Better-Tasting Leftovers

In the past, we've addressed the fact that soups and stews often taste better after they are cooled and reheated. In a similar vein, when "seasoning" soups and stews or "ripening" quick breads before freezing, we wondered: Is it better to wait a few days before freezing them?

We previously determined that the flavor of soups and stews improves over time because many chemical reactions that produce flavor enhancers continue to take place during the cooling process. According to our science editor, however, those reactions slow way down once the food is cold and stop completely when it is frozen.

To test his claim, we made two batches each of chili and banana bread, then froze one batch right after cooling it and refrigerated the other for three days before freezing. Despite the ability of food to continue to build some flavor in the refrigerator, most of the changes happen during the initial cooling period, and a tasting revealed no noticeable differences among the samples. In addition, foods like banana bread will stale somewhat after just a day or two, so it’s better not to wait before freezing. Finally, bacteria develop as foods sit in the refrigerator, so the safest course of action is not to delay: Freeze foods as soon as they have cooled to room temperature.

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