I’ve Been Storing Nuts in the Wrong Place (2024)

Nuts are the top dogs in my kitchen. I love pressing almonds, with their little brown jackets, into buttery cookies. Craggy walnuts toasted with maple syrup and spices are my go-to salad toppers. And I ration the globular macadamias from parents in Australia with a tight fist. All of the above makes this harder to admit: I’ve been storing nuts all wrong.

The pantry, where I’ve typically always kept nuts, seems like their natural habitat—a sensical continuation of the supermarket shelf where I grabbed them. But I recently learned that it can actually be the archenemy of that roasty, sweet flavor. Nuts are full of unsaturated fats, which makes them nutritious and delicious, but that also means they become rancid quickly in warm light-and-oxygen-filled environments.

You’ve definitely eaten a rancid nut. “It’s kind of like old moldy wood,” says Mark Overbay, cofounder and president of Big Spoon Roasters, a small-batch nut butter company based in Hillsborough, North Carolina. An unspoiled nut, on the other hand, is a tiny luxury. Here’s how to keep your precious stash at peak freshness.

Why do nuts go rancid?

Early rancidity is barely perceptible; like slightly stale crackers, you’ll probably push through. Karen Schaich, ScD, a food scientist at Rutgers University, often brings rancid nut products into class for her undergraduate students to smell. When it comes to peanut butter, most can’t even perceive the musty notes. They’ll respond, “​​Oh, that’s just normal,” says Schaich.

But truly rank nuts can be “bitter, sour, and potentially cheesy or vomit-like,” says food scientist Topher McNeil. The science behind this unfortunate transformation is a complicated chemical reaction called oxidation. Fueled by exposure to air, light, and heat, unsaturated fats break down and release free radicals. These highly reactive molecules sound like regulars in the mosh pit and are just as annoying: They form compounds like hydroperoxides, which can speed up the breakdown of fats, as well as certain aldehydes and ketones that are responsible for all the tastes and smells we associate with rancid nuts.

Nuts “definitely have a period of peak freshness,” says Overbay. Generally, a safe shelf-life at room temperature is between 3–6 months, says McNeil. But it’s complicated: Use-by dates are determined based on a slew of external factors, such as processing and packaging. The type of nut is also important. Nuts that have a large surface area, like walnut halves, with their complex network of ridges and valleys, will go rancid faster because of a greater exposure to oxygen. And fattier nuts, like macadamia or Brazil nuts, will oxidize quicker than leaner almonds.

Is it dangerous to eat rancid nuts?

“If a nut is really oxidized, I guarantee you you’re not going to get it past your mouth because it just tastes so awful,” says Schaich. But if you do, for some reason, eating the occasional spoiled nut is “no big deal,” because we have enzymes in our stomachs that can essentially incinerate the oxidation byproducts.

I’ve Been Storing Nuts in the Wrong Place (2024)


Where is the best place to store nuts? ›

So to preserve them, it's best to store nuts in the refrigerator, says Richard LaMarita, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. The coolness of the refrigerator will keep unsaturated fats from breaking down, ultimately slowing down spoilage.

Do nuts go bad at room temperature? ›

At room temperature, nuts and seeds can start to go bad after anywhere between one and three months, though some brands will advertise longer shelf lives than that. If stored in the refrigerator, however, these healthy fat sources can last up to six months.

How to tell if nuts have gone rancid? ›

Smell them. If the nuts give off a odor that is similar to some chemicals or the smell is very strong, the nuts have gone bad and throw them out.

Why should nuts be stored in a separate area? ›

Why? Because nuts contain a high amount of unsaturated fat, a delicate type of oil, which makes them highly prone to going rancid. Spoilage is accelerated even more in the presence of light, oxygen, and heat.

Is it safe to store nuts in plastic containers? ›

When choosing a container, use one that is airtight. You can use Tupperware, plastic baggies, freezer bags, or even mason jars. Glass and plastic containers are preferred over plastic bags. Since plastic bags are permeable, it is easy for odors to seep into the bag.

What is the best container to store nuts in? ›

Nuts should be stored in their own airtight containers, such as glass, ceramic, or sturdy plastic containers. Even freezer bags are a good option. In selecting the container it's important to assess them for their airtightness.

How quickly do nuts go rancid? ›

The general rule is that most nuts retain quality for a few months. However, this does not mean that nuts will remain in good condition for an extended period. Shelled nuts stored at room temperature are expected to last six to nine months. Non-shelled nuts will last for four to six months.

Can nuts go bad in heat? ›

Exposure to heat, light, oxygen and humidity can all make your nuts go rancid before you've gone through half the bag.

Can you get food poisoning from rancid nuts? ›

Is it dangerous? Eating rancid food won't make you sick, but the new molecules that form as oxidation occurs may lead to digestive issues.

How to store nuts so they don't go rancid? ›

“When possible, always store your nuts in the freezer,” she says. Jaweed agrees with this sentiment: “The ideal way to store nuts is in your freezer, right from the moment you receive them—up to a year or more.”

Can you eat nuts 2 years out of date? ›

A: Nuts can't expire; however, they can change in taste or go rancid. Nuts contain much-unsaturated fat, an oil that makes nuts likely to go rancid. Nuts spoil faster when exposed to light, air, or heat.

What do rancid nuts taste like? ›

Their taste will be more bitter than expected, and fairly unpleasant. The nut oils go “rancid”, which will taste “old" and/or stale. The Smell is “off”, and sometimes even smells vinegary sour. The taste may be sour too, or astringently bitter.

What are three things to consider when storing nuts? ›

Light, oxygen, and heat are the enemies of nuts. Storing them in an airtight container in the freezer helps to limit their exposure to all three of these elements and slow the rate of spoilage.

Do nuts go bad if sealed? ›

Store sealed nuts in the freezer.

Overbay estimates that most nuts will stay fresh for at least a year if properly stored in the freezer. Opt for freezer-safe glass if possible; Schaich avoids using more porous plastic containers because nuts can pick up smells from other foods.

Should nuts be kept in the fridge? ›

Nuts' fragile unsaturated fats can go rancid quickly. While that may not hurt your health, it can definitely be bad news for flavor. Keep nuts tasting fresh by stowing them in a sealed plastic or glass container in the refrigerator for four to six months.

How do you keep nuts fresh longer? ›

The fridge is the best place to store nuts and seeds. Store nuts in an airtight container in the fridge. If it's still in the original packaging, store in a cool dry place. Ensure your fridge is set between 0 and 4°C.

Is it better to keep nuts in the freezer? ›

You may think it's a nutty idea, but the best place to keep nuts is in the freezer! Nuts contain a lot of oil and can become rancid if stored in the pantry. Instead, place them in separate airtight containers or sealable plastic bags, then label, date and freeze for up to six months.

What is the best way to store nuts and bolts? ›

Magnetic strips or trays are practical tools for keeping bolts and nuts organized. Mount magnetic strips on walls or the inside of cabinets and attach metal containers or small bins to them. Alternatively, use magnetic trays that can be placed on work surfaces or attached to the underside of shelves.


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