The humble lettuce is the second most popular fresh vegetable in the United States, trumped only by potatoes. While lettuce is not the most suitable candidate for freezing, lettuce can be frozen in some cases.
Lettuce is a vegetable with a very high water content at 96%. When water freezes the structure changes and ice crystals form. The edges of the ice crystals can penetrate the cell walls and can cause damage to the cells.
When the water melts, it can cause permanent damage to the leaf structure of the lettuce. This means limp and lifeless leaves, which don’t form the basis of a good salad.
When done correctly, lettuce can be stored safely in the freezer for up to 6 months.
How to freeze lettuce
Wash your lettuce thoroughly and ensure there are no bugs and creepy crawlies hiding inside the leaves. Use this time to check the quality of your lettuce. Ensure it is not going brown and limp, instead look for vibrant color and crisp leaves.
Remove the lettuce leaves from the central stalk with your hands or carefully using a sharp knife. Separate the leaves with your hands gently, removing any that look brown or are going limp.
Run the leaves under cold water before placing them in a large bowl filled with cold, clean water. Agitate the bowl gently to ensure the water rises all areas of the lettuce.
Remove the lettuce leaves from the bowl and gently shake the excess water off. If you have a salad spinner, give the leaves a gentle spin to remove some water.
Lay a clean dishtowel on your countertop and spread out the lettuce leaves on top. If you have a particularly large lettuce, you may need 2.
Lay a second (or third and fourth) dishtowel on top of the lettuce leaves and gently press down to remove even more water droplets. The drier the leaves are, the better their condition will be once they are thawed.
Lay the dried leaves on top of a baking sheet and place in the freezer for a couple of hours to flash freeze. Remove from the freezer and transfer to an airtight container for storage. Label the container with the contents and the date before returning to the freezer.
You can place all the leaves together in a ziplock bag and squeeze out the air straight after drying. You can then freeze straight away, but we do not recommend this. The lettuce leaves are likely to freeze into one clump, making it difficult to use later.
You can also freeze smaller portions of lettuce for smoothies and soups by freezing in an ice cube tray. Place the washed and dried lettuce in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds if you just want it chopped, or for longer to puree it.
Pour the blended lettuce into ice cube trays and place in the freezer overnight. Once they have frozen solid, you can remove from the ice cube tray and place in a ziplock freezer bag. Label and return to the freezer for a convenient portion of lettuce whenever you want.
How to defrost lettuce
If you make lettuce ice cubes for smoothies you will not need to thaw. Simply add to your blender in place of regular ice, and blend as normal. The lettuce will have the same effect but will give you an added nutritional boost - and no one is going to say no to that!
You can also add the lettuce ice cubes straight into soup pots and other dishes as you are cooking. Simply ensure the pot returns to temperature before eating.
If you wish to defrost the lettuce leaves, remove from the freezer and place on a plate in the refrigerator for a few hours, or overnight. The slower the thawing process, the more intact your lettuce leaves will remain.
If you chop your lettuce into shreds prior to freezing, you can stir fry these in a wok with some minced ginger, minced garlic, and soy sauce. This is a fun idea for a side dish and will help you pack in those nutrients.
Factors to consider before freezing lettuce
As mentioned before, lettuce does not freeze well. We recommend only freezing lettuce destined to be used in soups or smoothies.
Different varieties of lettuce freeze in different ways. Those with thicker leaves, such as butterhead, heirloom, and romaine lettuce will freeze better than iceberg lettuce.
Homegrown lettuce and lettuce from farmers’ markets tend to freeze better than storebought.
Ensure the lettuce leaves are as dry as possible prior to freezing. Water is what causes freezer burn to form, therefore the drier they are the longer they will stay in good condition.
We do not recommend freezing lettuce leaves in ziplock freezer bags, and instead, suggest using airtight containers. This is because lettuce leaves are incredibly fragile and need a solid structure around them to present breakages.
If you do opt to freeze lettuce in a ziplock freezer bag, do not overfill each bag as this can cause the leaves to bruise. Ensure you handle with care until fully thawed to prevent further damage to the leaves.
Ensure you store your lettuce at the top of the freezer if in a ziplock bag, to prevent it from getting squashed.
If you are freezing multiple varieties of lettuce, we advise freezing them in separate containers.
Store the lettuce in the coldest part of the freezer in order to retain a high quality.
Lettuce has a very high water content and so is not suitable for freezing if you wish to eat it in salads, as the leaf structure will be destroyed. It is very high in Vitamin A, C, K, potassium, and antioxidants, making it the perfect addition to smoothies, soups, and stews.
We hope that you now feel confident in freezing lettuce to reduce your food waste. Armed with our tricks, you will always have a boost of nutrition handy.