Foods You Can Freeze in an Ice Cube Tray
Your ice cube tray may be the most underutilized tool to help reduce food waste. We’ll break down ingredients that freeze well in ice cube trays, and those that don’t.
Do you find yourself frequently throwing out the last of your stock, tomato paste, or coconut milk, only to need a small amount for another recipe the next week? If so, you’re in luck! We have the perfect solution to reduce kitchen waste and eliminate the need to re-buy staples you only use in small amounts.
Our solution? Your ice cube tray! It’s not just for water anymore. An extra tray can come in handy for freezing small amounts of ingredients, especially condiments and liquid ingredients that would otherwise go bad quickly.
You can freeze almost any liquid ingredient in an ice cube tray, but we’ll share some of our favorites below.
1. Tomato Paste
When cooking with tomato paste, a little bit goes a long way, which means you usually have a lot left over after cracking open a can. Since you typically use a tablespoon or two at a time, an ice cube size is perfect for tossing into soups or stews, and will thaw quickly for sauces and marinades.
2. Adobo Sauce
Adobo sauce can be found in a can of chipotle peppers. Both the sauce and peppers freeze well, but portioning out the sauce separately makes it easy to just use the sauce!
3. Curry Paste
Curry paste is another concentrated flavor that gets used a little bit at a time. Though this fragrant paste stays fresh in the fridge longer than many ingredients, you’ll be able to stretch its shelf life considerably longer by pre-measuring it in tablespoons to freeze.
4. Herbs in Oil / Stock
Fresh herbs are one of the most common headaches for home cooks. They add deliciously fresh fragrance to meals, but they go bad so quickly! Keep your fresh herbs tasting fresh by chopping them and freezing small portions in oil or stock, depending on how you plan to use them. (Feel free to get creative — for smoothies, you could freeze herbs in water or juice!)
When basil’s in season, basil is in season. Whether you’re growing your own or buying bundles from the grocery store or farmers’ market, when it’s time to make pesto, you’re probably dealing with large quantities. Save extra pesto by freezing in ice cube trays to make it easy to add to soups, dips, or compound butters later. (Check out 10 Creative Ways to Use Pesto for more ideas!)
6. Citrus Juice
Lemon and lime juice are among our favorite ways to brighten up a dish or smoothie, but citrus doesn’t last long once you’ve cut into it. We recommend juicing any extra lemons and limes and pouring into the ice cube trays in amounts you typically use.
Although ketchup, mustard, and barbecue sauce last a pretty long time in the fridge, you can definitely freeze them in individual portions if needed — for a school lunch or a picnic, for instance.
8. Chopped Garlic
If you hate chopping garlic but don’t like the prechopped kind that comes in a jar, you can make your own ready-to-use chopped garlic, preservative-free. The easiest method is to put the peeled cloves through a food processor, then portion them out into ½-teaspoon portions in your ice cube tray, which equate to about 1 clove each. If you do chop your garlic by hand, wear gloves — that quantity of garlic can burn your skin! And be sure to wash your ice cube tray thoroughly after removing the frozen garlic; you may also want to soak the tray with baking soda to eliminate odors.
9. Grated Ginger
Fresh ginger is another of those ingredients that tends to go bad before we can use the entire finger (yes, that’s what a piece of ginger is called!). Luckily, ginger freezes very well. While freezing it whole makes it easy to grate, freezing grated ginger cuts out an entire step during meal prep.
10. Leftover Coffee
If you’re an iced coffee fan, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of a progressively watered-down glass of coffee as the ice melts. By saving leftover coffee in ice cubes, you’ll have a way to cool your beverage without it getting weaker as you go.
11. Leftover wine
We know, we know — you may well be reading this and thinking, “What’s leftover wine?” But on those occasions when you know you really shouldn’t have that last glass, consider freezing it instead! Though the wine won’t be good to drink once it’s thawed, you can use it one cube at a time to enhance pasta sauces, pan sauces, and more.
12. Leftover egg yolks or whites
Isn’t it frustrating when a recipe calls for an egg yolk or white instead of the whole egg? If you hate throwing the other half away like we do, simply freeze it in an ice cube tray. Add a pinch of salt to yolks before freezing for best texture. Thawed yolks can be used in sauces or baked goods, while thawed whites can be used in any way you would use fresh egg whites.
13. Coconut milk
Coconut milk lasts just a few days in the fridge, but most recipes call for a fraction of a can. By portioning your leftovers into ice cube trays, you’ll always have what you need! Many coconut milks separate into fat and water when frozen or after sitting for a while (such as on a store shelf), so be sure to shake or whisk the milk thoroughly before freezing.
Stock is another of those ingredients that tends to leave us with short-lived leftovers. Stock can be frozen in extra-large cubes if you’re planning to make soup with it (we love these Souper Cubes for this purpose!), or in smaller amounts for use in sauces, stir-fries, casseroles, or mashed potatoes. (The Souper Cubes also work well with frozen soups, stews, or meal leftovers.)
If you’re trying to recreate the restaurant experience of chips with a variety of dips at home, you’re likely to end up with lots of leftover dips. Luckily, salsa, hummus, bean dips, and guacamole all freeze well in ice cube trays. When you’re ready to use, simply thaw them overnight in the fridge and stir before serving.
16. Smoothies (and smoothie ingredients)
If your eyes were bigger than your stomach when blending a smoothie, don’t pour those leftovers out! Freeze it in an ice cube tray, then either thaw overnight in the fridge, or blend the cubes into a new smoothie. You can also add frozen cubes of juice or leftover fruits and veggies to the smoothies.
17. Pasta sauce
If you’re cooking for one or don’t have the same taste in pasta sauce as others in your household, you may struggle to finish a jar of sauce before it goes bad. Ice cube trays to the rescue! By freezing sauce in cubes, you can take out exactly what you need without spoiling the rest of a jar.
Ingredients that don’t freeze well
Not everything can go in an ice cube tray, however. Here are the ingredients we recommend steering clear of freezing:
- Vegetables and fruits you plan to eat raw; learn more about preparing veggies for the freezer with our Freezer Guide below
- Whipped cream, cheese, milk, and other dairy products you won’t use in cooking
- Gelatin-based foods
- Cooked eggs
Keep track of what’s in your freezer
Ingredients aren’t quite so recognizable when they’re frozen in cube form, so it’s important to make a note of what’s in your freezer. We recommend keeping notes on a kitchen whiteboard so you always have an up-to-date inventory of what’s available. When you’ve used the last of it, just erase it from your whiteboard.
You could even draw a diagram of your ice cube tray and label each square if you have several different ingredients in the tray that aren’t easily distinguishable on sight.
Better yet? Pop the cubes out of the tray once frozen and put in a labeled freezer bag or freezer-safe container. This will help prevent your frozen ingredients from picking up freezer flavors — and help prevent other items in your freezer from picking up stronger flavors from the cubes (no one wants their popsicles to pick up garlic flavor, for instance!).
For more freezer smarts, check out our All-in-One Freezer Guide eBook!
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