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How Well Does Frozen Buttermilk Travel?

 I live in Okinawa, Japan (thanks to the military) and the only way to buy buttermilk is frozen. It is always past the expiration date – generally a month or more. How long is it good after it is thawed? Can it be refrozen? And once frozen, it separates. Can it be used straight or should I be straining it?

 So the military faces the same problems as everyone else who has a freezer – keeping track of its frozen food!

The basic rule is that a food comes out of the freezer in the same shape it went in. (This is not technically true. It may suffer quite a decrease of quality. It may suffer freezer burn, or the texture may suffer in other ways. Some foods do not freeze well anyway. But in general, in terms of food safety, it is true. If the food is fresh when it went in, it will be fresh when it comes out.)

We are guessing the military wants to keep you in good shape, so assume that it treats your food well. We further assume that it freezes your buttermilk well within the use-by date and then takes its own sweet time getting it to Okinawa. Your buttermilk should be fine. As mentioned elsewhere at Ochef, you won't want to drink it after it has been frozen, but it will be fine for baking and cooking.

You can refreeze buttermilk, which is a blessing for everyone who has to buy a quart when their recipe calls for a cup (which is to say, everyone).

Buttermilk has a prodigious shelf-life. The government food people – yes, colleagues of the people who sent you to Okinawa – say buttermilk retains its quality in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks and in the freezer for 3 months. We would be embarrassed to tell you how far past the use-by date we have used never-frozen buttermilk to make waffles. We do not keep buttermilk long enough to grow mold inside the container.

Buttermilk separates whether or not it has been frozen. Make sure it is sealed tightly and shake like the dickens. Again, ix-nay on the inking-dray (unless you are an asochist-may).

The problem that everyone faces when freezing food is keeping track of how long it has been in the freezer. The more disciplined among us date frozen foods with an indelible marker and try to cycle through our frozen foods on a regular basis. The rest of us – even with good intentions – lose track of some of our foods and wind up throwing them out – after taking such good care of them in the freezer for 6, 9, 13,21, ?? months.

(If your food – particularly meat – has gone into the freezer right around the use-by date, and then takes a little time thawing, and a little more time elapses before you cook it, it may well spoil. Food generally goes past the use-by date once it has been put in the freezer. The broader question is, how fresh was it when it went into the freezer. If it is the use-by date (and if the meat is still actually fresh) your best bet may be to cook it, then freeze it, then use it in a stew, soup, or casserole where the texture is not paramount.)

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