5 Surprising Foods You Should Refrigerate

By: Hilary Meyer, EatingWell Recipe Contributor

These foods can stay fresher or taste better if they're kept in the refrigerator. Odds are, however, they're in your pantry right now instead.

Should you keep peanut butter in the fridge?

Image: Getty Images / istetiana

A refrigerator keeps foods fresher longer and helps improve taste so you get the best flavor out of each ingredient. You may be an over-eager cooler who puts everything from hot sauce to coffee in the fridge. However, many cooks overlook some common foods when picking what deserves shelf space in the fridge and what can live in the pantry. Indeed, these five foods should be refrigerated but probably aren't—and they're likely in your house right now. Make some space between the bread and honey (two other foods that don't have to be refrigerated), and we'll explain why.

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1. Natural Peanut Butter

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Natural peanut butter is peanut butter in its purest form. In most cases it's solely ground-up peanuts and maybe a dash of salt. Because of its unrefined state, natural peanut butter acts a little differently than commercial peanut butter: In natural peanut butter, the oils from the peanuts can separate from the solids, something that doesn't happen with "regular" peanut butter thanks to the addition of hydrogenated oils or palm oil.

If you don't plan on finishing your jar of natural peanut butter within a month or so, or if you live in a hot climate, consider refrigerating it. The oils in the peanuts can go rancid if it's not kept cool.

Likewise, if the label recommends refrigerating after opening, follow the instructions. (Also, if your peanut butter develops mold, toss it. Because natural peanut butter is processed without preservatives, it's at high risk for mold, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.)

If you're concerned about spreadability because your peanut butter is hard from being in the cold refrigerator, scoop out what you need, and let it warm up at room temperature for a bit before spreading.

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2. Whole-Wheat Flour

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Sticking flour in the fridge may seem like a late-night blunder, but if we're talking whole-wheat flour, it may not be a bad idea. The wheat germ in whole-wheat flour can go rancid quickly. Once opened, store your whole-wheat flour in the refrigerator or freezer for long-term use.

A word of caution—whole-wheat flour has the tendency to pick up unwelcome flavors, so store it in a plastic bag or air-tight container, and avoid storing it next to anything with a strong odor, such as fresh onions or garlic.

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3. Nuts

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Nuts are a great healthy snack option. Buy them in bulk and store them in your fridge (or freezer, if you want them to last even longer).

The oils in nuts turn sour when exposed to heat, so unless you'll be eating them up within a month or so, they'll need to stay cool. The freezer is a great option: since nuts have very little water content, they never freeze rock solid and will last almost indefinitely stored there.

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4. Oils

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If you use your cooking oils quickly, you may not have to store them in the fridge. But if you buy oil in bulk or you have a few bottles, you may want to consider refrigeration.

Most oils are fine unrefrigerated if you empty them within a month or two. But keep in mind that light, air and heat break down oil. Heat is especially problematic since cooks tend to store oil next to their stoves, where it's easy to reach when cooking.

Keeping certain oils in your fridge may cause a harmless "cloudy" appearance and/or cause them to thicken. Bringing them to room temp will solve this problem.

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5. Butter

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Chances are you know someone who keeps butter out of the fridge to enhance its "spread-ability." But most people know that butter should live in the refrigerator—just maybe not where you think.

That nifty little butter compartment on the door of your fridge is not the best place to store it. Opening and closing the door of the refrigerator can cause the average temperature to rise. The best place to store your butter is toward the back of your fridge where the temperature is more consistently cold.

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