Why Storing Fats and Oils Long Term is Difficult and Why We Need Them

how to store fats and oils

Storing fats and oils long term requires defining "long term" - which I'll do in a moment. The problem with storing any fats and oils is oxidation — exposure to oxygen causes rancidity. Rancidity has been implicated as a cause of cancer (a carcinogen), heart disease, and arteriosclerosis.

On the other hand, fats are important for our health. They add taste and texture to our foods, help our bodies absorb fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K and, provide extra energy.

In a crisis situation, we may not be able to obtain all the calories we need if there is not enough food, so fatty foods will provide the calories needed to give us more energy.

If our food storage supplies consist of mainly grains and legumes, adding a little fat or oil to a recipe provides the needed source of concentrated calories.

So in defining "long term" as applicable to storing fats and oils, it varies depending on the type of fat or oil. Some can only be stored for a few weeks; some must be refrigerated, so long term is not an option; and a few can be stored from one to 10 years providing they are properly stored in a cool, dark environment.

These few general rules will help you determine how long to store fats:

  • Avoid exposure to heat, light and oxygen. The more exposure to these three factors, the sooner rancidity can set in. To lengthen the life of your fats and oils, buy them in darkened, airtight containers and refrigerate after opening. Regardless of the packaging, store at the coolest temperature you can provide.
  • Rotate your fats and oils. It is important for some that you not buy more that you can use and rotate over several months. Be sure and check expiration dates when purchasing at the grocery store - fresher is better for a longer shelf life.
  • Buy fats and oils in smaller containers. Properly packaged, unopened cooking oils have a shelf life of approximately one year - depending on the conditions mentioned above. Opened bottles can begin to turn rancid in a matter of weeks to a couple of months, often long before they smell rancid if not refrigerated.
  • Buy lighter colored oils. Darker colored oils are more flavorful than the lighter colored oils, but the lighter oils have a longer shelf life.
  • Solidified fat. The fat with the longest shelf life (store-bought) is Crisco™. Crisco is hydrogenated shortening and includes preservatives, which accounts for its longer shelf life (8 to 10 years). However, Crisco is a trans-fat and is not recommended for good health. (It might only be good for greasing tools or something.) There are other solidified fats that are much healthier, as we discuss below.

Best Fats and Oils and How to Store Them

Coconut Oil

At the top of the list for many reasons, is coconut oil. As it turns out, coconut oil is a great option for cooking due to its high smoking point (350°F for unrefined and 450°F for refined).  This means that you can sauté and bake with coconut oil and not worry about it turning into a trans-fat.  Plus, coconut oil is very stable.  It has more than a two-year shelf life and won’t become rancid, even in warm temperatures. (This is one of my favorite brands.)

There appears to be strong evidence that coconuts are an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory food. Plus, the research behind its heart and weight benefits seems well founded.  In addition to a whole host of amino acids, coconut is also a great source of the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese, as well as vitamin C and riboflavin (vitamin B2). (Source)

Shelf Life of Coconut Oil

As mentioned above, coconut oil has more than a two-years shelf life, but because of its stability, if unopened, it will last much longer (if you can keep it around - we use a LOT of it).

Palm Oil

Palm oil is very close to coconut oil, but there are two types: palm fruit oil and palm kernel oil. Palm fruit oil is approximately 50% saturated fat and 40% monounsaturated fat (oleic acid – the same type of fat in olive oil). The remaining 9-10% is polyunsaturated fat in the form of linoleic acid. This is a very low amount of these inflammatory types of fat, which is excellent.

Palm kernel oil is derived from the hard and innermost, nutlike core of the palm fruit. It contains 82% saturated fat, much higher than regular palm oil.

The remainder is about 15% monounsaturated fat and only 2% polyunsaturated fats. Both of these amounts are significantly lower than palm oil.

Palm kernel oil is healthier than regular palm oil for two reasons: It's a closer match to coconut oil and it contains lauric acid, like coconut oil, with anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties. (source)

Shelf Life of Palm Oil

Palm oil has almost identical properties as coconut oil: high smoking point, won't become rancid, and has a 2+ year shelf life (most likely longer if properly stored).

Olive Oil

Olive oil will not form trans-fats. However, high heat cooking with olive oil will produce some free radicals. It is also not a good oil to use for baking. If used for frying or sauteing on a fairly low temperature, it is a good oil to use. A much better use of this nutrient-rich, extra virgin olive oil is to use it in salad dressings.

Shelf Life of Olive Oil:

Light and heat degrade olive oil fairly quickly. A study showed that two months of too much light degraded extra virgin olive oil enough that it couldn't be classified as extra virgin. Olive oil is not the best for long term storage.

A Warning About Olive Oil

It is important to realize that much of the conventional olive oil on the market isn’t even olive oil at all, according to Tim Mueller, an investigative journalist who has written a book on the subject called Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil.  If you suspect your olive oil is fake, put it in the refrigerator to see if it properly solidifies.  Another test is to see if your extra virgin olive oil can keep a wick burning.  Refined oils masquerading as extra virgin olive oil cannot hold a flame. (source)

Butter and Ghee

Butter is one of the healthiest and most affordable fats to use for cooking – use grass fed and use it often! It contains no protein, fiber, carbs, or trans-fats, but plenty of nutrients. it provides the body much-needed fuel and helps with blood sugar stability.

Ghee has a unique nutrition profile without any lactose or casein, but it’s rich in short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids and butyrate. For people who are sensitive to lactose or casein, they can use ghee because the process has removed these allergens. If you’ve been told to stay away from dairy and butter, I personally would experiment with grass-fed ghee.

Both butter and ghee contain medium- and short-chain fatty acids. Butter contains 12 percent to 15 percent medium- and short-chain fatty acids, while ghee contains 25 percent or greater. The body actually metabolizes these fats in a different manner than long-chain fatty acids. The result? Medium and short chains are not associated with cardiovascular disease.

Ghee has a higher smoke point than butter so ghee is more stable at high heat. Meanwhile, grass-fed butter is better for baking and cooking at lower temperatures. (source)

Shelf Life of Butter and Ghee

Both butter and ghee must be kept in the refrigerator (or the freezer) for long term storage. However, butter can be purchased in cans, or can be canned at home to preserve it for long term — about 1- 5 years. I have stocked up on Red Feather Canned Butter from New Zealand, which comes from grass-fed cows; there are no added ingredients — just golden rich butter. I was skeptical at first, but after trying a can, we're sold. It's a little pricey but worth it to me because of the excellent quality and longer shelf life.

Lard

Several years ago when "fat" was a supposed enemy of nutrition, lard and tallow were considered absolute no-no fats. Since science and nutrition have now caught up to the health benefits of both, they are more available and information on what to look for in healthy fats can be found easily.

Lard is rendered from pig fat, specifically the fat around the kidneys and loin. This lard is called "leaf" lard and is the most highly prized (by chefs and bakers in particular) and pricey. And not all lard is the same. Be sure and read labels before buying it just anywhere. Specifically, pay attention to the amount of trans-fats. A non-GMO, unprocessed commercially rendered lard should not contain trans-fats.

No Lard From Conventional Pigs!

Raised on a diet of GM corn and soy (and sometimes peanuts), along with other low quality calorie sources, tainted with high amounts of glyphosate residue (Roundup), antibiotic laced feed, deworming drugs, and who knows what else, conventional pork is scary stuff! Smart consumers avoid it.

The pigs also live in high stress, downright hellish environments. These places appear to be the perfect home for antibiotic resistant bacteria to thrive. 

The meat and fat from these animals is not what we want to eat or get our lard from. Residues from the feed, drugs, and stress these animals receive end up in their meat and fat.

(source)

Shelf Life of Lard:

Traditionally rendered and properly stored lard can still avoid spoilage for extended periods of time with simple refrigeration; which means it is not a long term storage item without refrigeration.

Tallow

Like lard from well fed pigs, tallow is not just any old beef fat.

It is the rendered form of suet, which is the nutrient rich, grass-fed, beef or mutton fat found around the organs, particularly the kidneys. The majority of beef tallow is approximately 55% saturated fats and 40% monounsaturated fats which are both very heat stable and do not easily produce free radicals when heated unlike liquid vegetable oils.

Tallow contains a healthy fatty acid called CLA (conjugated linoleic acid). This fatty acid helps build muscle, assists with weight loss and drastically reduces cancerous tumor risk. These are just a few of the many health benefits.

Besides CLA, another notable fat that is present in high amounts in beef tallow is palmitoleic acid, which is highly anti-viral and anti-bacterial.

(source)

Shelf Life of Tallow:

Tallow is solid at room temperature and keeps well in the pantry. Rendered beef tallow will keep many months – even years – in the refrigerator.

Specialty Fats and Oils

There is quite a variety of fats and oils — some of which are very healthy but are not very shelf-stable, and others that are healthy but not as well known.

Nut oils such as peanut, almond, walnut, and macadamia oils give a rich flavor to salad dressings but are not especially good for cooking and are too fragile to store long term. Seed oils such as flax, sesame, sunflower, and avacodo have an even shorter shelf life and must be refrigerated.

Some very tasty and healthy fats for cooking and similar to tallow and lard, are duck and goose fat. Tallow and lard can be rendered at home but since most of us don't usually eat duck or goose, these fats can be purchased.

Fat and Oil Products: