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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Squirrel behavior -- storing my nuts for winter and beyond

10 lbs of whole almonds squirreled away for winter

I find the best deals on raw nuts for use in baking, in fall. Because prices are rock-bottom cheap for me, on our favorite baking nuts this time of year, I stock up and buy as close to a year-supply as I can afford.

Last fall, I bought about 3 pounds of pecans, whole and pieces. Some were intended for fall and winter baking, but some were saved for spring, summer, and now early-fall baking.

Nuts are high in oils, which makes them healthy, but also shortens their shelf life, due to potential rancidity.

Once nuts are exposed to air, the clock begins ticking down. This means that if you buy packages in the baking aisle, then when you open the package, their exposure to air begins. But also, keep in mind, that if you buy your nuts from bulk bins, that they have been exposed to air even sooner than your purchase. (If buying from bulk bins for stocking up purposes, choose a store who has rapid turnover in their stock.)

In general, the "expiration" date for nuts is really a "best-by" date. It's more about quality, and less about actual safety, within reason. Nuts that have been kept long past the best-by date could be rancid (taste bad) or contain potential carcinogenic or inflammatory compounds. But nuts that are one or two months past their sell-by date, if kept in a cool, dark spot, can be "safe" to eat. They may have lost some vitamin content, though.

Just a note -- with any fat-containing food, whether it be nuts or the oils, themselves, the fats can go rancid. Most western consumers are no longer accustomed to doing the sniff test for safety of their foods. We're used to packages having labels to tell us if they're "good" or not. Our dairy products are dated, our canned goods are dated, even soda pop has a date on it. And that's what we've been relying on to tell us if something is still "good". If when you sniff a package of nuts or a bottle of oil and you detect a faint paint-like smell, that's a sign of rancidity and you should throw it out. The nuts won't be pleasant to eat, and could have long-term health consequences, even if they don't give you a tummy ache.

You can prolong the good-to-eat life of your nuts with proper storage.
  • keep only the nuts you intend to eat within the next month or two, at room temperature
  • keep remaining nuts either in the fridge or in the freezer
Different nuts keep longer or shorter, depending on variety and how you keep them. (Information gathered from Starting from the longest shelf-life and working down to the shortest:
  • almonds have the longest lifespan of common nuts, lasting to 9-12 months past sell-by date in the pantry, up to a year in the fridge and 2 years in the freezer
  • cashews, macadamias and peanuts keep for 6 to 9 months past sell-by date in the pantry, up to a year in the fridge and up to 2 years in the freezer
  • Brazil nuts, up to 9 months in the pantry, 1 year in the fridge, but only 1 year in the freezer
  • pecans and walnuts, up to 6 months in the pantry past the sell-by date, 1 year in the fridge and 1 to 2 years in the freezer
  • hazelnuts keep just 4 to 6 months in the pantry, and just 1 year in either the fridge or the freezer
  • pine nuts have one of the shortest lifespans, at just 1 to 2 months in the pantry, and 3 to 4 months in the fridge and 5 to 6 months in the freezer
It's interesting, but some nuts don't seem to gain that much of a benefit by freezing as others. A curiosity.

I also stock up on seeds, for snacking and baking, so I've also added the 4 most common seeds used in cooking/baking.
  • sunflower seeds will keep 2 to 4 months past the sell-by date in the pantry and 1 year in the fridge or freezer
  • sesame seeds will keep 6 months to 1 year in the pantry and about 1 year in the fridge or freezer
  • flax seeds, whole, 6 to 12 months in the pantry and 1 year in the fridge or freezer
  • flax seed meal, 1 week after a package has been opened, and kept in the pantry, and 1 to 2 months after opening, in the fridge or freezer
  • chia seeds, whole, 2 years in the pantry, 4 years in the fridge or freezer
  • chia seed meal, 2 to 4 weeks in the pantry, 1 to 2 years in the fridge or freezer
  • chia gel, 2 hours at room temp, 2 to 3 weeks in the fridge or freezer

For the most part, I only do a large stock-up on almonds, pecans and walnuts. I can find great prices on sunflower seeds, year round. And I buy peanuts in cans, when on sale near the fall/winter holidays.

So, I just need to mentally keep track of the information for the almonds, pecans and walnuts. Almonds seem to keep little longer than pecans and walnuts in the pantry (9 months vs 6 months), and all 3 keep for up to 2 years in the freezer. That's easy info to keep track of, for me.

Once a commercially-sealed package of nuts is opened, nuts can deteriorate more rapidly, potentially shortening their good-to-eat life by a couple of months in the pantry. If you have space in your freezer, once you open a package it's just simplest and best to store the remainders in the freezer.

I consider nuts bought from a bulk bin to be an "open package", and I start my countdown based on about 1 month past purchase, as my sell-by date.

To store in the freezer, I use zip lock bags. I double bag the nuts, seal shut and toss in my freezer. Easy peasy. To use, I get out just the amount needed at one time, then reseal and put back in the freezer.

Squirrel behavior in a nutshell (ha ha, couldn't resist).

This past Tuesday, I found whole, raw almonds on sale at Fred Meyer, using my 10% Senior Discount, for $5.39/lb. I bought about 10 lbs at that price. I immediately froze about 8 lbs for future use. I also bought a little over 2 pounds of raw walnut halves, at the same price, and most of those also went into the freezer. Next month, I hope to find pecans at their annual low price.


  1. I buy almonds at Costco and keep them in the freezer. Thant works well for me.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I'd sure like to be able to compare prices on nuts at Costco. I price compare with our restaurant supply, each year, though. I get a better price at Fred Meyer, on sale, though, than I can get at Cash & Carry.

      Have a great day, live and learn!

    2. I was also going to say that Costco's prices are about $5 per pound. I wish I took note of the exact price, but I was thinking not bad and almost same as your best price. I haven't bought almonds in such a long time. Another funny thing I noted today while shopping, pork lard in a small jar on clearance at Target marked $10.xx. Why is that? So crazy...

      Hope your day was great!!


    3. Hi YHF,
      That's good to know about Costco's almond price.
      Hmm, I can't imagine why pork lard would be so expensive, except it does take significant "cleaning" to get the pork flavor out. All natural, free-range, grass-fed, hormone-free, organic pork lard? I can't imagine.
      Enjoy your day!

  2. I think I need a bit of education on nuts--raw vs. ? We don't eat a lot of nuts at home since hubby can't digest them and they are pretty rough on my teeth. I do like them but I don't eat a lot of them. I don't love peanuts with that "shell" on them, I like pecans, some walnuts, brazilnuts, hazelnuts, but I don't love salted ones since they are too salty.

    Tell me a little more what "raw" means. I kind of remember eating a raw peanut once and it was crunch but more chewy. I didn't like that either.


    1. Hi Alice,
      I meant "raw" as opposed to "roasted". Your recollection pretty much describes what I was going to say, that a raw nut is usually a slight bit softer, and a roasted nut crisper. So raw is just not roasted.

      I buy them raw, as they're less expensive. But also so I can do what I want with them. With almonds, if I want to make almond milk, then I blanch the raw almonds in boiling water, and remove the skins. Blanched almonds work better in my blender for making almond milk. And blanched almonds look pretty on cookie and some cake tops. But for many other things, I like to chop and toast the almonds, for their flavor. And for snacking, we like them toasted, whole, then lightly salted. So, I guess what I'm saying is raw is more versatile for me.

      I don't care for the saltiness of commercial nuts for snacking, either. I'm the same with potato chips -- way too salty for me most of the time.

      Have a great day, Alice!

  3. Great points about rancidity, Lili.

    I've been very frustrated, recently, to have several products I've bought come to me already rancid from the warehouse (catalog ordering), both from companies which I consider to be overall high quality and trustworthy. There was one product I LOVED that I regretfully stopped buying at all when I had it arrive rancid three times in a row.

    I'm very sensitive to that smell as soon as I open a package, but I notice the other people in the family don't seem to be.

    We store as many of our grain, seed, and nut products as we can fit in the fridge or freezer to keep them at peak freshness as long as we can and get the most out of our investment.

    Friends gave us bags and bags of walnuts last fall from their property, and we still have a nice stash of those squirreled away here! :) Sara

    1. Hi Sara,
      Now that sounds frustrating, with that product that arrived rancid! Your keen sense of smell would have been highly prized in the days when your nose was often the only way to tell if something was edible or not. I have a pretty good sense of smell, but one of my daughters can get into the car, when I pick her up and know what I've been cooking/baking. No hiding a mouth full of chocolate from her!
      Growing up, I remember my grandmother always sniffing the bottle of milk when she opened it. She grew up in a time when there wasn't uniformity in product quality, and consumers had to be the best judge for themselves, always. And even as a girl, I remember in the produce section of the grocery store, everyone sampled things like berries and grapes to find out if they were sweet and flavorful. Now, your practically treated like a criminal if you sample a grape. And they package fruits like berries so that you can't sample them. I bought 1 package of blueberries in August, hoping they'd have that wonderful blueberry flavor. And when I got them home they were so bland. I'd never have bought them if I could try one first. Anyways, sorry about your experience with that rancid product. How very frustrating.

      What a wonderful treat to have stored away -- the walnuts! They can be so expensive, purchased. Enjoy those!
      Have a great day, Sara!

    2. Lili--

      I know two people like your daughter, and it's very amusing -- except if you want to hide that you've eaten something! LOL

      I do look at freshness dates, but have had enough bad experiences with food that was well within those that I try to use and trust my other senses, too.

      There's usually no way to know WHAT might have gone wrong with a product that is "bad" before its time -- cooling problem in a warehouse, truck, post office, or store, too long on a hot loading dock, or whatever. But it DOES seem to sometimes happen.

      I used to never want to throw anything away, but I'm to the point now that I draw the frugality line at anything that smells rancid. There just seems to be too much evidence rancid oils are really bad for your health.

      I grew up that you never sampled produce, because it was stealing (and you often see people who "sample" all the way to the check-out and then pay for half a bunch of grapes or bananas). But at farmstands I remember being encouraged to taste-test, and of course you buy MORE when you know it's going to taste fabulous!

      Think I'm going to ask some of our friends if they could use some of the walnuts. It's baking/holiday time coming up, and it would save them a lot of money if we shared.

      You have a good day, too! Sara

    3. That's a good point, Sara, about various factors that can cause something to spoil, long before the sell-by date. And with products that have whole grains in them, that seems to be a bigger risk, as the oils in whole grains can go rancid easily. A while back I mentioned taco shells, corn ones, that went bad, just sitting in my pantry. At first, I tried to eat one, but eewww, it was so bad. My frugal sense didn't want to throw them out, but you have to draw the line somewhere, and take the lesson learned.

      Oh what w wonderful gift to a friend, some of your surplus walnuts! I just know they'd be very appreciated!

    4. On the subject of freshness, we've also learned that you really need to watch the "sell bys" at small stores/small towns, where there's less turn over of product.

      The walnut offerings have been a huge success. Last year wasn't a good time to delivery anything around; but right now we're doing some visiting, and a bunch of our destinations have folks who LOVE walnuts, evidently. We didn't even know!

      So everyone's thrilled, and it'll add another layer of fun to our visits to be "geeks bearing gifts". :) Sara

    5. Sara, you are so right on freshness of packaged foods at small stores, in some areas. I had a small market behind my building when I was living in the U district, here, many,many years ago. The packages could be quite dated on some things. I mostly bought produce at that market, as I could see with my eyes if it was fresh or not.

      Oh, that's great with the walnuts! I know other folks are probably really appreciating your sharing them. How wonderful! The fun is often in the giving!

  4. This is very helpful information. Thank you for doing so much research and sharing your results with us.

    1. Thanks, frugal spinster. I hope its useful info. It did help me, and made me cautious about where in my kitchen I store nuts for snacking.
      Have a great day, frugal spinster!


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