Food storage is tricky business. You can’t simply take the foods that you usually eat, and store them long-term. Some foods store well for decades, others for a few years, or one to two years, or only a matter of months. Freezing will allow you to store almost any food long-term — unless the power goes out. Carbs are fairly easy to store, since white rice and white pasta will keep indefinitely. Dietary fat, in the form of vegetable oil, will keep for about 2 years in a sealed container. But check the expiration date on the bottle, as this varies. Since vegetable oil is a common staple, you can rotate the stored oil and not have to worry.
But protein is not so simple to store. The typical American gets most of his or her protein from meat, poultry, fish, and dairy. The freezer is eminently useful for the storage of these animal-source foods. But which high-protein food will store well without refrigeration? This prepping and survival post offers a several good options.
Let’s start with animal sources of protein, that is to say, the meat and dairy category:
Protein levels in cheeses:
Cream cheese, 6% protein
Cottage cheese, 12%
American processed cheese food, 20%
mozzarella cheese, 24% protein
Swiss cheese, 25%
Goat cheese (hard), 30%
Parmesan cheese, 38%
Protein levels in egg:
whole raw eggs, 12.5% protein
dried egg whites, 81% protein
Protein levels in meats:
Ground beef (90% lean), 20% protein
Ground pork, 21% protein
Chicken meat, 17.5% protein
Turkey meat, 18.7% protein
Protein levels in fish:
haddock, raw, 16% protein
cod raw, 17.8%
tuna, light, in water, drained, 19.4%
Protein levels in milk:
skim milk, 3.4% protein
whole milk, 3.2% protein
non-fat dry milk, 35% protein
So as you can see, most meat, poultry, fish, and cheeses have 15 to 25% protein. Which foods store without refrigeration and are high in protein? Non-fat dry milk is a good option. If kept cool, dry, and well-sealed, instant non-fat dry milk will keep up to 2 years. And it is higher in protein than most meats and cheeses.
Parmesan cheese, the type that is purchased from the non-refrigerated grocery store shelves, is very high in protein, at 38%. According to the expiry date on the jars that I have, it will keep about 8 months without refrigeration. However, you could store some in the freezer, and then if the power goes out, you will still have 8 additional months to use it. If you keep your stored food in a cool basement, you might get more than the 8 months indicated on the package expiry date. And you can always rotate this type of food, so that you don’t go beyond 8 months in any case.
Egg whites are a whopping 81% protein, but they only store for 1 to, at most, 1-1/2 years. The same is true for protein isolates used by body builders and dieters. The refined protein powder does not keep too well.
Cans of tuna or salmon store well. Canned meats, such as Spam (13 to 15% protein), store well but are not very palatable (in my opinion). I prefer the foil packets of tuna and salmon. The expiration dates lead me to believe they will store without refrigeration for up to 2 years. But I keep a supply in the freezer, where they will keep indefinitely. If the power goes out, I still have a year or two to use them up.
A supply of beef and chicken in the freezer will keep as long as the temperature remains below zero F. I prefer to cook the meat or poultry first. Otherwise, you end up freezing a large quantity of bacteria with the raw food, bacteria that will start growing as the food is thawing. Cooked and frozen food has little bacteria, and so thawing is safer.
Now let’s consider some plant sources of protein.
Soynuts — dried soynuts are 36.5% protein. Most meats and cheeses are only about 25% protein. Other legumes are relatively high in protein, but not as high as soybeans. And the soybeans are a complete protein AND provide both essential fatty acids: omega-6 and omega-3 fat. Soynuts are not as tasty as many other seeds and nuts. But considering their high nutritional value, you should include soynuts with your stored food.
Dried beans — Every prepper knows that dried beans are a good source of stored protein. But I would suggest that perhaps dried beans are over-emphasized in prepping. How much beans can you eat on a daily basis? Dried beans are inexpensive and store very well. So include them in your food stores. But you should keep a wide range of protein sources in addition.
Which beans are best? Red kidney beans, cowpeas, black beans, and cranberry beans are all a complete protein. They have all essential amino acid in ideal or better proportions. Most other beans and legumes are lacking in methionine (an essential amino acid), but otherwise are high in essential amino acids.
Chickpeas are a little lower in total protein, at about 19%, than most beans (20 to 25%). But chickpeas are a complete protein. They also offer some variety, so that you do not have to eat beans every day. Dried chickpeas can be ground into flour and added to any bread recipe.
Lentils store well and are high in protein. Their essential amino acid profile improves if you sprout them. They can be added to sandwiches, salads, and breads.
Another legume, that tastes more like a nut, is the humble peanut. You can grow your own peanuts using raw peanuts in the shell from the supermarket. See my post: Grocery Store Sources of Gardening Seeds.
Peanuts and peanut butter store fairly well, and are easy to rotate with your regular pantry foods. They are high in protein and dietary fat. The protein is nearly complete, except for a less than ideal percent of lysine. However, the total protein is so high that you will end up with plenty of all essential amino acids, including lysine. The same is true for sunflower seeds.
Sunflower seeds are among the least expensive protein sources, in the seeds and nuts category. I recently purchased some raw sunflower seeds, in bulk, at about $3.25/lb. I cook the seeds at low temperature (250 degrees F for 30 min) to sterilize the seeds, then store them in sealed containers.
Pumpkin seeds are a complete protein, high in total protein, and very palatable. Together peanuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are good supplementary sources of protein. Other nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, almonds, are rather expensive, even in bulk. They store fairly well, but cost is an important consideration. I would avoid macadamia nuts, as these are low in protein and have a poor essential amino acid profile. Also, avoid Brazil nuts as a stored protein; they are so high in selenium that you can literally overdose on selenium by eating too many on a regular basis.
Grains are probably going to be your main source of both carbs and protein in any survival situation. The amount of animal-source protein that you can keep in a freezer is limited. And you really cannot live on legumes, seeds, and nuts as a main staple food — they don’t have enough carbs. So you will likely be using rice, wheat (perhaps in the form of pasta, which stores very well), and some other grains as your main source of protein. These grains also offer good quality protein. So the legumes and other sources of protein discussed above are really an adjunct to the protein found in your staple foods (grains).