If you’re like me, you’re always racing to beat the use-by date on your dairy, produce, and snacks, especially if your meal plan gets thrown off by impromptu pizza nights or unexpected cravings for mac and cheese (if you can ever call a mac and cheese craving unexpected).
Last week, I rounded up a list of foods you didn’t know that you can freeze, but totally can and now I’ve got a companion list of 13 essential ingredients that practically never expire. With your freezer and pantry stocked with all these basics, you’ll always be covered — even when you haven’t been able to hit the market in a week. Or two.
Oh, and if you have the room, remember to buy these ingredients in bulk to save money too. Because there’s that.
Honey has so many amazing properties — in addition to its amazing range of delicious flavors — including that it lasts, well, basically forever! Raw honey has been discovered in the pyramids dating back to 3,000 years and is still tasty! Now if it would only halt the aging process in humans . . .
This kitchen essential can last up to 30 years if you keep it well sealed and in an environment below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Not enough space to store your rice in the fridge? Fine: It’ll last a solid decade at room temperature. If you’re a health-savvy brown rice family (props to you!), your rice’s shelf life is a little shorter, but you can still expect a good six months to a year out of your purchase.
This one’s a no-brainer, since salt is used as a preservative for so many other foods. (Jerky, anyone?) Just note that adding iodine reduces salt’s shelf life to about five years, so check your label.
Vinegar’s acidity keeps it from growing bacteria, which is great since you can use it almost indefinitely. White vinegar will last nearly unchanged, though some other types of vinegar, like balsamic or apple cider, may change color, go hazy, or develop sediment. You might even find a mysterious slime in your bottle (it’s called “mother” and can be used to start a new batch of vinegar). Rest assured, these changes are all aesthetic only. The vinegar itself is good and can be used with confidence.
5. Dried beans
If you ask me, dried beans are a non-negotiable pantry essential, and not just because they’re an easy source of protein and great add-in for soups. While they may lose some flavor over the years, beans also retain their nutritional value for up to three decades. Three decades! So comforting for those of us who watch too much Walking Dead.
6. Soy sauce
We have high sodium content to thank for the long life of this favorite condiment, which can last indefinitely when unopened and a good two to three years in the fridge once opened.
7. Maple syrup
There’s some debate about exactly how long maple syrup lasts, with answers ranging from indefinitely to several years. Suffice it to say, this sweet staple will last quite a while as long as it’s unopened and stored in a cool place.
8. Real vanilla extract
I go through vanilla extract fairly quickly thanks to my baking habit, but I’m happy to know that I can safely buy it in bulk since it basically never goes bad. Keep in mind that if you store your extract in a too-hot environment, it may lose some of its flavor, but it will still be safe to eat.
Sugar virtually never goes bad if stored properly, although it can change texture or harden into clumps after a long period of time. This is especially true of brown sugar, but it can usually be revived with these handy tricks to soften brown sugar that we found at The Kitchn (above).
10. Corn starch
As long as it’s not exposed to liquid, corn starch never goes bad. Pretty great news since it’s something that most of us only use occasionally. Unless, of course, you have a toddler and make a habit of whipping up homemade gak.
11. Powdered milk
This isn’t one that I use regularly, but it’s not a bad idea to have on hand in case of a Snowpocalypse or power outage when fresh dairy’s not available — especially since powdered milk can last up to 20 years in the pantry. Whoa.
As long as your libation of choice is a hard spirit and not a liqueur (with added sugar or dairy), it’ll just keep getting better with age. Woo hoo!
13. Corn syrup
Corn syrup gets a bad rap these days, even though the stuff you find in the market is not the same thing as high fructose corn syrup. Not that I’m saying it’s good for you, but it’s helpful to know that they are not the same thing and, well, corn syrup is useful — essential, even — for certain home baked goods (looking at you, pecan pie). The good news is that you can use this product sparingly, whenever you need it, since it doesn’t go bad even after the container has been opened.