Whether you have a particularly bountiful backyard garden or you’re simply trying to make the most out of the fresh produce you’ve purchased at your local farmer’s market, learning how to freeze vegetables properly is a must-know.
Sure, frozen veggies often get a bad rap — they can be soggy and lack flavor upon cooking. But you can prepare your own if you know how to select the right fresh vegetables, prep them correctly, and freeze and store them the right way. Read on and learn more about freezing methods that’ll guarantee your frozen vegetables cook and taste as fresh as possible.
Why Freeze Veggies?
There are a few good reasons why you should take a little extra time and effort to freeze extra produce, be it for your health or simply for practicality.
Freezing Vegetables Helps Retain Their Nutritional Value
Both fresh fruit and veggies slowly begin losing their nutritional value after they’re picked. So, by the time they arrive at your local grocery store (and then sit in your refrigerator for a few more days or weeks), these once fresh vegetables may not be quite as nutritious. And yes, fresh veggies are fantastic — but there are times they’re just not available. Still, some people might be hesitant to select vegetables stocked in the frozen food section, thinking they’re not as “good” as fresh.
That’s not necessarily true. Research suggests that some properly-frozen vegetables may be just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts, since they were picked and processed in their prime (when they’re the most nutrient-packed). The freezing process effectively helps “lock in” the vitamins and minerals that make veggies such a nutritious, vital part of your diet.1
Frozen Vegetables Help Make Seasonal Produce More Accessible And Inexpensive
Make full use of your farmer’s market bounty long after the summer season — and help reduce food waste — by freezing warm-weather favorites like peas, corn, and summer squash. This way, you’ll have a batch of prepared vegetables ready to go into your delicious recipes even in the colder months — and you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg for them since they’re out of season.2
Pre-Frozen Vegetables Help Cut Down On Meal Prep Time
If the seemingly endless peeling, slicing, and dicing is what puts you off from adding more vegetables to your daily dishes, using frozen vegetables can be a game changer. Having bags of vegetables all ready to go into your recipes can help you save time and energy, and you won’t have to sacrifice flavor.3
Frozen And Fresh Vegetables Help Keep Your Diet Balanced
Having a container of all-purpose mixed vegetables handy in the freezer is better than not having any at all, and can really help make sure you’re getting your dose of the good stuff even if you’re just throwing together a quick lunch. Choosing fresh is often the best choice, but having access to frozen produce is still a good way to make sure you’re eating a wide variety of vegetables.4
Now that you know all the reasons why you should freeze vegetables, it’s time to go about learning exactly how to do it in a way that will help preserve their quality and flavor.
So, How Can You Freeze Raw Vegetables?
Fresh fruit is often simply washed and dried before frozen, but in order to keep it optimally, the same can’t be done with raw vegetables. When thawed, raw veggies may lose their texture, color, and flavor, and they don’t cook well.5
Luckily, there’s a simple extra step you can take to make sure your vegetables keep their crisp texture and vibrant color: blanching.
What Is Blanching, And How Do You Do It?
Blanching is the basic cooking technique of briefly cooking vegetables in boiling water, then “shocking” them by dunking them in an ice bath or in very cold water, thus stopping the cooking process. This technique stops the enzymes that cause spoilage in fresh vegetables, helping preserve their freshness before they are frozen. Simply put, blanching vegetables prior to freezing helps prevent loss of flavor and color, and allows them to both freeze and thaw beautifully.6
While most vegetables can and should be blanched prior to freezing, there are some types of vegetables that simply do not freeze well, and thus should be eaten fresh or soon after you purchase or harvest them. Read on to learn more about the vegetables that keep well, and those that unavoidably turn into a mushy mess.
Can You Freeze Lettuce? Choosing Vegetables To Freeze
You already know that picking vegetables in their prime is the first step to freezing them well, but there are quite a few varieties of veggies that don’t do well in the freezer no matter how fresh they are. It all comes down to water content: Veggies with inherently high water content can freeze, but will not retain crispness and flavor once thawed. These are some examples of vegetables that should not be frozen (but can keep in the crisper for a little while):
- Lettuce (and other delicate salad greens)
- Bell peppers
Generally, it’s best to choose hardier vegetables with less water content to blanch and freeze. Read on for an easy step-by-step process.
Four Steps To Prep Frozen Vegetables
Follow these steps and you’ll have bags of vegetables filling up your freezer in no time.
Step 1: Choose And Prepare Vegetables Wisely
Select vegetables that are at the peak of their freshness. Wash or rinse them thoroughly, then pat them dry before peeling and chopping. Remove tough or woody stems, or trim stems, if they have them (think asparagus, dark leafy greens with stems, and/or green beans) or separate them into florets (for broccoli and cauliflower). For most vegetables (carrots, squash, and zucchini) simply chop into 2-inch slices or cubes for faster freezing.8
Step 2: Blanch Vegetables
Bring a pot of water to a boil. A good rule of thumb to follow is one gallon of water for every pound of vegetables. Once boiling, add in your veggies and let them boil for about 2-3 minutes. To stop the blanching process, remove vegetables from boiling water (you can use a slotted spoon if you don’t have a drainer basket inside your pot), and quickly transfer them to a bowl of ice water.
After vegetables have cooled down in the ice water, drain vegetables well and pat them dry.9
Step 3: Freeze In A Single Layer
Transfer blanched vegetables into a rimmed baking sheet, making sure to spread them out into a single layer to avoid ice crystals clumping your vegetable pieces together. Place in your freezer and let chill until frozen solid.10
Step 4: Transfer To Freezer-Safe Bags For Long-Term Storage
Once your vegetables are frozen, remove them from your rimmed sheet and transfer them to your freezer-safe container of choice. You can use sealable freezer bags, or air-tight containers. Make sure you remove as much air as possible from your storage container, since exposure to air can ruin the fresh flavor of your vegetables. If you’re planning to freeze veggies on the regular, it might be worth investing in a vacuum sealer gadget for this purpose. Make sure you use heavy-duty freezer bags.11
Make Good Use Of Frozen Vegetables
Generally, frozen vegetables keep for a good three months or so. Use them in a variety of ways to keep your meals exciting and well-rounded. Add them to soups, stews, and stir-fries, experiment with subbing them into your favorite muffins or other baked goods, or simply toss thawed batches into the oven for a solid roasted vegetable side.
Quality frozen veggies are sure to help keep your diet and health goals on track, and a little effort definitely goes a long way.