10 healthy foods worth buying in bulk

bulk oats
CC BY 2.0 Pedro Reyna

These ingredients will keep for a long time.

Bulk food stores are a good solution to the problems of plastic waste, food waste, and soaring grocery bills. But the flip side of bulk-buying means that you'll have ingredients on hand for much longer before needing to restock. For that reason it's important to choose foods that last.

EcoWatch published a list of the best healthy foods to buy in bulk, and I'd like to share some of their suggestions below, as well as a few of my own. I like this list because it challenges assumptions about expiration dates being the final word on when a food is safe to eat. In most cases, a food can last longer than we think, as long as it's stored properly. Still, it's always a good idea to check with a source such as the FoodKeeper app or Eat by Date, if in doubt.

1. Dried beans and lentils

Dried beans and lentils are among those few foods whose shelf life is listed as "indefinite" on the Eat by Date website. This is because their nutritional value does not deteriorate with time, although they will lose moisture after 1-2 years in the pantry and need longer to soak and cook.

2. Rice

If white rice is stored in a sealed container, it can last up to 5 years; if vacuum-sealed, that could be even longer, like 25-30 years. Brown rice goes rancid faster (6-8 months in pantry), but its shelf life can be extended by storing it in the fridge (up to a year).

3. Oats

Thicker-cut oats last longer, up to 3 years if stored in an unopened or sealed container. Faster-cooking minute oats last 1-2 years, and flavored oat packets should be eaten within 6-9 months.

4. Honey

There's a good reason why honey was used as a preservative in ancient Egypt, Assyria, and Greece. Honey's official expiration date is "forever," according to Eat by Date, so this is a food you can stock up on without fear. Even if its appearance changed from liquid to crystallized, or from golden to white, it is still safe to eat. You can reverse crystallization by setting the container in a bowl of hot water.

5. Frozen berries and vegetables

Frozen produce will keep for just under a year in the freezer if unopened (8-10 months) and if it's not allowed to thaw out at any point. Conduct a visual test if you're doubtful; if the fruit and veggies are a normal color, not shrivelled, and maintain normal texture, you're fine to eat them.

6. Nuts in the shell

Nuts in their shells last longer than pre-shelled nuts. EcoWatch writes, "Almonds in the shell will keep for up to six months when stored at 68℉ (20℃), while shelled almonds only last four months when stored at the same temperature." You should put shelled nuts in the freezer to extend their shelf life and prevent them from going rancid.

7. Coconut oil

The way in which coconut oil is produced affects its shelf life. Virgin or extra-virgin coconut oil will last indefinitely, regardless of what the stamped expiration date says on the container. (Eat by Date says it should last at least 3-5 years past the expiration date.) If you buy refined coconut oil, you're looking at only 2-3 months.

8. Grains

There are many kinds of grains and we can't possibly cover all of them here, but this tends to be a good category of foods for stocking in bulk. Quinoa (all types) lasts 2-3 years. Instant grits can last 3-5 years (but stone-ground only 1 year). Popcorn kernels last indefinitely. Farro, spelt, wild rice, amaranth, bulgur, and barley are safe to stockpile – assuming you'll incorporate them into your diet on a regular basis.

9. Maple syrup

Pure maple syrup keeps indefinitely in the fridge or freezer. Corn syrup and pancake syrups keep indefinitely in the pantry.

10. Dates and other dried fruit

Dates are cheap, a great way to add sweetness to baked goods, smoothies, and breakfast porridge, so good to keep on hand. Other dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, apricots, mangos, figs, banana chips, etc.) make nutritious snacks and tasty additions to cooking. All keep indefinitely when stored in the freezer. In the fridge, you've got an extra year on top of the expiration date, and in the pantry about 6-12 additional months.

10 healthy foods worth buying in bulk
These ingredients will keep for a long time.

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