but leave some space at the top of the jar.
5. Pour the Brine: Next, pour your brine into the jars, covering the produce fully but leaving some headspace at the top. If you're fermenting, submerge all your vegetables to avoid mold.
6. Seal and Store the Jars: Wipe the rims of your jars with a clean cloth and then tightly screw on the lids. You can store the jars in the fridge right away for vinegar pickles. If you're fermenting your pickles, leave the jars at room temperature for a few days or weeks to let the lactic acid form.
7. Wait: The pickling process takes time. While you might be eager to try your pickles, letting them sit for a few days to weeks will improve the flavor. Vinegar pickles are usually ready in a few days, while fermented pickles might need up to two weeks.
8. Enjoy: Once your pickles are ready, you can use them in your favorite meals. Pickles can be used in sandwiches, salads or eaten as a snack.
Freezing food will be your go-to if you want to know how to keep produce fresher longer.
When you freeze your food, you preserve it by lowering the food's temperature so that bacteria growth is slowed down, which usually happens at –10 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing is a common way to preserve various foods, including fruits, vegetables, meat, chicken, seafood, or bread.
You might be asking… “Candice, I am trying to have a zero-waste kitchen over here. What do I freeze my eco-friendly food in?”.
One of my favorite ziploc bag alternatives is beeswax wraps, they are freezer-safe for up to three weeks and come in so many fun patterns. If you use plastic bags for freezing, remember to recycle the ziplock bags after use.
Pro tip: If you want to take it one step further when you are freezing chicken, be sure to purchase poultry that has been pasture raised. This ensured that the animal had the best quality of life prior to slaughter.
Preparing food for freezing can significantly impact its quality when it's thawed and cooked. Here's some additional information:
Blanching: Before freezing many types of vegetables, it's recommended to blanch them. Blanching is briefly boiling vegetables and then quickly cooling them in ice water. This process helps preserve the vegetables' color, texture, and nutritional value. Here's how to do it:
- Boil a large pot of water.
- Add the vegetables and let them boil for a few minutes (each vegetable will have a different blanching time).
- Immediately drain and transfer the vegetables to a bowl of ice water.
- Once cooled, drain the vegetables again, then pat dry before freezing.
Fruits generally don't need to be blanched before freezing.
Foods That Do Not Freeze Well
While many foods can be frozen, some don't handle the freezing process well. These include:
- Dairy products: While you can freeze milk and cheese, they can become grainy and separate when thawed. Cream-based products and sauces may curdle or separate.
- Eggs in their shell: The liquid inside eggs expands when frozen, which can cause the shell to crack.
- Fruits and vegetables with high water content: Fruits like melons and citrus, and vegetables like lettuce, cucumber, or radishes can become mushy when thawed due to their high water content.
- Fully cooked pasta and rice: These can become mushy when thawed and reheated. It's better to undercook these slightly if you plan to freeze them.
- Fried foods: They tend to lose their crunch when frozen and reheated.
- Mayonnaise or salad dressing: They can separate and curdle when frozen and thawed.
Remember, even foods that don't freeze well can still be safe to eat after freezing – it's usually the texture and taste that suffer, not the safety. It's important to consider what you'll use the food for after freezing to decide if it's worth it.
Freezing food can be a great way to preserve it for extended periods. However, it's crucial to freeze food correctly to maintain quality and safety. Here are some guidelines to follow when freezing food:
1. Use Appropriate Packaging: Freezer-safe bags or containers to store your food. Good packaging will prevent air from reaching the food and causing freezer burn.
2. Portion the Food: Portion food into meal-sized amounts before freezing. This way, you can thaw only what you need, reducing waste and making meal preparation easier.
3. Cool Foods Before Freezing: If you're freezing cooked foods, allow them to cool completely before placing them in the freezer. This helps maintain the texture of the food and saves energy in your freezer.
4. Label Everything: It's easy to forget what you've frozen and when. Use a permanent marker to label each package with the date and contents.
5. Freeze in Thin Layers: When possible, freeze foods in a thin, spread-out layer. This allows the food to freeze quickly, which can help maintain the food's quality.
6. Use a Freezer Thermometer: Your freezer should always be at 0°F (-18°C) or lower. Any warmer and food will deteriorate more quickly.
7. Know What Foods Freeze Well: Some foods freeze better than others. Soups, stews, and casseroles generally freeze well. Many fruits and vegetables can be frozen, though some (like lettuce and cucumber) can become limp after freezing. Milk and cheese can also be frozen, but their texture may change upon thawing.
8. Use Frozen Food promptly: While freezing can dramatically extend the life of food, it doesn't preserve food indefinitely. Generally, fruits and vegetables can be frozen for 8-12 months, poultry and fish for up to 6 months, and ground meat for 3-4 months.
9. Thaw Food Safely: Never thaw food at room temperature, which can encourage bacterial growth. Instead, thaw food in the refrigerator, in cold water, or the microwave.
10. Don't Refreeze Thawed Food: As a general rule, once food has been thawed, it shouldn't be refrozen unless it's been cooked first.
Remember, freezing food doesn't kill bacteria; it merely slows their growth. Therefore, handling and cooking thawed food correctly is important to ensure it's safe to eat.
4. Drying or Dehydrating
When you dehydrate or dry your food, you kill off any bacteria, yeasts, and molds that might cause the food to go bad. One of the most common ways to do this is using a food dehydrator. Dried fruits, jerky, and herbs are commonly preserved this way. I love bringing all of these with me to work in my eco-friendly lunch bag.
Pro tip: To save energy in your green kitchen, try buying a smaller food dehydrator that uses less energy if you are drying smaller batches of food.
There are several ways to dehydrate food: using an electric dehydrator, using an oven, air drying, and sun drying.
Using a Food Dehydrator: A food dehydrator is designed to dry food evenly with minimal supervision. Here's how to use one:
- Step 1: Preparation: Choose fresh and ripe produce. Wash the food thoroughly, then slice it evenly to ensure it dries at the same rate.
- Step 2: Pre-treatment (optional): Some foods, like apples or peaches, may oxidize and turn brown when dried. You can pre-treat them by dipping slices in lemon juice or an ascorbic acid solution to prevent this.
- Step 3: Arrange the Food: Place the pieces in a single layer on the dehydrator trays, ensuring they do not overlap.
- Step 4: Dehydrate: Follow the manufacturer's temperature and time settings instructions. These will vary depending on the type of food.
- Step 5: Cool and Store: Allow the dried food to cool before packing it into airtight containers. Store in a cool, dark place.
Using an Oven: If you don't have a dehydrator, you can also use a conventional oven to dry food.
- Step 1: Preparation: You must wash and slice the food like a dehydrator.
- Step 2: Pre-treatment (optional): This is the same as for a dehydrator.
- Step 3: Arrange the Food: Place the food pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Step 4: Dehydrate: Set your oven to the lowest temperature, ideally no more than 200°F (93°C). Prop the door slightly open to allow moisture to escape. The drying process can take several hours.
- Step 5: Cool and Store: Allow the dried food to cool before packing it into airtight containers. Store in a cool, dark place.
Air Drying: This simple method works well for herbs and hot peppers.
- Step 1: Preparation: Wash the herbs or peppers and pat them dry.
- Step 2: Arrange the Food: Tie the herbs or peppers into small bundles and put them into paper bags with holes for ventilation.
- Step 3: Hang to Dry: Hang the bags in a warm, well-ventilated room. The drying process may take up to two weeks.
- Step 4: Store: Once completely dry, store the herbs or peppers in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.
Sun Drying: This method is only recommended in areas with hot (above 85°F or 29°C), dry, and sunny weather.
- Step 1: Preparation: Wash and slice the food, then pre-treat if necessary.
- Step 2: Arrange the Food: Place the food on drying racks or trays. Do not let pieces touch or overlap.
- Step 3: Dry in the Sun: Cover the food with netting to protect it from insects. Bring the food inside at night to prevent moisture from settling on it.
- Step 4: Store: Once completely dry, store the food in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.
Remember always to store dried food in a cool, dark place to prevent the growth of bacteria. The shelf life of dried food can be up to a year, but check regularly for signs of moisture or spoilage.
Fermenting your foods involves introducing beneficial bacteria that will preserve them. This method is more often used for making foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and sourdough bread!
Pro tip: I like to reuse old tupperware containers when my sourdough is resting, it’s a great way to make use of what you already have and not dirty up bowls you use more often and might need handy!
Here are some examples of foods that can be fermented and some tips on doing so:
Vegetables: You can ferment almost any vegetable, but some of the most common ones include cabbage (for making sauerkraut or kimchi), cucumbers (for pickles), and carrots. To ferment vegetables, they are usually submerged in a salty brine that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibits the growth of harmful ones.
Tip: Ensure your vegetables are completely submerged in the brine to prevent mold. Weights or fermentation stones can be used to keep everything under the liquid.
Milk: Fermented dairy products include yogurt, kefir, and some types of cheese. Fermentation bacteria consume lactose, the sugar in milk, and produce lactic acid, which gives these products their tangy flavor.
Tip: Use fresh, high-quality milk for the best results. Also, be sure to use a starter culture appropriate for your product (e.g., specific yogurt cultures for making yogurt).
Grains: Fermentation is used to make sourdough bread, where a mixture of flour and water (a sourdough starter) is fermented over several days. The yeast and bacteria in the starter help the bread rise and give it its characteristic sour flavor.
Tip: Sourdough starters must be fed regularly with fresh flour and water to keep the yeast and bacteria active.
Fruits: While most often used in making alcohol (like wine), fruits can also be fermented to make products like chutney or certain types of vinegar.
Tip: Choose fruits at the peak of their ripeness for the best flavor.
Tea: Fermented tea, known as kombucha, is made by adding a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) to sweetened tea and letting it ferment for a week or more.
Tip: Keep your brewing kombucha covered with a cloth to allow airflow but prevent contamination by insects or unwanted bacteria/yeast.
Soybeans: Fermented soybeans make products like tempeh, miso, and soy sauce.
Tip: Fermenting soybeans often involves more complex processes and specific strains of mold, so be sure to follow recipes closely.
In all cases, remember that cleanliness is crucial in fermentation. All tools and containers should be thoroughly cleaned to prevent contamination.
Also, while fermentation can be a safe and effective preservation method, monitoring the process and discarding anything that develops mold, has an off smell, or otherwise appears spoiled is important.
Have you ever been curious about how to preserve food with salt? It's surprisingly not that difficult!
Curing your food involves using salt, sugar, nitrates, or nitrites to draw out moisture from food - less moisture means less bacteria growth! This method is best suited for preserving meat and fish.
There are two main types of curing:
- Wet curing: Wet curing involves submerging your food in a mixture of salt and sugar where it is left to “cure”. The food item can be pulled out of the solution, dried, and stored.
- Dry curing: Dry curing is similar, but instead, you rub the food with a dry mixture that can be left in a cool, dry place to “cure”.
Here are some additional points to enhance your content about curing:
Using a recipe from a trusted source is important, as the ratio of salt, sugar, and nitrate/nitrite is crucial to prevent foodborne illnesses. Never increase the amount of meat or decrease the amount of curing mixture in a recipe.
Nitrates and nitrites are often used in curing to prevent bacterial growth, particularly Clostridium botulinum, which produces a deadly toxin. They also help retain a pink color in the meat. However, due to health concerns, they should be used cautiously and in moderation.
Lean, high-quality meat is best for curing. Excess fat can become rancid during the curing process, affecting the flavor and safety of the end product.
The cure's duration depends on the meat's size and density, as well as the desired flavor intensity. Always follow recipe instructions.
Once the curing process is complete, thoroughly rinse the excess salt before storing or cooking the meat. This prevents the meat from becoming overly salty.
After curing and potentially smoking, the meat should be stored in a cool, dry place. Conditions will depend on the specific product and recipe used.
Cured meats can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Some, like bacon or corned beef, must be cooked before eating. Others, like salami or prosciutto, can be sliced thin and eaten as is.
Many cured meats are smoked after curing. Smoking adds flavor, helps to preserve the meat by drying it out and adding antimicrobial components, and gives the meat a pleasing color.
Smoking food, typically meat or fish is when it is cured by exposing it to smoke from burning or smoldering plant materials (like wood). Salmon, beef, chicken, and pork are all very tasty when smoked.
To start, you will likely need a smoker like this one from Masterbuilt. The smoking process will take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours, depending on the thickness of your fish or meat.
Choice of Wood: The type of wood used can greatly influence the flavor of the smoked food. Different types of wood give off different flavors when burned. For instance, hickory and oak provide a strong flavor, suitable for red meats, while fruit woods like apple or cherry are milder and better suited for poultry and fish.
Preparation of the Food: Before smoking, meats and fish are often marinated or brined to add flavor and moisture. Sometimes a dry rub of spices and herbs is used. This preparation stage is an excellent opportunity to experiment with flavors.
Control of Temperature: Maintaining a consistent temperature in your smoker is crucial for the smoking process. Avoid opening the smoker too often, as this can cause fluctuations in temperature.
Ventilation: Good ventilation is key to avoid creosote build-up, which can give your food a bitter taste. Make sure the smoke can flow freely around the food and out of the smoker.
Resting Time: Once your meat or fish is smoked, let it rest before eating. Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a moister and more flavorful dish.
Food Safety: Use a meat thermometer to ensure your food has reached the recommended internal temperature for safety. The USDA recommends an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit for most whole cuts of meat, 160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground meats, and 165 degrees Fahrenheit for all poultry.
Long-Term Preservation: For longer-term storage, smoked meat or fish can be vacuum-sealed before freezing. This will help to prevent freezer burn and preserve the quality of the food.
Remember, smoking food is as much an art as it is a science, so don't be afraid to experiment with different flavors and techniques. Happy smoking!
8. Cheese Making
If you accidentally bought too much milk, try making your cheese!
Making cheese is simple and involves pouring the milk into a large pot and heating it between 86 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, you will want to add a starter (sometimes called a culture) and a rennet to the milk.
The milk will then start to separate into curds and whey, which can be separated. The last step involves cooking, draining, and pressing the curds. In a cool, humid environment, cheese can be aged for YEARS!
Cheese Grotto has a beginner's Guide to Cheesemaking if you want to learn more about this process.
Infusing can be a wonderful way to preserve and heighten the flavors of various food items. Here are some steps and tips for successful infusion:
1. Choosing Your Ingredients:
- For Oils: Garlic, chili, rosemary, thyme, or citrus peels work well.
- For Vinegar: Raspberry, tarragon, or other berries are good choices.
- For Spirits: Vanilla, fruits, or herbs can be used.
- Always thoroughly wash and dry your ingredients to remove any dirt or bacteria. This is especially important for infusions that won't be refrigerated.
- If you're infusing oils with garlic, it's recommended to remove the clove's inner sprout (germ) as it can give a bitter taste.
- Bruise or crush soft herbs and fruits lightly to help release their flavors.
3. Infusion Process:
- Place your chosen ingredients in a clean, sterilized jar. Pour your oil, vinegar, or spirit over them, completely submerging them.
- Seal the jar tightly and store it in a cool, dark place for 1-2 weeks or until it has reached your desired flavor. Shake the jar every couple of days to help distribute the flavors.
- Note: Garlic-infused oil should be prepared fresh and stored in the fridge to avoid the risk of botulism.
4. Straining and Storing:
- Once the infusion has reached your desired flavor, strain the contents using a cheesecloth or fine sieve.
- Store the strained liquid in a clean, sterilized container. Keep oil in a cool, dark place if you're storing oil. Vinegar can be stored at room temperature, while spirits should be stored as per their original instructions.
5. Safety Tips:
- Always use clean and sterilized jars and tools to prevent bacterial growth.
- Refrigerate infusions with fresh ingredients (like fresh herbs or garlic) to ensure they stay safe to consume.
- If you notice any signs of mold, cloudiness, or strange smells in your infusion, discard it immediately. When in doubt, throw it out!
- Infused oils are perfect for cooking, marinades, or salad dressings.
- Infused vinegar can add a flavor boost to sauces, marinades, or salads.
- Infused spirits can be enjoyed on their own or used as a base for cocktails.
This traditional British food preservation technique involves cooking meat or fish, then sealing it in a pot with a layer of fat (like clarified butter). The fat makes an airtight seal, which helps preserve the food. Potted meat and fish are best known for being packed with juicy flavors… sounds yummy!
Potting is indeed a delightful method of preserving meats and fish. Here are some tips and guidelines to follow when using this method:
1. Choose High-Quality Ingredients: Select the freshest meats or fish to ensure the best flavor and longest shelf life. Trim off any fat, gristle, or skin before cooking.
2. Cooking: The meat or fish is typically slowly cooked in fat until it's tender and easily pulled apart. This could be done in an oven or on the stovetop. The low and slow cooking method allows the flavors to develop and the meat to become very tender.
3. Shredding and Seasoning: Once cooked, the meat or fish is shredded or pounded to a paste. Season it generously at this point. Traditional seasonings include salt, pepper, nutmeg, and mace, but feel free to get creative.
4. Packing: Pack the meat or fish into sterilized jars or pots, pressing it down firmly to remove any air pockets. Leave some space at the top for the sealing fat.
5. Sealing: Pour a layer of hot, clarified butter or other fat over the top of the meat or fish, completely covering it. This creates an airtight seal that keeps out bacteria, helping to preserve the meat.
6. Storing: Once the fat has solidified, cover the pot with a lid or a layer of wax paper, then store it in a cool, dark place. Allow the potted meat or fish to mature for a few days before eating it to let the flavors develop.
7. Serving: To serve, remove the layer of fat, then spread the potted meat or fish on bread or toast. The fat can be saved and reused.
- Always use clean and sterilized jars to prevent contamination.
- The sealing fat must completely cover the meat or fish. If any pieces stick out, they could become rancid.
- If the meat or fish develops an off smell, discoloration, or mold, discard it immediately.
- Once opened, refrigerate and consume the potted meat or fish within a few days.
- Reheat the saved fat before using it again to ensure any bacteria are killed.
Why preserve food?
Living a low waste lifestyle can greatly impact when you start in the kitchen. When you preserve foods at home, you contribute to more sustainable food systems by extending the life of food that might have otherwise gone bad and ended up in a landfill.
When food that should have been composted ends up in a landfill, it breaks down without oxygen and releases methane (a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide).
More methane in our atmosphere can speed up climate change and contribute to all the nasty side effects that come with it (think of more storms, droughts, floods… you get the idea). Food in landfills also takes up valuable space that could have otherwise been used for an item meant for that waste stream.
This is why preserving your food can have such a BIG impact!
Preserving food also doesn’t have to be something you try when you notice food items going bad. For example, purchase food like berries or veggies when on sale or in season.
Then, by using different preservation techniques, you can prolong the life of your food and enjoy the rich flavors of seasonal food all day long - while also saving money!
Learning how to preserve food at home like a pro is a journey, and there are tons of ways you can still have an eco-friendly kitchen while you put your new preserving food skills to the test.
For example, many food items count as green and brown matter from the kitchen that can be composted in compost bins, and this is the next best thing since compost bins are one of the more eco-friendly kitchen products you can have.
If you try any of the methods I mentioned today, comment below and let me know how it went. If you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article – Sharing is caring 🙂!