I struggled for a long time to keep my produce, especially greens, fresh for any period of time. It seemed as soon as I brought a bunch or two of kale home it got limp and dry, never to recover. I found myself going to the local grocery store 3 or 4 times a week just so I could buy fresh produce and then try to use it the same day. So much kale, spinach, broccoli, parsley, cilantro and carrots thrown away!
I tried a lot of things, some worked OK and others failed miserably. I tried wrapping my greens in a damp paper towel to store them, I’d heard that could keep them from drying out. I tried cutting the stem ends and storing them upright in a jar or bowl of water which does work somewhat for cilantro, but it will still wilt on you. I tried storing produce in the crisper drawer, outside the crisper drawer. I tried storing it in plastic bags, Tupperware, and special “produce” containers that are supposed to let the right amount of air in. Mixed results, but most bogus.
Then I read “Eating on the Wild Side” by Jo Robinson and my world changed.
The Magic of Micro-Perforated Bags
- Separate your individual leaves or vegetables
- Place them in an ice bath for 10 to 15 minutes
- Wash, rinse and dry the vegetables
- Store your vegetables in micro-perforated bags and place in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator
- Rip greens before storing for an extra boost in phytonutrients
When we buy and store fresh fruits and vegetables, we’re storing living food. Even though they are detached from the plant and the root system they continue to respire, consuming oxygen and releasing carbon-dioxide. If left out in the open they “breathe” too rapidly, burning through their sugar stores and antioxidants leaving them limp, wilted and nutritionally compromised. If you store them in a sealed bag they will consume all the available oxygen and suffocate, losing freshness and phytonutrients.
Many fruits and vegetables, especially lettuces, need just the right amount of air exchange and humidity to stay fresh, crisp and nutrient dense. This is where micro-perforated bags make all the difference in the world. I generally lay a large ziplock storage bag on my cutting board and use the sharp point of a knife to poke 15-20 tiny holes in the bag. You could use a safety pin or sewing needle as well, anything that will give you a very small hole to allow a controlled exchange of gases.
To get the best results, a little pre-storage prep work is required. It only takes a few minutes, but makes a huge difference in the quality and freshness of your stored produce. When I bring my greens home from the market or harvest them from the yard, I separate all the leaves and dump them in an ice bath. I let them rest in the cold water for about 10 or 15 minutes and then pull them out, cleaning them well in the process. I dry them in batches on a towel, but a salad spinner could be used for smaller greens. This ice bath halts the aging process and restores the internal moisture of the leaves. I’ve actually been able to restore wilted greens to their former glory with a nice cold ice bath.
Once my veggies are dry, I place them in pre-labeled micro-perforated bags and store them in the lower crisper drawer of my refrigerator. Following this process I’ve managed to keep greens and other veggies fresh for much longer than any other method I’ve tried. I’ve eaten kale that had the same flavor and crispness as the day I bought it after spending over two weeks in storage. This has proven to be an easy and inexpensive way to get a longer shelf life out of my fresh vegetables.
As a bonus, you can pre-rip (do not cut greens) your greens before storing them for a boost in the phytonutrient value. The ripping engages the plant’s natural defense mechanisms and it produces an abundance of phytonutrients. Ripped greens should be eaten within a day or two because the injured plant will decay quicker.
It doesn’t work for everything, so do your research. Foods like garlic, onion and potatoes do not like being stored this way. In my research on this, I also discovered a lot of people use micro-perforated bags for storing bread. The slow exchange of gases allows the bread to stay fresh and moist longer without the collection of condensation that leads to mold. If you don’t want to make your own bags, some people have suggested asking your local baker if they can score you some.