Is there oat milk that doesn’t need to be refrigerated?

Oat milk has become an increasingly popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. With its creamy texture and mild, pleasant flavor, oat milk can be used just like dairy milk in coffee drinks, over cereal, or in cooking and baking. However, most oat milks sold commercially require refrigeration after opening. So is there any oat milk that doesn’t need to be kept cold? Let’s take a closer look at how oat milk is made, its shelf life, and some tips for storing it to optimize freshness.

How is oat milk made?

Oat milk is made by soaking oats in water, then blending the mixture and straining out the oat pulp. The liquid that remains is the oat milk. Sometimes oils, salts, sweeteners, and stabilizers are also added. The main ingredients are therefore oats and water. Unlike dairy milk that naturally contains preservatives like lactose and casein, plant milks do not have these compounds. So extra steps must be taken to keep oat milk from spoiling.

Does oat milk require refrigeration?

The answer is yes – commercially made oat milks do require refrigeration after opening. Unopened, unrefrigerated oat milk can last for several months, thanks to a sterile packaging process including ultra-high temperature (UHT) treatment. This heating destroys bacteria and enzymes that would cause it to spoil. As long as the container remains sealed, ambient temperatures don’t affect the milk too much.

However, once opened, oxygen and bacteria are introduced. Enzymes in the milk also become activated with exposure to air and light. Refrigeration is necessary at this point to slow down chemical reactions and microbial growth that lead to spoilage. Leaving opened oat milk unrefrigerated can cause it to develop an off flavor within several hours or days.

Shelf life of opened oat milk

The shelf life of opened, refrigerated oat milk depends on a few factors:

  • Container: Cartons last longer than plastic bottles due to less air exposure.
  • Fat content: Higher fat versions may spoil faster than low-fat varieties.
  • Additives: Added preservatives and stabilizers can extend shelf life.
  • Storage time and temperature: Storing for shorter times and at colder temps preserves freshness.

Most commercial oat milks stay fresh for:

  • 5-10 days in the refrigerator
  • Up to 6 months in the freezer

Be sure to check ‘use by’ or ‘best by’ dates on the package and look for signs of spoilage before consuming, such as smelling or tasting ‘off’.

Tips for storing oat milk

To get the longest shelf life out of your oat milk, follow these storage tips:

  • Refrigerate after opening – Keep oat milk chilled at 40°F or below.
  • Minimize temperature fluctuations – Avoid leaving it out on the counter as temperature spikes can accelerate spoilage.
  • Store in the back – Place cartons in the coldest part of the fridge, away from the door.
  • Watch for signs of spoilage – Don’t consume if smell, color, or texture seem off.
  • Keep container sealed – Screw lids on tightly and store upside down to limit air exposure.
  • Use within 5-7 days – For best quality and freshness, use opened cartons within a week.
  • Freeze for longer term – Freeze in airtight containers for up to 6 months.

Are there any shelf-stable oat milks?

While refrigeration is needed for most commercial oat milks after opening, there are some shelf-stable, ‘ready to drink’ oat milks that can be stored at room temperature. These go through a more intensive UHT sterilization process and sometimes have preservatives added to allow for extended unrefrigerated shelf life. Aseptic packaging keeps the milk sealed from outside air and bacteria.

Some examples of shelf-stable oat milks include:

Brand Product Key Features
Pacific Foods Original Oat Original Shelf-Stable Oatmilk – 12 month shelf life
– Carageenan added
Elmhurst Oat Milk – 6 month shelf life
– Hemp seed oil for richness
Califia Farms Unsweetened Oatmilk – 4 month shelf life
– BPA-free packaging

One drawback is that shelf-stable oat milks often have added gums, stabilizers, and emulsifiers to achieve a longer shelf life. So they may not have as clean of an ingredient list compared to refrigerated versions. But for minimizing food waste, they can be a good option to have on hand.

Can you make homemade oat milk that is shelf-stable?

It is possible to make DIY oat milk at home that holds up at room temperature for up to a week. This involves heating the milk to temperatures above the danger zone after blending to pasteurize it. Here is one possible process:

  1. Soak oats in water overnight.
  2. Blend oat-water mixture until smooth and strain.
  3. Pour oat milk into a clean pot and heat to 180°F, stirring frequently.
  4. Maintain at 180°F for 10 minutes to pasteurize.
  5. Cool milk quickly in an ice bath.
  6. Transfer to very clean, completely dry jars or bottles.
  7. Store in refrigerator for up to 5 days or at room temp for up to 1 week.

The key is reaching a high enough temperature for long enough time to kill pathogenic bacteria. This allows the milk to stay shelf-stable for a short term unrefrigerated. But homemade oat milk has a shorter shelf life than commercially processed, UHT treated versions. So refrigeration and quick use is still best for homemade.

Key takeaways on non-refrigerated oat milk

  • Most commercial oat milks require refrigeration after opening due to lack of natural preservatives.
  • Opened, refrigerated oat milk stays fresh 5-10 days.
  • A few shelf-stable oat milk options exist that can be stored unopened at room temp for months.
  • Refrigeration, limited light and air exposure provide the best taste and shelf life.
  • Homemade oat milk can be shelf-stable for up to 1 week if properly pasteurized.

The bottom line

While refrigeration is needed to maximize the shelf life and freshness of most oat milks, there are some shelf-stable options available for minimizing waste. Look for aseptic packaging and added preservatives on ready-to-drink oat milks to determine if refrigeration is required. Or try your hand at homemade pasteurized oat milk for short term room temperature storage. But for the best quality and safety, it’s still ideal to keep both commercially bought and homemade oat milk chilled after opening.

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