Whether you are buying produce from the grocery store or harvesting from your own garden, it is important to understand how to freeze and store vegetables properly to keep them as fresh as possible for as long as possible. Otherwise, the food may spoil due to the presence of harmful microorganisms, which causes discoloration, mold, and unpleasant odors. Although you may be prone to throw them all in the refrigerator with no real plan, produce has different storage requirements depending on their characteristics. Some are best left at room temperatures. Below is an article on how to store and freeze vegetables properly to maximize freshness and minimize food waste.
Select fresh produce
When shopping at a grocery or farmer’s market, it is important to select fresh, unblemished produce. Make sure to check the sell-by and use-by dates, to determine which produce is at its optimal quality and which will soon or already have deteriorated or grown moldy. Ethylene gas, which is often used to commercially ripen fruit and give them an artificial appearance of freshness, is a natural byproduct of some fruits to encourage ripening, so they should be kept separate from ethylene-sensitive fruits such as potatoes.
- Onions and garlic should be firm, with dry and unblemished skins.
- Avoid produce with limp leaves or cracks.
- Separate ethylene-sensitive fruits like potatoes from gas-emitting ones like bananas.
Store these in a cool, dark place
Tubers and alliums are generally stored in a cool, dark place to prevent them from sprouting. This is usually a kitchen cupboard or pantry, if you have the space. Plastic bags limit air circulation, so it is better to store them in a cardboard box, paper bag, mesh bag, or basket. Allow for some circulation and keep the temperature between 50 – 70°F, although 50 – 60°F is recommended. Below are vegetables to store in these conditions:
- Onions and garlic
- Hard squashes like winter, butternut, and acorn
Keep in mind that onions and potatoes may require the same location, but don’t place them next to each other. Potatoes are highly ethylene-sensitive and will sprout faster. Furthermore, potatoes prefer relatively high humidity at 85 – 95%, while onions and garlic prefer lower levels at 65 – 75% if that is something you can control.
Store in the refrigerator
Many people find crisper drawers mystifying and tend to randomly select what goes in. Crisper drawers allow you to adjust humidity levels by opening the air vents for less humidity or closing them for more; humidity control improves the shelf life of produce. Some fruits and vegetables to put in the low-humidity drawer include apples, avocadoes, figs, mangoes, pears, and papayas. Fruits and vegetables to put in the high-humidity drawer include broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, strawberries, watermelon, and herbs. For a more complete list, check out this article. The temperature of your refrigerator should be kept between 33 – 40°F.
- Store cabbages in sealed containers or plastic bags or place a whole crown in the crisper drawer, where it will last up to two weeks to even two months. Do not wash it until you are ready to eat it. Uncut crowns can be refrigerated without a bag. Cutting it will cause it to oxidize, so it is best to store them whole, but if space is an issue, cut into quarters and place in a bag.
- Refrigerate leafy greens unwashed, as excess moisture can cause rot. They can last from 3 days and up to a week. Green leaf and romaine tend to last longer, while loose leaf, Bibb and butter lettuces have faster expiration dates.
- Broccoli, brussels sprouts, summer squash, yellow, squash, and green beans last up to 3 – 5 days.
- Carrots, turnips, beets, parsnips and radishes can be stored in a plastic produce bag and will last about 2 weeks.
- Artichokes, cauliflower, celery, peppers, peas, zucchini and cucumber will last up to a week.
Store these on the counter
You can keep a variety of fruits on the counter, such as stone fruits, citrus, and apples, but not vegetables. Whether you view tomatoes as a fruit or vegetable, they should be kept on the counter or in the pantry out of direct sunlight, which causes uneven ripening. Do not store in the refrigerator unless they’re very ripe, and you want to slow or halt the ripening process.
Some vegetables require special methods of storage.
- Asparagus: Asparagus has a short shelf-life of 3 – 5 days and will quickly wither. By trimming your asparagus one inch and placing the cut ends in a container of water, you can prolong their shelf-life. Check periodically and throw away if the stalks become mushy. This technique can be replicated with green onions, except the bottoms shouldn’t be trimmed. When roots sprout, you can plant them in the garden for a continuous harvest for up to two years.
- Parsley & Cilantro: Use almost the same method as mentioned above with asparagus, but add a plastic bag or a similar covering over the container. This will create a more humid environment for the greens to thrive for longer.
- Lettuce: While lettuce requires moisture, it also benefits from air circulation. If you persistently encounter soggy greens, you can consider an alternative way of storing lettuce when storing individual leaves. Spin them dry after washing and place it in a perforated container.
- Mushrooms: Because of their high water content, mushrooms should be stored in a porous paper bag. For shorter storage, you can simply leave it in the original container. However, if you have harvested them from your garden, or want to keep them fresh longer than five days, you should use the paper bag method, and line it with paper towels for an added precaution.
- Celery: No one likes limp celery. The easiest way to keep your celery stalks fresh and crisp for longer, is to wrap them in tin foil and place them in the refrigerator. The foil allows for ethylene gas to escape. Storing celery in a plastic bag, especially a sealed one will lead to the gas being trapped and the celery becoming overripe and droopy much faster.
How to Blanch Vegetables
When searching up recipes for dishes or ways to store your produce, you might have encountered the term blanching. Blanching is used by both commercial cooks and home cooks to preserve the flavor, color, texture, and nutritional value of the food by halting the enzyme reactions that spoil it. Blanching usually entails immersing food in boiling water briefly before plunging it in an ice bath to cool it off. There are three methods to blanching: boiling, steaming, and microwaving.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While waiting for the pot to boil, cut your vegetables into uniform pieces.
- Before blanching, it is optional to add a couple tablespoons of salt to maintain color and improve flavor. Immerse your vegetables in the boiling water. If you are planning on blanching more than one variety, blanche the lighter color ones first, as the darker ones will color the water and subsequent ones.
- After a couple of minutes, quickly remove them with a slotted spoon and plunge into an ice-water bath.
- When vegetables are completely cool, drain the vegetable with a colander and set aside to use in cooking, canning, drying, or freezing. Place in Ziploc bags or small containers.
- Stainless steel or traditional bamboo steamer baskets can be bought at most department stores or online. Add an inch or two of water into a sauce pan or pot that can fit your steamer basket.
- Bring water to a boil and add in your vegetables in a single layer.
- Cover with lid and cook for the recommended time, which is generally half the time used for normally cooking the vegetables.
- Once you are finished cooking, immediately transfer to an ice bath. As soon as it cools, drain it and set aside for usage or storage.