You can freeze coleslaw, but only if it is vinegar-based. Mayonnaise-based coleslaw will go off quickly and is not really suitable for freezing.
The reason that vinegar-based coleslaw is suitable for freezing is that the vinegar, sugar, and spices act as preservatives. This means that the raw vegetables in the coleslaw will stay fresh and vibrant for longer.
The term coleslaw comes from the Dutch koolsla which translates to cabbage salad. There are many variations on coleslaw around the world. In Germany, apples and onions are added and in the UK carrots and onions are included.
Coleslaw is a cold salad, mainly eaten during the summer at backyard barbeques and alongside fried chicken.
It usually contains shredded raw vegetables such as cabbage and carrot, but people adapt this freely to suit their personal preferences. It is tossed in a mayonnaise or vinegar-based dressing and served cold and fresh.
Where possible, we recommend making coleslaw fresh for the best results. If you wish to freeze coleslaw, it will keep in the freezer for up to 1 month.
How to freeze coleslaw
To freeze coleslaw, transfer it to an airtight container. This can be either a rigid container with a lid or a freezer-safe ziplock bag. Make sure you leave an inch or two of space at the top of the container. If using a ziplock bag, press out as much of the air as possible before sealing.
Label clearly with the date frozen and the contents of the container before placing in the freezer for storage.
You can freeze shredded cabbage to make the coleslaw making process easier and faster. This can be frozen either raw or blanched. If freezing cabbage raw, we advise cleaning and shredding the leaves.
Make a bowl of a salt water solution and allow the cabbage shreds to stew in it for at least 15 minutes. Drain and lay on a paper towel.
Pat dry and transfer to an airtight container. We strongly suggest that you do not tightly pack the cabbage leaves as this can cause them to bruise. Press out excess air, label, and store in the freezer.
If you wish to blanch the cabbage, prepare a large pan of boiling water and a large bowl of iced water. Place the shredded cabbage in the boiling water for up to 2 minutes.
Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer immediately to the iced water bowl. Agitate the shreds for a few seconds and then drain and pat dry on paper towels. Pack and store as above.
You can also freeze a mix of vegetables for coleslaw. This means that all you need to do when ready for coleslaw is to make the dressing and mix through well. These will last for up to a year in the freezer.
If you do want to freeze mayonnaise-based coleslaw, you must do so soon after it is made. This is because mayonnaise contains eggs which have a very short shelf life and can easily give you food poisoning.
You can also freeze commercial coleslaw, such as the one from KFC. The preservatives in the recipe will help the coleslaw be more shelf-stable and hold up to freezing better. Ensure it is transferred to a labeled, airtight container for storage in the freezer.
How to defrost coleslaw
We recommend removing the coleslaw from the freezer the day before you wish to consume. Place in the refrigerator and leave to thaw for around 12 hours.
We strongly advise against thawing coleslaw in a bowl of lukewarm water to speed the process up. This is because this provides a good environment for bacterial growth. Instead, ensure the coleslaw remains cold constantly to keep it in optimal condition.
When the coleslaw thaws, you may notice some excess liquid in the container. This can be drained off and then you should mix the coleslaw well to reincorporate the ingredients.
Once thawed, the coleslaw should be consumed in no more than 2 days.
Factors to consider before freezing coleslaw
You should always freeze coleslaw on the same day that you make it. This is because if it is left in the refrigerator this allows time for harmful bacteria to grow. This could then lead to food poisoning.
A good idea is to freeze coleslaw in individual serving portions. This means that when it comes time to thaw, you will not be defrosting more than you can consume in one sitting.
Coleslaw should never be refrozen once thawed. This method is a good way to prevent unnecessary food waste.
It is important to leave space at the top of the container as substances expand when they freeze. Leaving space allows room for the coleslaw to expand into without damaging your container.
Pressing the air out of the ziplock bag is vital as this helps to prevent freezer burn forming and ruining your coleslaw.
We do not advise leaving coleslaw in the freezer for longer than a month. This is because it will impact the flavor and texture. As the vegetables have a high water content when the coleslaw thaws the consistency may be more watery.
The vinegar will also draw out some of the natural moisture in the vegetables, so we advise minimizing the contact time as far as possible.
If freezing mayonnaise-based coleslaw, be aware that the texture will change upon thawing. The vegetables will likely soften and the consistency will be more watery once thawed.
If you are looking to freeze coleslaw, we strongly advise against freezing those with a mayonnaise dressing.
Coleslaw with a vinegar dressing holds up much better in the freezer, although the acidity of the vinegar can draw moisture out of the vegetables and make your coleslaw watery. Dressed coleslaw can keep for up to a month in the freezer.
Your best option is to freeze the prepped vegetables for coleslaw and make the dressing fresh. Undressed coleslaw can be frozen for up to a year.
Never refreeze thawed coleslaw.