Have you ever thought about what happens to food when you freeze it? Have you ever wondered why some foods don’t look or feel the same once they’ve been defrosted? Have you ever asked if there was a way to make this work for you instead of against you?
This is one of my favorite food-science factoids.
Did you ever have to look at things like cork or onion under a microscope? Meat, vegetables, breads and cakes–everything is made up of thousands of little cells and each cell contains at least a little bit of water.
If you’ve ever put a bottle or can of soda in the freezer to chill and forgotten about it, you know first-hand how frozen liquids take up more space than in their non-solid state. Not only does it take up extra space, ice has sharp edges that poke through delicate cell walls that get in their way.
Which is why, when you defrost some frozen vegetables before cooking them, the formerly perky produce seems a bit deflated and mushy: the ice melted and the cells couldn’t hold in the moisture with their now-perforated walls.
Ways to work around this:
- Cook frozen foods without defrosting them–the shock of heat will turn the ice to steam as the cell walls solidify during the cooking process
- Pre-cook food before freezing to shore-up the cell walls (and eliminate some of the moisture, depending on the food) before the ice has a chance to do it’s thing
Way that this can be beneficial:
- Freezing fruits for smoothies and sauces means part of your work is already done for you, the fruit will break down quicker and you’re recipe can be completed sooner
- Dense baked goods (like pound cake) actually undergo an amazing transformation in the freezer as the ice action helps break down the heavier textures into a more delicate finished object
- Release the oils in citrus zest for future use
A couple weeks ago I was making fruit salad and rather than throwing the orange peels away, I trimmed off the pith (the white spongy stuff with a bitter taste) from the zest (the colored rind packed with oils). Rather than chop or grate it then, I left it in large pieces, about 2 inches long by 1 inch wide, and stored it in a freezer bag in the freezer.
Last week I decided to make some oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and added some of the reserved orange zest to the mix. Not only was it nice to have the zest on hand, the frozen zest was a breeze to chop and smelled absolutely divine. In the finished cookies you definitely tasted the orange flavor, even though only a tablespoon of zest when into 3 dozen cookies and that’s when it hit me:
When the water in the orange peel froze and then melted, the oils in the cells were given free reign to mix and mingle with the rest of the batter, spreading that flavor all around.
Even though freezing has always been a great way to store foods for long periods of time without spoiling, I’m liking the more immediate ways the freezer can be of help in the kitchen!