Yes, you can put frozen dinners, yogurt and, well, ice, on ice. But did you know there are many more foods you can store in the freezer to extend their lives, cut down on food waste, and make quick-fix meals easier? Now, while not all foods are freezer-friendly and there are some you should keep far, far away from these cold temps, there are plenty of unsuspecting items you can safely freeze. There are a few things to keep in mind when you’re discovering what to put in the freezer, though.
As a general rule, avoid anything with a high water content if you plan to defrost before using, recommends Morgan Bolling, senior editor of Cook’s Country Magazine (a part of America’s Test Kitchen) in Boston, Massachusetts.
“The texture of ingredients like zucchini or berries will change significantly once frozen and thawed,” she says.
And with that, here are 10 items culinary experts keep frozen—and you can, too.
If your rosemary has gone rogue and taken over your pot or your parsley is particularly prolific, pick the leaves before they go brown and prepare them for the freezer.
“Place two tablespoons of chopped fresh rosemary, sage, parsley, or thyme and water to cover (about 1 tablespoon) in each well of the ice cube tray and freeze. Then you can add cubes directly to sauces, soups, or stews,” Bolling says.
Or for an even bigger flavor boost, employ a liquid besides water, suggests Miles Mitchell, chief academic officer and corporate executive chef at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Chicago, Illinois.
“Extra fresh herbs work well frozen inside tomato paste or olive oil in an ice cube tray,” he says.
Even less sturdy herbs can be frozen, too.
“Basil is often something you can have a bumper crop of in the garden, but something we rarely think to freeze,” says Ronnie Schwandt, executive chef at Maretalia and Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge in Coronado, California. “But if you pick the leaves and arrange in freezer bags, they’re easy go-tos in the middle of winter for your soup or sauces.”
Buy more butter than you can bake with this month?
“Freeze butter in its wrapper,” Bolling says.
One day before you’re primed to preheat the oven for your next butter-filled recipe, transfer as many sticks as you need to the refrigerator to thaw.
“When stored in the refrigerator, butter can pick up off-flavors,” Bolling says, and keeping the wrapper on helps prevent this before and after freezing—and it eliminates the need for additional storage tools.
The frozen banana smoothie hack is a well-known one, and you can employ the same strategy for avocados as well.
“Just like with bananas, you can freeze avocados before they are too ripe and save them for smoothies,” Mitchell says. In addition, you can thaw icy avocados to blend into salad dressings or brownie batter.
Food manufacturers, including Welch’s, are even wising up to American’s avo-obsession and have started selling avocado in the freezer aisle, so you can avoid the “underripe or overripe?!” conundrum once and for all.
Save cloves before they sprout.
“Peel the cloves, mince or push them through a garlic press, and place the minced results in a bowl. Add enough neutral-flavored oil (not extra-virgin olive oil) to coat, or about a half teaspoon per clove, then scoop heaping teaspoons of the mixture onto a baking sheet,” Bolling says.
Then pop the baking sheet into the freezer. Once the garlic is firm, place the frozen pieces into a freezer-safe bag or container with a lid, and store until it’s time to season up soups, stews, sauces, and more.
“The frozen garlic will keep for up to a month with no loss in flavor,” Bollings adds. “Tasters in our test kitchen were unable to distinguish the frozen garlic from freshly minced when we used both in pasta with garlic and oil!”
While dry pasta can remain in your pantry indefinitely, tender and tasty fresh pasta have a shorter shelf life. Luckily, you can stretch the lifespan of everything from spaghetti to sheets of lasagna.
“Most people don’t realize fresh raw pasta freezes well,” Schwandt says. Similar to the garlic method, freeze a sheet pan of raw pasta for about 20 minutes or until firm, then transfer to a freezer-safe bag or lidded container. Again, these will maintain their quality for up to a month, so plan to thaw and boil before the four-week mark.
Raw Egg Whites
“Do not freeze anything with cooked egg whites. As the whites freeze and crystalize, the cell structures break down and upon thawing moisture will be released, leading to a watery product that loses texture,” Mitchell says.
You have the green light, however, to freeze those reserved whites when you use the yolks in custards, aiolis, and ice creams.
“Pour leftover egg whites into each well of an ice cube tray and freeze. The day before you’re ready to use the whites, remove as many as you need from the ice cube trays, and let thaw in refrigerator overnight, Bolling says.
Egg whites are excellent to lighten up waffle batter, add a velvety quality to stir-fries, or make mind-blowing macaroons.
Whip up some pancakes, but stuck with the rest of the pint?
Then you can thaw a container at a time—or about enough for a single-serving shortstack—as you’re brunching throughout the month.
Speaking of breakfast, “I love keeping bacon in the freezer since you never know when you need to make breakfast…or put bacon in anything,” says Ben Raupp, executive chef at The Howard, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
For easy access, roll each slice into a pinwheel, then freeze on a baking sheet. Move to a freezer-safe bag and store for up to six months. Yes, literally half a year! It is important to note though that bacon is a meat anomaly, which is why this freezing technique works so well.
“I avoid using frozen proteins whenever possible. If you’re using meat or fish from the freezer, thaw them out slowly overnight in the refrigerator. The slower they thaw, the better you minimize water loss from cell breakage,” Schwandt says.
While refined white flours can last at room temp for years, due to their limited fat content, whole grain and nut flours go bad much quicker. (Sniff and you’ll notice an “off” smell if it’s too far gone.)
“Freshly-milled grains, whole grains, and nuts can go rancid in dry storage,” Schwandt says.
Store special flours, such as almond flour, oat flour, and coconut flour in the freezer in large Mason jars or freezer containers with lids. You can scoop ’em straight from there as needed for your recipes, and the bag will last for about a year in cold storage.
While whole citrus fruits or citrus slices freeze poorly due to their large liquid content, the zests (AKA peels) are perfect for freezing.
“Remove the zest from an entire fruit, such as a lemon, lime, or orange. Deposit the grated zest in half-teaspoon piles on a plate and freeze. Once piles are frozen, place them in a freezer-safe zip-top bag and return them to freezer,” Bolling says.
No need to thaw: Simply add a pinch to cookies or pastas when needed for a refreshing boost. Now, it’s time to go make room in the freezer.