In my opinion, lettuce has been very underrated for its multiple functions in the food world. Of course, you can throw it into a salad or make it the crunch factor on a burger or sandwich. However, the leafy vegetable has also become a popular bread alternative, such as using pieces of lettuce for buns or wraps.
This has become common for both diet culture and gluten-free culture, as lettuce is low in calories and doesn’t even have traces of gluten.
And let’s not forget the different types of lettuce! You’ve got romaine, butterhead, radicchio, bibb, arugula…and that’s only to name a few. Each type brings its own flavor pallet to the table and can be used for different purposes.
But to generalize it, lettuce originated in the Mediterranean area and was first grown as a weed. It’s also classified as a member of the sunflower family.
The first documentation of its cultivation shows it to be in Ancient Egypt over 6,000 years ago. However, rumor has it that the lettuce might have been refined in the Middle East before that. Different types of lettuce have been shown in Ancient Egypt artwork, especially tomb paintings.
Each American also eats around 30 pounds of lettuce each year, which seems crazy since it’s so light, airy, and leafy! But that’s just because we don’t realize how much lettuce we use in our everyday lives.
With that being said, with all the lettuce we obtain, can you freeze lettuce to use at a later time? The good news is, yes you can! And we’ve got more on that.
Keep reading to learn more!
The Quick Answer – Can Lettuce Be Frozen?
Lettuce can be frozen. The quality will not always be great for certain dishes later on, such as a tossed salad, but you can freeze lettuce for cooking and flavoring purposes.
The lettuce variety and provenance affect how well suited to being frozen it is. Thicker-leafed lettuces handle freezing better than others. For example, romaine or Cos types and Boston or bib types (also known as butterheads), are good to freeze.
Other types of lettuce that can be frozen are mixed with romaine and butterhead traits, such as “Little Gem.” These blends contain varieties that offer different leaf colors such as deep burgundy, maroon speckles, chartreuse, or rich green.
Many of the freezer-friendly lettuces are heirloom varieties. Locally raised or homegrown lettuces are also great to freeze because they haven’t gone through the process of shipping and storage to supermarkets. The lettuces that haven’t gone through the process tend to hold better when freezing.
Although not all lettuce will defrost later on to its similar freshness, freezing is still a viable option for those who buy foods in bulk.
What Happens to Lettuce When You Freeze It?
When you freeze lettuce, the freezing process causes ice crystals to form in the plant cells. These ice crystals will rupture cell walls. And since lettuce has such a high-water content, the freezing produces is more damaging than it to vegetables with little water and high starch content, such as corn or peas. When defrosted, frozen lettuce tends to lose its texture and becomes mushy after thawing.
That doesn’t mean the lettuce is bad! It just means the original crunch or texture of the lettuce leaf will no longer be prominent.
Since the texture can also differ after freezing, it is pretty common to not use defrosted lettuce for the same dishes, such as salads, that you’d use fresh lettuce in.
How to Freeze Lettuce
To ensure you get the best quality lettuce after freezing, there are a couple of methods you should use.
The method you use is determined by whether you want lettuce in solid or liquid form.
I know that sounds strange, but bear with me!
Freezing Whole Lettuce
The first thing you’ll want to do is separate the leaves and wash the lettuce, this way you remove any excess dirt or germs and the lettuce is good to use once removed from the freezer. No need for that extra mulch taste!
Once they’re washed and cleaned, make sure to dry each lettuce leaf thoroughly to remove all the excess water. Blot the leaves dry gently with a towel. This isn’t the time to show off your muscles; you don’t want to break your leaves!
After they’re prepped, store the lettuce leaves in a freezer bag. Before sealing the bag, remove as much of the air as possible. Think about what a vacuum-sealed bag looks like…as thin as possible. This helps to prevent freezer burn. Seal it, then place the bag in the freezer.
Pureeing Lettuce Before Freezing
Pureeing this leafy green vegetable for freezing is odd, as it takes away from the actual lettuce texture and purpose.
However, if it’s already in liquid form, the texture won’t change much, if at all, once defrosted. And if it does, so what?
You can throw in the pureed lettuce into recipes like lettuce soup and smoothies.
How Long Can Lettuce Be Frozen?
Frozen lettuce maintains its best quality for about six months.
If you try to extend its freezing period, frozen lettuce can lose its texture and become mushy after thawing. This is due to its fragile nature.
With that being said, it’s best to use lettuce straight from its frozen state.
How to Thaw Lettuce
Thawing lettuce is just as easy as defrosting other frozen foods.
Take out your tightly-sealed plastic bag from the freezer and move it to the refrigerator, letting it thaw slowly. It will take roughly one hour to defrost, and you’ll know if the leaves are thawed just by touching them.
Use that thawed lettuce immediately after it’s defrosted.
If you’re defrosting lettuce cubes, you can also stick those in the fridge and know they’re defrosted once you see the consistency start to loosen back to a puree.
Using Frozen Lettuce
Frozen lettuce is a versatile food, almost as versatile as its fresh alternative. It’s actually a great substitute for recipes with spinach, and you can pop the frozen leaves into any soup or stock, quiche, casseroles, and stir-fries.
Let’s try getting creative now.
Try braising frozen lettuce leaves in chicken broth and butter or use oyster sauce for an Asian zing.
Frozen lettuce leaves can also be used for making peas the “French way.” Do this by placing a layer of frozen lettuce in the bottom of a pan, top with peas, and more frozen lettuce.
Cook this concoction slowly until the peas are done. Proceed to add butter and/or mint for additional flavors.
In the Fridge
If you can’t get on board with the whole “frozen lettuce” thing, then that’s okay, you don’t need to keep it in its frozen state to actually use the leaves. You can let them defrost in the fridge and use the lettuce as if you never even froze it.
Lettuce whole actually works really well as a wrap and is best when defrosted from its frozen state. You can use these wraps to hold stir-fry or for sandwiches using cold cuts. The leaves may be thin, but they’re strong enough to hold some lightweight meat.
At Room Temperature
Let’s say you took out your frozen lettuce leaves but forgot to put it into the fridge to thaw. Hey, it happens to the best of us!
But it’s okay because you can keep your lettuce out at room temperature for one or two hours. When you eventually remember you left out the lettuce, you can place the lettuce pieces onto a dish towel so the excess moisture falls into the towel.
If you’re using the thawed room temperature lettuce right away, you can add those greens back into a salad and eat it for lunch or dinner. The best types of lettuce to use for salads once defrosted include romaine, butterhead, baby spinach, and rocket. These are slightly denser varieties that can sustain a change in different states of temperature.
You are also able to use this lettuce in between sandwiches for extra taste. It won’t be a lettuce wrap, but more of an added shrubbery to a tasty sandwich.
Other Ways to Store Lettuce
Freezing lettuce is the most popular way to use it longer on later dates. However, some lettuce eaters may not approve of the post-thawing textures. Or, they may not want a puree of what once was a leafy green.
With that being said, there are other ways of properly storing lettuce to maintain its freshness.
The most common way to store lettuce is in the fridge. When stored here, it remains fresh for a shorter period of time, but still enough to (hopefully) get some use out of it. The length of freshness can also differ depending on the type of lettuce.
For example, loose-leaf lettuce has a shorter lifespan of one week than a whole head of lettuce, which can last for up to three weeks when stored in the fridge.
If you’d rather store your greens in the fridge as a whole head, you will have to wrap the lettuce in a damp paper towel and then place it inside a bag or airtight container.
If you’re storing your lettuce by individual leaves, you’ll use a similar freezing method. Make sure you wash and dry each leaf carefully, then place them inside a bag or container and store it away in the fridge.
One other method that’s short-lived is keeping it at room temperature. Lettuce can be safely left out at room temperature for about two hours, or only one if the temperature is above ninety degrees Fahrenheit. If you leave it out longer in hot conditions, bacteria could grow rapidly.
Basically, the cooler the temperature, the longer the lettuce will last.