Freezer burn is not dangerous, but it’s not appealing either

The Washington Post Food staff and food writer Katie Workman recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Q: What is freezer burn, really? What does it do chemically to food? Does it change actual taste, or just texture? Is it dangerous to eat food with freezer burn, or just unpleasant? Is there any way of cooking food that has been freezer-burned to check to see if it might be OK in something? Oh, do I have a specific example? Yes, of course. I found some sausage meat in my freezer. No idea how long it had been there, but I defrosted it in the fridge and now it still feels a little . . . spongy? As sausage it has a high fat content, so should I just try frying it up to see if it will create edible sausage crumbles?

A: Very good question! Just going to run through some of these issues.

– Freezer burn is not dangerous. Assuming your food was properly stored before freezing and properly cooked after thawing, frozen food is safe indefinitely.

– Quality, as you note, is another issue. Taste and texture can both be affected. Ice crystals can rupture cells in the food, turning it mushy. And, yes, food that has been frozen a really long time, or not stored especially well, will taste a bit off. Kinda stale or freezer-y. Hard to describe, but you know exactly what I mean.

– It can be hard to tell how something will taste. If you pull something out and it looks really icy, I think it’s safe to say there’s a good chance the flavor won’t be optimal. Sometimes you have to just cook it and see. You might as well go ahead and fry up at least a little of the sausage and taste it. Best to do that before adding it to anything else and potentially ruining a whole dish.

This is one reason why I try to label food when I freeze it, just to mark when I popped it in there. Certainly helps with these types of situations.

– Becky Krystal

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Q: I am new to growing garlic. If I understand this correctly, there is a part of the garlic plant which is supposed to be eaten in the spring before the bulb is ready. My bulbs are just about 4-6-inch-high leaves. What is it? can you explain what do I do with it?

A: I think you mean the scapes! It’s only if you’re growing a hardneck variety, and the scapes will be obvious – they’re these long stems that come out the top and start to curl and then will flower. You cut them off before they flower, and it keeps the energy going into the bulb. The most popular way to use them is to turn them into pesto! Green garlic or spring garlic is the whole immature plant, which you can certainly eat (it’s amazing), but I only use these when buying from farmers markets, because I want to keep all my garlic for storage. In other words, if you use the spring/green garlic, you’re pulling up the whole plant, and it’s done.

– Joe Yonan

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Q: I’ve been debating whether to get an air fryer, but I keep reading that they are really just convection ovens. My regular oven has a convection setting — will using that accomplish the same thing as a separate air fryer? I don’t want to buy an additional appliance if I don’t need it. The one I have my eye on is actually the Cuisinart convection toaster oven, if that makes a difference.

A: It seems like the answer is yes, because both circulate hot air, but in my experience I think you would have to make sure the convection oven was turned to a very high temperature to get similar results. If you have space for the convection toaster oven, that makes the most sense, because then you would have additional oven space available to you and not just the air fryer.

– Katie Workman