8 Grocery Items To Never Buy Frozen, According to Chefs
If you frequently purchase frozen food items at the grocery store—whether for convenience or because you're tired of wasting fresh food—you're not alone. The global frozen food industry is big business, with a 2022 report indicating it will grow from $252.19 billion in 2021 to $389.90 billion by 2030.
But before you head down those chilly aisles to peruse the glass-encased shelves packed with everything from veggies to ready-to-eat meals to ice cream and pies, you might want to hear what experienced chefs have to say. We asked a handful of them what grocery items they believe you should avoid buying frozen and why. While their answers varied, one particular item was singled out multiple times as the absolute worst frozen purchase.
While stocking up on frozen fish, seafood, and chicken breasts may guarantee several future meals, Shawn Matijevich, lead chef of online culinary arts and food operations at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), recommends steering clear of these items.
"Anything that's really lean doesn't do well in the freezer," he says. "Any kind of protein, really, when you freeze it, it breaks open the cell walls of the protein, and all the water kind of leaks out of it. So you wind up with something that's a lot drier than it would have been otherwise, so the texture's not great."
However, the chef notes that the dryness isn't as noticeable in proteins that have a higher fat content such as branzino and chilean sea bass.
Dana Bujalski, a personal chef for in-home meal prep, small parties, and cooking lessons, loves using herbs to liven up the meals she makes for herself and her clients. However, she wouldn't dare buy frozen herbs.
"I think herbs always accentuate your meals, especially when they're fresh. Personally, I don't even like dried herbs too much," she says. "Frozen herbs look like they are chopped up and then frozen into mini cubes. I've always wondered who buys them!"
Don't want to spend the money on fresh herbs? Try growing them in your house so you can use them when you need to, Bujalski suggested.
While frozen dough products that you can bake at home might come in handy, Bujalski says she would avoid frozen ready-made bread.
"The consistency changes [when the bread is frozen]," Bujalski says. "If you're a bread lover, you can't get any better than fresh."
If you don't want to settle for store-bought frozen (or even unfrozen) bread, consider putting on your chef's hat and making a loaf of bread at home to satiate that carb fix. When the bread comes out fresh and toasty from the oven, smear a dab of butter on a thick slice, and savor that feeling of accomplishment.
Strawberries are considered in season May through July, with May being National Strawberry Month. So, if you have a recipe that calls for strawberries, but they aren't in season, you might consider buying them frozen. Don't, says Susan Irby, a.k.a. The Bikini Chef.
"The strawberries, because of their porous nature, become oversaturated with water and literally disintegrate when they're frozen," she says, "I don't recommend using frozen strawberries even in smoothies. Too much liquid and mush. The same is true for strawberry shortcake recipes. And that flavor . . . ugh!"
It's always a good idea to buy fruits when they are in season, strawberries included. But if you still want to buy them or you have a bag of frozen strawberries already in your freezer, consider making a compote out of them.
"Compotes can be used to top pancakes or in plated desserts and trifles," says Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts chef instructor Sarah Gunderson. "Frozen fruits can also be cooked down and blended to be incorporated into mousses."
According to Irby, who trained with renowned chefs in Italy and France, some frozen food producers inject water into the scallops to make them heavier. That means they can sell fewer in the bag for a higher price.
"Injected with water or not, scallops, in particular, retain water and, when cooked, reduce to sometimes half the size or more and can also become tough in texture," Irby warned.
Instead, buy fresh!
Frozen, pre-made burger patties may be tempting to snag at the store when preparing for a backyard barbecue. But you should resist that temptation, says Adrian W. Corkill, executive chef and co-owner of City Post Chophouse in Georgetown, Texas.
"You can always buy freshly ground beef at the grocery store—the flavor is so much better than frozen," Corkill says. "Add your own seasonings and enjoy!"
Choux pastry desserts
Choux pastry doesn't hold up well when frozen. Take cream puffs, for example. When baked, they develop an "airy crisp crust," explained Gunderson, who is also the head pastry chef at her establishment, Sal's of Southern Pines. Once filled with whipped cream or diplomat cream (pastry cream with whipped cream), they develop a soft, creamy—but still crisp—exterior. She says that frozen cream puffs are "NOWHERE" near as good as fresh.
"Frozen cream puffs are a soggy, sad, chewy shell of what the true version should be," she says. "The shell and filling are a poor representation of cream puffs found in a bakery or made at home."
And that goes for any other dessert that uses choux pastry, like Éclairs.
According to Irby, frozen broccoli is miserably mushy when cooked. Plus, she takes issue with the ratio of stems to florets in a bag of broccoli.
"The producers provide mostly stems in the frozen package," Irby says. "The stems are rubbery and poor quality."
Jessica Randhawa, head chef, recipe creator, photographer, and writer behind The Forked Spoon, went further by saying broccoli is a delicate vegetable that does "not hold up well in the frozen food chain." She notes that the cruciferous veggie loses a lot of its flavor when frozen.
What's worse, a delicate vegetable like broccoli tends to lose its nutrients when frozen, says Eric Sornoso, a chef and CEO of MealFan.
"Freezing can create ice crystals and rupture the cells. This can lower water activity and promote the loss of nutrients," Sornoso says. "So, when you consume these frozen veggies, you're not getting the nutritional benefits."
The general consensus from all of these chefs is to always buy broccoli fresh.
A version of this story was originally published in Oct. 2022. It has been updated to include new information.