Thursday, August 26, 2010

Salvaging Accidentally Frozen Foods

Technology is a fickle thing; refrigerators are no exception. Sometimes when trying to keep all the food in the fridge chilled, the temperature doesn't get dispersed evenly and then you might be in for trouble.
More than once, my fridge has managed to freeze foods that I hadn't intended to freeze, leading me to shake my head in disbelief at all the potentially ruined good. Once foods have been frozen, they will rarely be the same again.

The Science Behind Freezer Ruined Foods

I'm not big into writing science on my blog, because, from what I see, people are less interested in the hows and the whys of things than in the fact that their expensive food just got ruined, but in this case, a little biology and chemistry will help you understand that that food doesn't need to go into the garbage.

When water freezes, because of its unique molecular structure, it expands. All living things are made up of cells, each consisting of a cellular wall and cytoplasm, among other things. Cytoplasm is water based, so when things comprised of cells get frozen, the cytoplasm expands and ruptures the cell walls, much like what happens when you put a glass bottle of water in the freezer- it bursts.
Since vegetables and fruit are built up of cells, when they've been frozen and their cell membranes rupture, they end up with a distinctly different texture. In essence, they loose their crispness and wilt.

When raw vegetables get frozen, either accidentally or on purpose, they will never be as they originally were. Cucumbers will become soggy, lettuce will become wilty, and carrots will become soft.

Salvaging Accidentally Frozen Foods

Some vegetables are often sold frozen. If they're sold that way, you can rest assured that your food won't be ruined by having been frozen. Examples of commonly frozen veggies and fruit are:
  • Corn
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Onions
  • Celery
If these foods, or any of their ilk, become frozen by a malfunctioning fridge, just pretend that you bought them frozen and leave it at that.

Basically he consistency of a frozen raw vegetable will usually be similar to that of a cooked vegetable.

To salvage an accidentally frozen vegetable, if you use it in a cooked dish, most of the time no one will know.
  • Use frozen peppers in ratatouille or tomato sauce or stuff them as you would fresh peppers.
  • Frozen cabbage works well in soup and stuffed cabbage.
  • Frozen zucchini works well in casseroles, soups, and sauces.
  • Frozen tomatoes work well in sauces and soups.
Some vegetables, like cucumbers and lettuce, are usually eaten raw. How can you salvage that?
  • Cucumbers can be cooked! When cooked, their texture is similar to that of pickles- slightly wilted. There are many cooked cucumber recipes out there. Frozen cucumbers can be used in all of them without a problem. With my last batch of accidentally frozen cucumbers, I made an absolutely divine cucumber and lentil curry. You may be skeptical at first about cooked cucumbers, but they're really good- I assure you!
  • Lettuce can also be cooked! If your lettuce gets wilted in the fridge, don't worry- it is still usable. Frozen lettuce (romaine) taste remarkably similar to spinach and can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Other foods that come to mind that slightly change their properties once frozen are milk and blended soups and gravies. 
  • Frozen milk may start separating slightly. This isn't the hugest deal and most of the time it is barely noticeable. If your milk has been changed because of freezing, use your milk to make yogurt or ricotta cheese or other recipes that involve separating curds from whey, as you're part way there already. Alternatively, use this milk in pancakes or other baked goods.
  • Blended thick soups and gravy often separate into solids and liquids when frozen. The quick way to salvage this is to just blend it again once defrosted and it'll be back to normal.
~ ~ ~
Some foods that aren't fixable once frozen. Potatoes, kohlrabi, and turnips end up with very unappetizing textures once frozen. Cooking, unfortunately, doesn't fix this. In cases like this, simply chuck the whole thing into a pan of water, bring to a boil and then strain once cooked. This way you'll still be able to retain the flavor and the nutrients from the food that you still find too gross to eat.

Does your refrigerator ever freeze some of your foods? What do you do then? Do you toss the food, fix the food, or do something else? 
What foods have you discovered do not survive a freezing?


  1. Just stumbled upon this great site. These are some great tips. I was really annoyed when a cucumber and tomato salad I made had frozen in just a few hours. Not really sure how to salvage that so I just ate it and winced at every bite. I would much rather fruits freeze as frozen fruit can easily be tossed into the blender to be made into a smoothie. Normally, accidently frozen foods in my fridge are lettuces which I usually just throw out. I will try your tip to substitute it for spinach and try a new recipe.

  2. Milk is actually okay to freeze. The circular indents on the sides of a jug are actually intended for freezing so it has room to expand. If your milk accidentally freezes, thaw it and drink up! It's no different than when women are nursing and freeze their breast milk.

    As far as the lettuce goes, what happens if you were going to use it in a salad? Am I better off buying a new head?

    1. when i freeze milk i take some out if i

      learned the hard way cause it exploded in the freezer

    2. Milk in paper cartons can be frozen with no problems - I do it on purpose regularly. Just be sure it is completely thawed before using, and shake it well to mix the watery milk and the cream (fat). Otherwise you will use the cream first and leave the skim milk frozen. Milk in plastic jugs shouldn't be frozen or it may burst the jugs!!

  3. What about oranges? Is there any recipe for a frozen orange? I just ate one by cutting it in half and scooping it up with spoon.

    1. I love the simple cranberry sauce of a whole orange mixed with whole cranberries in the blender. You could easily use the frozen orange for this. You can freeze any citrus.

  4. A frozen orange can be turned into a fruit smoothie. Cut into smaller pieces, add milk, frozen or fresh fruit (berries, pineapple, mango) juice, yogurt and/or whatever else you want. Add some sugar or honey if not sweet enough and chop some ice in there if you want more texture. For some more fun, add ice cream and/or Caribbean rum :)

  5. what about winter squash?

    1. My cousin gave me some once that had frozen accidentally and there was no difference at all - they even kept as well as non-frozen ones!

  6. I had a couple of canned tomatoes freeze are they still good to eat and should I now keep them froze till ready to use?

  7. I had a few cans of Tomatoes freeze are they still good to use for cooking and also should I now keep them froze till ready to use?

  8. Stupidly stored a head of cauliflower on top shelf, about 3/4 of it froze. saw this page and decided to boil & mash, then added butter, cream cheese, salt & a LITTLE milk (about 2-3 Tbs). it came out great! so, in short, pureeing w/ a stick blender works wonders.

  9. I assume because im going to use my frozen squash in a soup. Ill be ok?

  10. I've diced white potatoes and frozen them on purpose before to use in potato soup. I didn't think it came out tasting bad at all!!

    1. it's not the taste, it's the texture.. if you don't cook them prior to freezing, they get spongy and rubbery....

  11. can you still use squash if it was frozen outside. Sadly to say, I forgot it outside and didn't bring them in (spaghetti and buttercup)

    1. I'm just about to try baking a winter squash (sweet dumpling) that was left out accidentally at 2 degrees! Frozen solid. I let it thaw overnight and now I'm going to pop it in the oven at 375 for an hour. No idea if it will be palatable... but I have several so thought I'd at least give it a try.

    2. Please let us know how it turns out. I just had the same thing happen with all my garden beets, and found this website while trying to find out what to do. Unless someone tells me otherwise, I will keep them frozen, and thaw and cook as needed.

      In my own experience you should thaw the squash first, but they may even keep as well as if they had never been frozen.

  12. Accidentally froze a whole bag of baby carrots. They're all soft and kind of gross now. Can i still cook with them?

  13. this is a wonderful site like the person above said. I had some fresh green beans in my fridge and they froze. I usually blanch my beans on sunday before I cook them and I think I just might not blanch these. If you blanch first then just bring to a boil they will stay that pretty green and be a little firm.



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