Macaroni salad is one of the most iconic meals of summertime. It represents family barbecue, camping, and picnics on the beach.
Because it’s so popular, it’s usually made in large batches and you may one day find yourself with more macaroni salad that you can reasonably eat in a day or two.
Can you freeze macaroni salad? Yes, you can, but it won’t be as good thawed as it was when you first prepared it. If you’re trying to make macaroni salad ahead of time, it’s best to freeze all the ingredients separately. If you’re freezing leftovers, try to freeze in small, tightly packed portions. In either case, only freeze macaroni salad for 1–2 weeks at the most.
In this article, we explain why macaroni salad doesn’t freeze perfectly and how you can work around the obstacles that each of the different ingredients pose.
We share the best way to freeze your macaroni salad, and also how to store it properly if you think freezing is too much of a risk.
Freezing Macaroni Salad
Macaroni salad can be frozen, but it will never have quite the same flavor or texture once it’s thawed.
Later in this article, we will explain the best way to freeze pre-made macaroni salad, but it’s really the individual ingredients that make the biggest difference.
If you understand how each of the key ingredients hold up against the freezing process, you’ll be better able to make a macaroni salad that freezes well.
If you know you are going to be bringing a large quantity of macaroni salad to an event and you won’t have time the day of the event to make it, you may have the idea of making your salad ahead of time and freezing it to keep it fresh.
If this is your goal, the best process will be to prep and freeze each of the ingredients separately.
What Goes In Macaroni Salad?
To help you understand why macaroni salad is such a complex meal to freeze, you first have to realize that most of the signature ingredients in macaroni salad are not necessarily ideal for freezing.
Some of the most common ingredients in macaroni salad that may not freeze well include:
- The macaroni noodles themselves
Most macaroni salad also includes some variety of fresh vegetables and possibly some other ingredients in the dressing, such as mustard or dill. These don’t pose too much risk to the freezing process, so we won’t cover them separately.
Can You Freeze Macaroni?
Cooked macaroni, and pasta in general, doesn’t freeze perfectly, but it can be frozen if you’re willing to accept a different texture once thawed.
If you know you’re going to freeze macaroni or macaroni salad, it’s best if the pasta is cooked al dente, or so that it’s still slightly firm.
If the macaroni is cooked to perfection, once it comes out of the freezer it will be mushy. Even unfrozen al dente pasta will probably be softer than you’re used to.
The type of pasta you have will also make a difference.
Gluten-free pasta and pasta made from rice flour or lentil flour will not hold up in the freezer very well because they’re already much softer noodles to begin with. Whole wheat flour, bean flour, and regular white flour will fare better.
Finally, whenever you freeze cooked macaroni or pasta, you run the risk of it freezing into one large clump.
When you’re baking your frozen pasta, such as in lasagna or macaroni and cheese, this doesn’t matter too much because it’s cooked and cut.
If you’re going to be eating your macaroni cold, in salad form, it can make a big difference. We briefly mentioned the idea of freezing your macaroni salad ingredients separately.
If this is possible, when you freeze your macaroni, you want to toss it with a little bit of olive oil before freezing. This will help prevent clumping. It’s not a guaranteed, 100% effective solution, but it can make a significant improvement.
Can You Freeze Mayonnaise?
Whether you can freeze salads with mayonnaise or mayonnaise itself is a very common question.
It’s an egg-based dressing, so it does have a shorter shelf life than most other salad dressings, even when stored in the fridge, and it can go bad more quickly if not refrigerated.
Mayonnaise is an emulsion, which means it contains two or more liquid ingredients that don’t mix well with each other but are blended using an emulsifier so that they combine smoothly.
When mayo is kept cold in your fridge, it will stay smooth and creamy. When it freezes, however, each of the individual ingredients that don’t mix well with each will separate.
When you thaw the mayonnaise, it will be “broken,” or a very strange mix of lumpy and liquid, probably with a gritty texture.
If you freeze your mayonnaise separately from the salad, you can whip it or whisk it back into its almost-normal smooth texture.
If you’re freezing pre-made macaroni salad, you won’t be able to recombine the mayo effectively.
Your salad is probably going to have a lot more liquid upon thawing that it did fresh. You can simply drain this liquid and the flavor shouldn’t be too affected, but the texture of your overall salad will be compromised.
If you freeze each of the ingredients separately, you may want to consider not freezing the mayo and simply adding it cold from the fridge when you’re ready to mix your salad together.
Can You Freeze Egg?
Not all macaroni salad has egg as an ingredient, but many include small pieces of hard-boiled egg or egg that has been mushed and blended into the dressing, similar to an egg salad.
Hard-boiled eggs can be frozen, but the white will turn quite rubbery. If you like to use eggs in your salad, the best solution would be to use only the yolk, which freezes well.
At the very least, freeze the egg in small bite-sized pieces or even crumbles so that the texture in each bite isn’t as noticeable.
How to Freeze Macaroni Salad
If you’re freezing leftover macaroni salad and freezing each of the ingredients separately isn’t an option, there are a few steps you want to follow to get the best possible result.
- Freeze in small quantities. Smaller portions of macaroni will freeze more quickly, creating less damage to the pasta and reducing the impact on your dressing.
- Pack the salad tightly. After transferring your salad to a freezer-safe Ziploc bag or Tupperware container, pack it as tightly as possible. Don’t worry about squishing your pasta, it’s more important to remove as much air as possible, including the air that is hiding inside the macaroni itself.
- If you use a Tupperware container, cover the surface with plastic wrap before sealing the lid. This will add an extra layer of protection against air exposure while still giving your pasta salad room to expand as it freezes.
- Label your bag or container. Even frozen, macaroni salad will not last in your freezer very long. Labeling your package(s) with the date is important so you remember to eat your salad within 1 – 2 weeks of freezing.
How to Defrost Macaroni Salad
First and foremost, you’ll want to eat frozen macaroni salad within 2 weeks of freezing, at the very most. How you defrost and prepare it for eating can make a big difference to the safety and enjoyment.
- Defrost your salad in the fridge. Let your macaroni salad thaw in the cold environment of your fridge, rather than on your countertop or in a bowl of warm water. While it may take longer, it will protect the quality better. Rapid temperature changes will compromise the quality of your dressing just as much as freezing it did, making your salad even more watery. It’s also important to always keep the salad refrigerated to prevent any bacterial growth or spoilage.
- Stir your salad well once it’s thawed.
- Drain any excess liquid before serving.
How to Store Macaroni Salad
If freezing macaroni salad seems too risky, you can store your salad in the fridge with much less stress.
Simply transfer it to a Tupperware container that has an airtight seal and keep it near the back of your fridge, as far from the door as possible.
How Long Does Macaroni Salad Last?
How long macaroni salad good for in the fridge depends slightly on the ingredients. If you’ve used hard-boiled eggs, it won’t last as long. With eggs, you should eat it within 3 days.
If you haven’t put any eggs in your salad, it should stay fresh for a day or two longer, but you will probably notice the salad dressing starting to break after 2 – 3 days.
You can either drain any excess water or try to mix it back into the salad as much as possible.
If you notice any strong or unpleasant smells, or if you see any mold growing on your salad, discard the entire batch immediately. Macaroni salad that has gone bad can make you sick.