Lettuce is one of those fragile veggies that’s hard to store reliably for a long time. If you bought too much to eat fresh or just want to have a backup cache on hand in case of an Apocalettuce, it might be tempting to put it on ice.
If you have salad in mind, lettuce’s water content makes it hard to keep its crisp structure at temperatures below zero. If you don’t mind a bit of squish, post-freeze lettuce can still be a nutritious dish.
Can You Freeze Lettuce?
You can freeze lettuce, but when you thaw it out, you’ll probably find more sag than crunch. Lettuce that is fresh and thick-leaved keeps together better in the freezer. Shredded lettuce degrades faster than whole leaves. If you store it in these optimal conditions, frozen lettuce should last for about six months.
Follow the advice we’ve put together in this article to keep your lettuce cryogenically preserved for millennia as you travel the vast emptiness of outer space. Or at least for six months in the freezer.
Should You Freeze Lettuce?
Lettuce leaves are made up of about 94% water. That’s what makes them problematic in the freezer.
Starchy vegetables that don’t contain much water respond much better to freezing temperatures. This includes common freezer staples like peas and corn. The starch in their cells holds together well when frozen without changing the veggies’ texture too much.
When you freeze lettuce, all that water in the plant’s cells turns to ice crystals. Of course, water expands about 9% when it turns to ice. Lettuce cells can’t take that much stretching. As the ice crystals form, the lettuce cells pop like balloons.
This wreaks havoc on the crunchy, leafy texture. When you defrost the lettuce, all those ruptured cells end up looking more like a sad mess than a salad.
While you may not want to eat these soggy, slimy, defrosted lettuce leaves raw, they still work great in cooked dishes, wraps, and purees. They may lose texture, but they don’t lose much nutritional content. To me, defrosted cryonic lettuce tastes like weird spinach.
All that being said, some kinds of lettuce freeze better than others. How well lettuce freezes depends a lot on what kind and how fresh it is.
Species with thicker leaves keep their structure a little better than thin-leafed varieties. The freezer-friendly types include butterhead lettuces like Boston and bibb and other thick and loose types like cos and romaine.
Fresh lettuce also freezes better than grocery store lettuce. Lettuce that has been stored and shipped across the country has already been through a lot. The cells are already on their last legs once the lettuce reaches you, and freezing them is just the last straw.
If you get your lettuce locally, the plant cells will be younger, more robust, and better able to keep their texture after a harrowing freezer journey. The leaves will still turn out soggy, but they’ll be less likely to turn to mush.
Can Frozen Lettuce Make You Sick?
As long as it was slime and mold-free when you put it in the freezer, your lettuce should be safe when you take it out.
Freezing won’t kill all bacteria and germs as it only puts them on pause. When the lettuce warms up again, it will pick up the decaying process right where it left off. That’s why it’s important to defrost frozen lettuce hygienically.
If you thaw it in the fridge, it will take longer, but the bacteria will stay in their arrested development for longer. Plan ahead by moving frozen leaves to the fridge the night before you want to use them.
If you thaw lettuce at room temperature, never leave it out for longer than two hours. Put individual leaves on paper or cloth towels to avoid a drippy mess.
Related | How Long Does Lettuce Last?
If you cook thawed lettuce, make sure to eat it or refrigerate it in under two hours.
How to Freeze Lettuce (If You Dare)
Here are a few storage tips to make sure your lettuce survives its arctic ordeal as intact as possible. Handling the leaves gently as you prepare them will give you the least mushy results.
- If you separate the leaves, they’ll freeze faster and crisper. Separating them also makes it easier to identify and remove wilting or damaged leaves. We recommend washing each leaf to make sure it’s thoroughly clean before hibernation.
- Lettuce species with thick stalks freeze better when you remove the stalk. Leave the thinner stalks on more tender-leafed varieties to help the leaf stay in one piece.
- If you remove the stalks, it’s better to use your hands. Taking a knife to your lettuce can make the cut edges turn brown. A simple twist and rip will help keep the grass greener on the other side.
- Dry the leaves as much as you can before freezing them. You can pat them with a towel or leave them in a strainer to drain dry.
- Once dry, put them in a freezer bag. Don’t stuff the leaves into the bag like you’re raking the fall foliage. It’s better to slip them carefully in one at a time.
- Different kinds of lettuce have different amounts of water and freeze at different time frames. If you need to freeze more than one type, use separate freezer bags and clearly mark each one.
- When the bag is relatively full, try to remove as much air from it as you can. You can leave a tiny opening and press down on the bag gently or bunch the open end around a straw and suck the air out. If you have a vacuum sealing system, use a low vacuum to keep from crushing the leaves.
Tips For Freezing Lettuce
- Iceberg lettuce – This thin-leafed variety is not a freezer superstar. You’ll probably notice drastic changes in structure and texture.
- Romaine lettuce – The thick leaves give this variety extra fiber and slightly lower water content. That makes it a good freezer candidate.
- Whole head lettuce – Don’t freeze the entire head unless you intend to use the whole thing at once. If so, you can wrap the head in a paper towel to absorb extra water and put it in a freezer bag.
- Shredded lettuce – The smaller you cut up lettuce leaves, the quicker they’ll degrade in the freezer. Try to keep them as large as possible if you want any leafiness at all.
- Bagged lettuce – If the original bag looks strong, you can just freeze the whole thing. If it looks flimsy, it’s better to put the leafy greens in a stronger freezer bag to avoid bad bag news.
Make sure the bag is sealed, and keep it in a low traffic zone of your freezer. Don’t accidentally put anything on top of it, or you’ll undo much of your prep work. Don’t forget about it either! Even frozen lettuce will lose quality after about six shivering months.
Lettuce that has been frozen can taste delicious in soups, stir-frys, and casseroles. You can use it in omelets, quiches, wraps, or anywhere you’d normally use spinach.
An even easier way to freeze lettuce is to blend it up with a bit of water and freeze the puree in an ice cube tray. You can use these nutritious ice cubes in smoothies and juices.