Friday, December 10, 2010
Storing Fats and Oils
One thing that is important to store, is fats and oils. However, it is tricky. I want to present a little information about storing and using these important items.
FATS AND OILS ARE NECESSARY The importance of storing fats and oils should be emphasized because fat contains nine calories per gram compared to the four calories contained by either carbohydrates or protein. This makes fat a valuable source of concentrated calories that could be of real importance if faced with a diet consisting largely of unrefined grains and legumes. For small children, infants and the elderly, they may not be able to consume the volume of food that would be necessary in the course of a day to get all of the calories they would need to avoid weight loss and possible malnutrition.
Fats play an important role in our perception of taste and texture and their absence would make many foods more difficult to prepare and consume. Also, a small amount of dietary fat is necessary for our bodies to properly absorb fat soluble vitamins like A,D,E & K.
THE PROBLEM There is a problem with storing oils and fats for the long term and that is because they go rancid rather quickly. Rancid fats have been blamed in increased rates of heart disease, atherosclerosis and are carcinogenic (cancer causing) so we want to avoid them if possible.
Because of this difficulty in storing fats and oils for any long period of time many books and articles on the subject of food storage make only passing mention of them, or they say nothing at all.
Long term storage of fats may be hard, but it is not impossible. There are some general rules you can follow to get the most life out of your stored cooking oils and fats. Exposure to oxygen, light and heat are the greatest factors causing fats to go rancid.
Unless they have been specially treated, *unopened* cooking oils have a shelf life of about a year, depending upon the above conditions. Some specialty oils such as sesame and flax seed have even shorter usable lives.
THE SOLUTIONS If possible, refrigerate your stored oil, particularly after it's been opened. Try to buy oils in opaque, airtight containers. If you purchase it in plastic, particularly clear plastic, transfer it to a gas impermeable glass or metal container that can be sealed airtight. If you have a means of doing so, vacuum sealing the storage container is an excellent idea as it removes most of the air remaining inside, taking much of the oxygen with it. Transparent glass and plastic containers should be stored in the dark, such as in a box.
Regardless of the storage container, it should be stored at as cool a temperature as possible and rotated as fast as is practical. Oils and fats with preservatives added by the manufacturer will have a greater shelf life than those without them, provided they are fresh when purchased.
If you don't use a great deal of it, try not to buy your fats in large containers. This way you won't be exposing a large quantity to the air after you've opened it, to grow old and possibly rancid, before you can use it all up. Once opened, it is an excellent idea to refrigerate cooking fats. If it turns cloudy or solid, the fat is still perfectly usable and will return to its normal liquid, clear state after it has warmed to room temperature. Left at room temperatures, opened bottles of cooking oils can begin to rancid in anywhere from a week to a couple of months, though it may take several more months to reach such a point of rancidity that it can be smelled.
Darker colored oils have more flavor than paler colored; the agents that contribute to that flavor and color also contribute to faster rancidity. For maximum shelf life buy paler colored oils.
If you want to look into the process of adding your own preservatives to your stored oils, here is a site that presents more information and tells you how to add antioxidants to your oils to store them longer.
THE BEST SOLUTION If you have no particular problem with using it, the culinary fat with the most shelf life as it comes from the store is hydrogenated shortening in its unopened metal or metal lined can. The brand most familiar in the U.S. is probably Crisco (tm), but there are many others. Solid shortening is usually composed of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, but there are some that also contain animal fats. Some brands will also contain anti-oxidant preservatives as well. All other conditions being equal, those with preservatives will have a longer shelf life than those without. It is not possible to say for sure, but it is reasonable to expect an unopened metal can of shortening to have a shelf life of eight to ten years if kept reasonably cool, especially if it has preservatives in it.
I have found that shortening in a cool, dry and dark place keeps a very long time. It would give us enough fats in our diets for our digestive systems to function properly.
ALTERNATIVES Another solution is to store Tuna packed in oil instead of water. Many people avoid this because first, they believe it is not as healthy and second, they're concerned about a shortened shelf life because of the oil. You will have to weigh your personal situation and decide which option is the best for you. I’ve had very good luck storing shortening for a long time. Oil, does go rancid fairly quickly and I used to always buy it in gallon containers but have found that it is safer and lasts longer to buy it in smaller containers when I’m not using it very quickly.
Also remember that other items you may wish to store, such as salad dressings and peanut butter also contain some oils and may also go rancid quickly if not stored properly.
This is a good time to emphasize the importance of a cool, dry and if possible, dark storage room or area for your long term storage items. Many things will store longer than you plan if kept in a cool dry place without constant exposure to light.
Using tortillas made with shortening is a good way to incorporate oil into your diets as well as being an easy and quick meal that can be filled with anything. Authentic Mexican tortillas are made with lard. If you want a truly authentic flavor, you should use lard, too. However, shortening works just fine making tortillas a great storage food.
3 C. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 C. shortening (or lard)
3/4 C. HOT water (as hot as you can handle it)
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and then cut the shortening in with a pastry cutter or with 2 knives. The mixture should look crumbly. If it’s not crumbly, and more resembles flour, you need to add a bit more shortening. Add the hot water and mix with your hands or a fork. Press against the sides of the bowl to pick up all of the dough. If it’s sticking to the sides, you need to add a bit more flour. You should have a nice moist dough that can be formed into a ball. Form the dough into 18 balls, and then let them rest, covered with a damp kitchen towel, for an hour. Lightly flour your working surface, coat your rolling pin with flour, and roll out a dough ball until paper thin. It need not be perfectly round. Heat a frying pan over medium heat, and place the tortilla in the pan. Let it cook until it starts to bubble up, about a minute, then flip it over. Let it cook another minute or so, and place it in between two kitchen towels. Continue process with the remaining balls of dough, and stack them all in between the two towels. Store them in a large Ziploc bag in the fridge to keep them soft. If they do get a bit hard, all it takes is a few seconds in the microwave or in a hot pan on the stove to make them soft and pliable again.
For food storage friendly fillings try any combination of the following fillings: beef TVP, black beans, chili, sprouts, fresh or canned tomatoes or peppers. Try canned chicken mixed with barbecue sauce and topped with sprouts or your favorite beans. Any fresh vegetables, sautéed until tender can be topped with your favorite sauce or seasoning and wrapped in a tortilla. Even pie fillings or thickened fruit can be wrapped or rolled in a tortilla, baked or fried and glazed for a fun dessert alternative.