Jenny and I have been trying to eat more fresh fruit and vegies lately, even though it does mean shopping more regularly as produce spoils quickly (hence why it’s gotta be fresh!) Because there’s only two of us, this often leads to a lot of waste as we’re forced to throw out things that we can’t finish in time before it goes off. For example, we might only get through a couple of stalks of shallots before the moisture gets to them.
In light of this, we recently “discovered” a great little food-saving tip – one of those things which, once you hear it, you will think “that’s so obvious!” You know those little “Do not eat” silica gel packets that you find packed in with most dried foods? In a hand-slapping-forehead moment, I thought: instead of throwing them away, how about reusing them?
Silica gel – the camel of the kitchen
A quick Google later, and it turns out that those little packets are extremely versatile. Silica gel is a dessicant that can able to absorb 40% of its weight in water, and is the same substance that you’ll find in those moisture absorbers such as Damp Rid and Hippo. It’s odourless, non-toxic and therefore generally safe, however your insides are unlikely to be happy if you ingest the gel and it starts sucking up moisture (human beings are 70% water after all), hence the dire “do not eat” warnings.
Pop them into an airtight container of nuts or dried fruit, pasta, fresh herbs or anything else that needs to stay dry, and it will keep for much longer than it otherwise would’ve.
I also discovered that they’re recyclable: 15 minutes in the oven at 200°C will remove the absorbed water (or alternatively 2 hours at 120°C but who’d have the patience?) Having said that though, I’m not sure the regular packets that comes with food are designed to be recycled, so whether or not the packaging could withstand the high temperatures is cause for further investigation, although with the price of electricity these days, it may not be worth it anyway.
Besides food, you can also use Silica gel to protect anything else that you need to keep dry, and prevent mold and mildew. You can stick them to the inside of containers, but be sure not to cover up the porous side of the packaging which lets the moisture in.
The only place I can find that sells them is eBay, where you get twenty 2g satchets for $6 (including postage), but of course it’d be easier if next time you find a satchet of silica gel lurking in your food packaging, keep it and don’t throw it away!