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Fresh vs. Frozen Produce: Fresh Doesn’t Always Win

Posted Nov 10 2010 10:09am

Frozen Pees, Carrots, Corn, and Green Beans

A friend of mine recently asked me how I feel about using frozen fruits and veggies in my food preparations. While I was initially tempted to tell him to avoid frozen and go with fresh produce at all times (we only serve fresh, in-season produce here at The Pump ), I gave the question some thought and decided to do some research. Believe it or not, the answer is not quite as simple as “fresh always wins.”

Why Frozen Veggies Are Actually Quite Good For You

Typically, winter on the East Coast means higher-priced produce, which in many cases is the impetus for choosing to use frozen, or even canned, veggies in place of their fresh counterparts. From a nutritional standpoint, canned veggies are easy to rule out because they contain preservatives (how else could a kernel of corn stay bright yellow for over a year?). Fruits and veggies that are frozen, on the other hand, can actually have more vitamins and nutrients than the fresh produce that you’ll find in most supermarkets.

How is this possible? Fruits and veggies that are selected for freezing are typically processed at the peak of their ripening when the nutrients are most dense.  While you’d think that the freezing process would erode these nutrient levels (the first step in freezing any fruit or veggie is to either blanch them in hot water or steam them to kill bacteria and arrest the action of food-degrading enzymes), it actually serves to lock in water soluble nutrients like Vitamin C before they’re able to leak out.

The Problem With Fresh Produce (Sometimes)

Fresh fruits and veggies that you find in your local supermarket, on the other hand, are typically picked before they’re ripe, which means they’ve had less time to fully develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. While they may look good and ripe on the outside by the time you purchase them, the nutritional value will never be as high as it would have been if they were allowed to ripen on the vine.

The other factor to consider with fresh fruits and veggies is how far they’ve traveled to get to you. In the dead of winter on the East Coast, a lot of produce in supermarkets is coming either from the West Coast or from somewhere outside the U.S. What this means is that the produce has been exposed to heat and light during the long haul from the farm to your table, and heat and light can significantly degrade certain nutrients like Vitamin B and C.

The Verdict

So with all this in mind, how did I answer my friend’s question? Here’s what I told him: when a fruit or vegetable is in season, I would always buy it fresh, but during its off-season, I am not opposed to buying it frozen. So there you have it – sometimes frozen is actually better. Who knew?

However, one word of caution on the preparation side: you should always steam (or even microwave) your frozen fruits and veggies. Boiling them will increase the loss of water soluble vitamins, putting them back on par with their fresh counterparts and negating your great buying decision. Just as we see everyday here at The Pump, great preparation makes all the difference in the world.

About the author: Danny Lachs is the executive chef here at The Pump and has been working with food for over 8 years.

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