Freezing is a quick and easy way to preserve your fruits and vegetables so you always have some handy to use in your meals. Everyone knows eating more fruits and vegetables is important to one’s health, but people often make excuses that they cannot get to the store to get produce or that it goes bad so quickly and is never used before it ends up spoiling. Once you learn how to properly freeze your fruits and vegetables, and how to use them once they’ve been frozen, you’ll no longer be able to use such an excuse, and you’ll realize just how convenient and economical buying fresh produce and freezing it can be!
Chemical and Texture Changes During Freezing
The first thing you should know once you plan on beginning to freeze fruits and vegetables is that not all freeze well. Some vegetables you may to avoid freezing include lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables that may become limp and watery after being frozen. These items are not harmful to consume if they’ve been frozen, but the texture and flavor may not endure the freezing process as well as other vegetables that have stronger cell walls.
Fresh produce contains enzymes which cause loss of color and nutrients as well as flavor changes. These enzymes need to be deactivated so you can enjoy your produce long after it would have normally spoiled, but it’s not quite as simple as just tossing some veggies in the freezer right before they go bad. There are a few simple processes that don’t take long, and that anyone can do, to make produce safe for freezing. The first thing that must be done is to blanch the vegetables you intend to freeze. There are several methods to blanch vegetables. There are also several ways to preserve your fruits which do not include blanching, but rather methods such as sugar packing, syrup packing, and unsweetened packing.
How to Blanch Vegetables for Freezing
Blanching is simply heating vegetables in boiling water for a short period of time. This is the procedure which stops the destructive activity of the enzymes in the vegetables. It also helps cleanse the surface of the vegetables and slows the loss of vitamins, and that’s one of the most important reasons for eating vegetables in the first place! Blanching time is very important and varies for each vegetable.
There are several ways to go about blanching vegetables. Water blanching is one of the easiest and most traditional ways to prepare your vegetables. Boil one gallon of water per pound of vegetables, cover, and cook according to the proper time for your veggies. The heat should remain high throughout the cooking time for the vegetables you’re preparing. Another method is steam blanching, which takes a little longer than water blanching. Use a pot with a tight lid and a basket that will hold the vegetables at least several inches over the water in the bottom of your pot. Add one to two inches of water and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables into the basket in only a single layer, or two at most, so they can all cook evenly. For this method, the heat needs to remain on high the entire time as well. FInally, you can blanch your veggies in the microwave, but please be forewarned that this might not be as effective and may result in the texture, taste, and other characteristics being altered, and this is not a recommended way to save time or energy. If you do choose to use the microwave to blanch your vegetables, pay close attention and work in very small batches.
Blanching times can be found online in many places. A simple search as well as the sources at the end of this document include cooking times for many popular frozen vegetables. Most vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, caulifower, green beans, and spinach, to name a few, typically take only 3-4 minutes for blanching. Other vegetables, such as sweet potatoes and squash, may take longer since they will need to be nearly fully-cooked, until tender. Onions, peppers, and herbs do not need to be blanched prior to freezing.
After the appropriate cooking time for blanching your veggies, they must be immediately cooled to stop the cooking process and ready the vegetables to be completely frozen. As soon as the blanching process is complete, immerse the vegetables into cool water which is 60 degrees Fahrenheit, or colder. Change water every few minutes or add additional ice during this process. Cooling time should be almost equal to the cooking time for the vegetables. Drain veggies thoroughly. Excess moisture can also result in texture changes and other loss of quality once the vegetables become frozen.
Methods to Pack Fruits for Freezing
Freezing fruits in sugar or syrup is best for preserving the flavor of the fruits, but it’s not essential. You need to wash the fruits and prepare them for how they might be used in the future. All unnecessary parts that you won’t be using can be discarded, such as seeds. For example, you may want to core an apple and freeze it in slices with an anti-browning treatment such as coating with a small amount of lemon or citrus. The apple slices can later be used to make a pie, a fruit salad, or even pureed for applesauce.
If you’d like to freeze fruits using the sugar pack, you should evenly and gently coat the fruits with sugar and water or fruit juice. This can be done by placing the fruit in a bowl, sprinkling sugar over the fruit, and stirring gently until evenly coated. To make the syrup for the syrup pack, you would simply dissolve sugar into cold water and let sit until the solution turns to a clear color. Then, use the simple syrup to coat your fruits to prepare them for freezing. You may also freeze the fruits without any additional sugar or juice. This may result in lower quality for the texture and flavor, however.
How to Pack Fruits and Vegetables for Freezing
A common container used to freeze produce is a plastic bag. You can use saran wrap as an alternative. You could also opt to use a tupperware container if you like, or any sealable container. Whatever container you choose, it should be airtight with a strong seal. Air will cause freezer burn and other variations that are not desired, so it’s essential to pack and seal with little or no air in the container, and also to prevent air from entering the container once it’s sitting in your freezer.
How to Use Your Produce Once it’s been Frozen
Fruit can be thawed at room temperature and used when it’s still cold. It should be served or used to prepare the dish immediately after it’s defrosted. If using the fruit to make a smoothie or other frozen treat, obviously no thawing is needed, as it can be used while still frozen.
Almost all vegetables can be cooked immediately from the frozen state without the need to thaw. (An exception is corn-on-the-cob, which should be at least partially thawed before cooking.) Frozen vegetables can be cooked in a small amount of water until they are tender, which is usually about half as long as it would have taken the vegetable to cook if it were still fresh. If using a pressure cooker to heat your frozen vegetables, the veggies should be thawed enough that they can be broken up before cooking in the device.
Freezing produce is a great way to always have some on hand. Most fruits and vegetables freeze well and maintain almost all of their nutritional value as well as flavor and texture, and it often only takes several minutes to blanch your vegetables, cool them, and pack them, or to prepare your fruits in the unsweetened pack or sugar packs. After that, they are ready to use anytime! Most fruits and vegetables can be safely stored in the frozen state for up to a year when kept at a constant temperature of close to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Foods can be safely eaten if they are frozen for longer than a year, but, at that point, the quality may be further reduced.
Freezing Fruits and Vegetables
How to Blanch Vegetables for Freezing
National Center for Home Food Preservation