Food storage: the mythical "cool, dark place"
March 17, 2020 6:59 AM   Subscribe

I stored potatoes in the refrigerator for years, but now I'm finding out that's not a great idea. Reading online, I'm told to store them in a "cool, dark place." Spruce Eats suggests an unheated basement or an insulated garage or shed, to which I say HA HA HA HA HA - where do you think I live?

I normally buy just as many potatoes as I can use up fairly quickly, but I need to go to the store and I'd like to buy a lot more this time. I put some on the counter a few weeks ago, which I know wasn't a great idea, and they all sprouted within a week. Was that because it wasn't dark? I've read to store them in the kitchen cabinet, but my kitchen is small, and between the dishwasher and the oven, I don't think there's any place that stays cool. I live in a townhouse, and I can't set one part of it to be cool. I do have a garage, but it gets invaded by critters and the dryer vents into it.
Normally, I'd just experiment, but I'm immunocompromised and trying to cut grocery store trips to the bare minimum, so I'd like to be sure something will work. I'm thinking of going back to the refrigerator, because even if starch is turning to sugar (per Spruce Eats), at least they aren't going bad. My refrigerator, by the way, has high humidity and low humidity drawers. If I do store them there, which is better?
posted by FencingGal to Food & Drink (18 answers total)
We just leave ours in a fruit bowl. If you want to put them in a cool dry place, put them in a trash can in your garage. But sprouted potatoes are no big deal; sprouting does NOT mean they've gone bad. Just trim the sprouts and eyes out and proceed as normal.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:05 AM on March 17, 2020

Best answer: It doesn’t have to be all that cool. Mostly it just needs to be dark. My mom always kept them under the sink. I keep mine inside my biggest pot.
posted by HotToddy at 7:09 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Even if you don't have an especially cool place, keeping them in the dark helps. So put them in a paper bag even if you're keeping them on the counter. It doesn't have to be very cool, just maybe not the warmest part of the house.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:11 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

we have some potatoes in the garage. The ones we're likely to use immediately are in the kitchen, but in a little bin-thingie under the counter. They will, eventually, sprout there, but it's semi-dark and we can usually get them used before the take over everything.
posted by jquinby at 7:11 AM on March 17, 2020

Do you have a big soup pot or casserole that you don't have other pots stacked inside? You could keep them there, nice and dark. We keep ours in the cabinet under the sink, fwiw, along with the onions ... and about a billion other things.
posted by taz at 7:14 AM on March 17, 2020

Best answer: In my experience, dark is more important than cool. Light encourages potatoes to go green, which can indicate a rise in solanine which is toxic and can lead to a Really Bad Day (or worse). My grandma kept them in a dedicated drawer. I just leave them in a grocery bag on the counter, away from the stove.
posted by lovecrafty at 7:15 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. It sounds like the "dark" part is more important, and that's way more manageable.

But sprouted potatoes are no big deal; sprouting does NOT mean they've gone bad. Just trim the sprouts and eyes out and proceed as normal.

This is questionable. Poison Control says don't eat them. Since I'm immunocompromised and already on chemotherapy, I'm not going to take chances.
posted by FencingGal at 7:22 AM on March 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: When it's cold, the starches start to turn into sugars, which makes them unpleasantly sweet to some people but I honestly don't notice it. If you don't notice it I wouldn't worry about it, unless you are frying said potatoes- then basically the excess sugar makes the potatoes get really dark brown or almost burn (and therefore create acrylimides), while never actually cooking properly and getting crispy. I don't fry potatoes (I'm lazy and buy frozen oven fries) so I don't worry about it and I keep the crisper drawer full of potatoes.
posted by cilantro at 7:31 AM on March 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

Not sure if this applies in your situation but when I’ve lived in small apartment buildings I’ve used my entryway or back stairs as my cool dry place.
posted by mskyle at 8:26 AM on March 17, 2020

Best answer: I keep mine in the fridge. It's fine. They last weeks. This is not the time to be optimizing for gourmet prefefences, imo.
posted by Lady Li at 9:30 AM on March 17, 2020 [2 favorites]

I keep them in a big wooden bowl on the counter, in a corner. They're always going to want to sprout in spring, but just remove the sprouts and cook the taters anyway.
posted by theora55 at 10:36 AM on March 17, 2020

Options for Storing Potatoes at Home (.pdf), from the University of Idaho extension service.

"Ideally, potatoes should be stored in a well-ventilated, cool, dark, and humid place.Suggested home storage locations include an extra refrigerator set a few degrees higher than normal that you access frequently; or an unheated entrance, spare room, attic, basement or garage insulated to protect the potatoes from freezing temperatures. It is important for potaoes to be stored in a dark location or in dark-colored, perforated plastic bags. The bags must have many small holes cut in the sides to allow for air movement. Choose a home location with high humidity (such as a damp cellar); or elevate the humidity of your chosen location by storing the tubers in plastic bags with many holes cut in the sides, and/or by placing large pans of water in front of their air source. Do not store potatoes in airtight plastic containers."

Can perforated bags hang from the ceiling of your garage?
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:15 AM on March 17, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you don't have counter space brown paper bags are good to keep them in on the counter to keep them dark. Dark is more important than cool, but cool is good too. You want a container that can breath a little as potatoes go gross quickly if wet. I would also suggest every day quickly pulling them out & checking them so you can pull any rotting ones out before they take the whole lot with them. Do this with any produce you're stockpiling, a lot of produce will last ages but not if ignored until needed. Also if you cook them and freeze them, I do this all the time with mashed potatoes.
posted by wwax at 11:58 AM on March 17, 2020

I live in a warm climate. I have a heavy canvas bag which I put the potatoes in. Sprouting is not a big problem, but I can confirm that potatoes do eventually go bad if you forget about them because you've put them in an opaque bag and you can't see them. And when potatoes go bad, they go bad. On at least one occasion I was convinced that a cat had deposited something disgusting somewhere near my kitchen, until I remembered the potatoes.

Now I just buy enough for specific meals; for the duration of the apocalypse I have decided to stick to my large collection of non-perishable starches.
posted by confluency at 12:18 PM on March 17, 2020

Apparently you're also not supposed to keep them with your onions, but I totally keep them with my onions.
posted by slightlybewildered at 12:31 PM on March 17, 2020

I kept mine in a bag in a kitchen drawer. Then I forgot about them for a few months and when I saw them again, I screamed.
posted by dianeF at 2:22 PM on March 17, 2020 [7 favorites]

I have a large brown paper bag (formerly a gift bag) in my pantry that keeps them cool dry and dark. There's another one I use for onions.

My spouse sometimes gets a plastic bag full of spuds- leaving them in the plastic bag results in issues, but if we transfer them it is fine.

But yeah, if fridge is working for you, fridge them.
posted by freethefeet at 4:32 PM on March 17, 2020

If you have a dutch oven or soup pot that lays around taking up space, you can store them in there. I mostly put them in a basket with a napkin over to keep out the light.

That said root cellars are pretty cool and it's hard to imagine it's that much different in practice than the refrigerator.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:07 PM on March 18, 2020

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