12 Foods That Should Never Be Frozen
Storing ingredients you've shopped for, leftovers, or a dish you've made ahead in the refrigerator is natural, but it's important to note that not everything that goes into the refrigerator will hold up in the freezer, too. Palak Patel, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, says a reason many dishes should not be frozen is that they call for ingredients that won't taste as good after spending time in your freezer. "Generally speaking, anything that has dairy, or a very high water content, is not going to do well when frozen," Patel says. "Freezing these ingredients—or recipes that feature these ingredients up front and center—is going to be disappointing."
Patel also reminds us that any food that has been frozen and defrosted should not be frozen again, that will render even the heartiest ingredients inedible—and it's a red flag for keeping food safe in your home, Amy H. Simonne, PhD, a professor and food safety specialist at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, says.
"Freezing food doesn't destroy all traces of bacteria and viruses, and it's easy to introduce cross contamination or other foodborne illnesses as a result of initial contamination," Simmone says. "If you leave something out after you've cooked it and bacteria happens to grow after the time you let it cool, it will continue to impact the food when you place it into the freezer."
Here are 12 common ingredients that should not be frozen, due to quality issues and safety concerns. Also recipes that involve substantial amounts of these ingredients should be not be frozen, they will taste better stored in the refrigerator and enjoyed as leftovers, Patel says.
Recipes that are milk or cream-based or are heavy with dairy components can be ruined when frozen, Patel says. "When you freeze things containing dairy, the fat will separate from the liquid forms in dairy. Separation—or, even worse, curdling—can occur because most common dairy items have been emulsified." A small amount of cream in a dish won't sabotage a fully cooked meal stored in the freezer (think: soups and stews). Similarly containers or packages of dairy products should not be stored in the freezer; the one exception to this is butter which can be safely frozen for up to nine months.
You probably wouldn't consider freezing a jar of mayo. The main ingredient in homemade mayonnaise is eggs—and if you use more than a small amount of mayonnaise in sauces and creamy casseroles, the consistency of the dish will change in the freezer. Patel says recipes made with a mayo base will become overtly soft, or take on a rubbery, sponge-like consistency, so stick to freeze-ahead recipes that are free of mayonnaise.
Among the produce items that should never be stored in the freezer, Patel places cucumbers at the top of the list. They have a very high water content, and freezing turns them inedible. "When you freeze more water-concentrated vegetables like cucumbers, the water content will freeze and expand, crystallizing over time, turning the vegetable into a mushy mess."
Zucchini is another item that can become limp and water-logged after being defrosted, and also can take on an oxidized color and aroma. Frozen zucchini products sold in the supermarket have been specially prepared, but storing homemade zoodles or zucchini side dishes in a freezer isn't recommended in order to preserve optimal flavors and textures.
Lettuce and Cabbage
Few people would consider freezing a lettuce-based salad (or any raw salad), but cabbage also has a high water content and doesn't hold up well to the freezer. Avoid freezing dishes, including casseroles and side dishes, that are cabbage based, as according to Patel that will definitely sour the dish.
According to Patel tomato sauce-based recipes are great options for freezing, as they have been completely processed and puréed. Freezing whole tomatoes—or dishes that contain prominent tomato slices or chunks—is not a good idea as it will alter the texture of the tomato's flesh and skin, as this juicy favorite holds plenty of water in its natural form.
Baked and Boiled Potatoes
Use discretion when it comes to freezing potatoes. If they are a supporting ingredient in soups, stews, and sauces, they won't affect the quality of the dish overall. But freezing baked potatoes or cubed, boiled potatoes is not recommended, says Patel. They will become unable to hold a shape or form and ruptured ice crystals will lead to an unpleasant, watery consistency.
Meringue and Custard Filling
Freezing cakes and cookies, even pies, is second nature for most bakers, but Patel points out that homemade meringue can take on an unpleasant rubbery profile when defrosted. Since eggs are another chief ingredient in custard fillings, these kinds of baked goods can become watery and lumpy if frozen and defrosted, so it's best to store these in a cool place in your home.
Freezing shrimp, lobster, and other shellfish once is okay (here's some literature on the best way to do so) but you'll run into safety issues when you try and freeze it again after it's defrosted. Shellfish is one of the most delicate perishable items, Simmone says, and so it's best to enjoy this seafood staple as soon as possible—foodborne illnesses can develop if thawed shellfish is left at room temperature even for just an hour.