Oat milk has become an increasingly popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. With its creamy texture and natural sweetness, oat milk is a tasty option for coffee, cereal, baking, and more. But there is some debate around whether oat milk needs to be refrigerated or not. In this article, we’ll explore the best practices for storing oat milk to maintain freshness and quality.
The Shelf Stable Debate
Many oat milk brands advertise their products as “shelf stable,” meaning the milk does not require refrigeration before opening. How is this possible? Shelf stable oat milk undergoes a high heat pasteurization process called ultra-high temperature (UHT) processing. This heating kills any bacteria in the milk, allowing it to be shelf stable for months before opening.
The main brands of oat milk that are shelf stable include:
|Pacific Foods||Original, Vanilla|
|Elmhurst||Original, Barista Edition|
However, some people argue that even shelf stable oat milk still tastes best chilled. The high heat processing can affect the flavor, making it taste slightly “cooked.” So while it may technically be safe at room temperature, refrigeration may optimize the taste.
Factors that Shorten Shelf Life
Once opened, oat milk (whether originally shelf stable or refrigerated) should always be stored in the refrigerator. Exposure to air and repeated opening/closing of the container shortens the shelf life. Bacteria from the environment or utensils used can contaminate the milk.
Certain varieties of oat milk also have a shorter refrigerated shelf life after opening. For example:
|Variety||Refrigerated Shelf Life After Opening|
|Flavored (chocolate, vanilla, etc.)||3-5 days|
|Barista edition||3-5 days|
The added flavors and lower pH of barista editions provide an environment more prone to spoilage. So it’s especially important to refrigerate these varieties after opening.
Signs Oat Milk Has Spoiled
How can you tell if your opened oat milk has gone bad? Here are some signs of spoiled oat milk:
- Sour or acidic smell
- Thickened texture or separation
- Mold visible on surface
- Curdled consistency
Oat milk that has gone bad will have an acidic, sour smell that some describe as yogurt-like. It may also smell slightly rotten. The texture will no longer be smooth and creamy. Mold growth, curdling, and separation of liquid are other indicators oat milk has spoiled.
How to Store Oat Milk
To get the longest shelf life out of your oat milk, here are some storage tips:
- Store unopened, shelf stable oat milk in a cool, dry pantry away from direct sunlight.
- Once opened, transfer to a tightly sealed container and refrigerate.
- When refrigerated, store oat milk toward the back away from the door where temperature fluctuates.
- Give it a shake or stir before pouring to re-emulsify any separation.
- Keep the opening of the container clean when pouring to prevent contamination.
- Use a sanitized spoon when scooping out to avoid bacteria transfer.
- Refrigerate after use instead of leaving out on the counter.
- Check for signs of spoilage before consuming, especially toward the end of refrigerated shelf life.
How Long Does Oat Milk Last?
So how long does oat milk last exactly? Here is a summary of oat milk’s shelf life:
|Storage Condition||Unopened Shelf Life||Opened Refrigerated Life|
|Shelf stable/unopened||4-8 months||n/a|
|Refrigerated/unopened||5-7 days||5-7 days|
|Original refrigerated/opened||n/a||5-7 days|
|Flavored refrigerated/opened||n/a||3-5 days|
As you can see, the refrigerated shelf life after opening is quite short – just 5-7 days for original and 3-5 days for flavored. So only open what you expect to use during that timeframe. Make sure to sniff test prior to use as well.
Can Oat Milk Be Frozen?
To extend the shelf life of oat milk, many people choose to freeze it. Here’s what to know about freezing oat milk:
- Oat milk can be safely frozen for 2-3 months.
- Shelf stable varieties freeze better than refrigerated.
- Pour into airtight freezer containers, leaving 1-inch headspace.
- Freeze quickly at 0°F to maintain quality.
- Thaw in fridge overnight before use.
- Give thawed milk a good shake to recombine.
- Use thawed milk within 3-5 days.
- Avoid repeated freeze/thaw cycles.
Freezing prevents bacterial growth in oat milk, allowing it to last months instead of days. Just be sure to leave room for expansion and prevent freezer burn by using an airtight container. Thaw slowly in the fridge before using.
Can You Microwave Oat Milk?
If you want to gently warm up a glass of oat milk, using the microwave is convenient. Here are some tips for microwaving oat milk:
- Pour oat milk into a microwave-safe container.
- Heat in 10 second intervals, stirring between each.
- Stop heating when oat milk reaches desired temperature.
- Avoid boiling to prevent overflow or cause changes in taste/texture.
- Let sit 1-2 minutes before consuming to allow heat to evenly distribute.
Microwaving is fast, but the uneven heating can create hot spots that alter the oat milk’s flavor and cause overflow. Stirring during heating and allowing it to rest before drinking helps prevent this. Only reheat small amounts that will be consumed immediately.
The Bottom Line
So back to our original question – should oat milk be refrigerated? The answer is yes, both before and after opening. While shelf stable oat milk can technically be stored at room temperature before opening, refrigeration maintains optimal flavor and texture. Once opened, oat milk should always be refrigerated and consumed within 5-7 days. Properly storing oat milk refrigerated or frozen will help prevent spoilage or foodborne illness from contaminated milk.
Following these refrigeration, freezing, heating, and storage best practices will keep your oat milk fresh and safe to drink while preserving its delicious flavor and creamy texture. With the rising popularity of oat milk, understanding proper storage is key to enjoying this nutritious plant-based beverage while avoiding waste or safety issues. So go ahead and stock up on oat milk, as long as you keep it nice and chilled!