Can You Freeze Lettuce?

Freezing lettuce isn’t something most would normally do, but you can freeze this leafy vegetable to use in cooked dishes and smoothies.
Lettuce 'All Season Romaine Mix'

Lettuce 'All Season Romaine Mix'

Photo by: Burpee

Burpee

Can you freeze lettuce? Not if you want to make tossed salad with the thawed out product. But for cooking and flavoring uses, yes, you can freeze lettuce. The reason you won’t be able to use the frozen lettuce to make salads is because the freezing process causes ice crystals to form in plant cells. When ice crystals form, they rupture cell walls. For vegetables like corn or peas, cell wall damage isn’t as visible because these vegetables are high in starch and contain little water. But lettuce has such a high water content that freezing produces more of a slimy mess.

With lettuce, two things influence freeze-ability: lettuce type and provenance. Thicker-leafed lettuces handle freezing better than supermarket-style iceberg lettuce. Examples of freezer-friendly lettuces include romaine or Cos types and Boston or bib types, which are also known as Butterheads. You can also freeze lettuces that blend both romaine and butterhead traits, like ‘Little Gem’. For each of these lettuce types, you can find varieties that offer different leaf colors, from deep burgundy, to maroon speckles, to chartreuse, to rich green.

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Many of these freezer-friendly lettuces are heirloom varieties that are widely available and easily grown from seed. Tuck them into shallow containers, flower beds, or traditional vegetable gardens to raise a tasty crop. The best lettuces to freeze are those you grow yourself or ones you purchase from local farmers or community supported agriculture. This is where provenance comes into play. Locally raised or homegrown lettuces haven’t endured storage and shipping like their supermarket cousins, so they tend to hold up better through the freezing process.

To freeze lettuce, separate leaves and wash well. Remove leaf bases as desired. Blot leaves dry with towels, handling them gently. Lettuce leaves freeze better if they have as little water as possible on their surfaces. Slip dried leaves into freezer bags, and remove as much of the air as possible. Use a straw to suck out excess air around leaves. Seal the bag and place it in the freezer. Vacuum sealing systems work superbly with lettuce leaves.

Use frozen lettuce within six months for best quality. Frozen lettuce has its place in the kitchen. You can add it to soup or stock, quiche, casseroles, and stir fries. You can substitute frozen lettuce in any recipe that calls for spinach. Whole frozen lettuce leaves work well as wraps; thaw them in the refrigerator overnight before using.

You can braise frozen lettuce leaves in chicken broth and butter, or use oyster sauce for an Asian flair. Or try your hand at making peas the French way: Place a layer of frozen lettuce in the bottom of a pan, top with peas and more frozen lettuce. Cook slowly until peas are done. Add butter and/or mint for additional flavors.

Another option for freezing lettuce is to puree it with a little water and freeze in ice cube trays. Once cubes are frozen solid, store them in a freezer bag. Use these lettuce cubes to make green smoothies, to replace part of the liquid when cooking rice, quinoa, or barley, or to add green nutrition to soup.

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