Frozen Fruits and Vegetables are definitely more popular among my friends than canned, but there are still some friends who are suspicious of frozen produce. Today, I plan to give you some facts about frozen fruits and vegetables, so you can make an informed decision of whether or not you want to incorporate them into your family’s diet.
What are some of the common concerns about frozen fruits and vegetables?
Before we start discussing frozen foods, let’s look at some of the common concerns that my friends have expressed as reasons why they don’t like to buy frozen foods.
- Frozen food is all processed with lots of additives.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables don’t have as many nutrients as fresh.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables aren’t organic.
- The texture of frozen fruits and vegetables is all wrong.
Just like we did while exploring the truth about canned foods, let’s look at each of these concerns individually.
Frozen food is all processed with lots of additives.
While a frozen pizza or TV dinner may be loaded with additives, packages of frozen fruits and vegetables generally contain only that fruit or vegetable. In my freezer is a package of store brand frozen raspberries that lists only red raspberries as an ingredient. A package of store brand pepper stir fry blend only lists onions, green bell peppers, red bell peppers, and yellow bell peppers as ingredients. There are no weird additives in these frozen vegetables; however, that’s not true of all frozen vegetables.
If you purchase a package of broccoli in cheese sauce, it will contain something besides broccoli. Depending upon the brand, it may contain some artificial additives. If eating a “natural” or “pure” diet is important to you, consider buying only the frozen broccoli and making your own cheese sauce, so you can better control the ingredients.
I have also noticed that most frozen vegetables that are in the steamable packs have some added ingredients, and these vary based upon the particular vegetable as well as the brand. Read the list of ingredients on the labels before you buy. We have found that packages that simply have the name of the vegetable on the label tend to be free from any additional additives unless they are sold as “steam in the bag.”
Frozen fruits and vegetables don’t have as many nutrients as fresh.
This is a common misconception, and if you’re harvesting your own fresh vegetables from a garden in your back yard and eating them on the same day, this may be true. Unfortunately, most of us purchase our fresh fruits and vegetables at a grocery store. Many of those fruits and vegetables have made a long journey.
Fresh fruits and vegetables travel a long way before they end up on your plate.
Typically, most fresh fruits and vegetables are picked before they are ripe. This is done, so they can continue to ripen while being transported. It’s only when produce is fully ripened that it has developed the full range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Fresh produce travels anywhere from three days to several weeks before it arrives at a distribution center. From there, it is then sent out to stores.
Fresh produce is often stored in chilled and controlled environments and is often treated with chemicals to prevent spoilage. Apples, and pears, can be stored for as long as a year. After the produce is transported to the grocery store, it is often on display for 1 – 3 days before being purchased, and when we bring it home, we may keep it for up to a week before consuming it. Since produce loses nutrients rapidly after harvest, your fresh produce might not be as nutrient rich as you think.
Frozen fruits and vegetables aren’t picked until they’re ripe.
Frozen produce has an entirely different path to your plate. Typically, fruits and vegetables that are headed for the freezer section of your store are allowed to fully ripen. In some cases, there are packing plants next to the fields. This means that they don’t have to worry about the produce surviving long travel. The fruits and vegetables are allowed to develop all of their nutrients–vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, then they are processed for freezing. Generally, freezing helps to retain the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, but these nutrients will begin to break down if frozen produce is stored for more than a year.
Vegetables may experience some nutrient lost in the freezing process. Fresh vegetables are blanched prior to freezing. Blanching involves scalding the vegetable in boiling water for a specific amount of time before submerging it into cold water to stop the cooking process. Blanching vegetables prior to freezing serves two purposes. First, it helps to destroy any harmful bacteria that might be on the surface of the vegetables. Second, blanching also helps preserve the color, flavor, and texture of vegetables. The down side to this blanching process is that it results in the loss of some of the water soluble nutrients in your vegetables. Frozen Fruit is not blanched before freezing, so it doesn’t experience the same nutrient loss. Many fruits are coated with ascorbic acid prior to freezing to help retain color, but don’t worry about that as an additive. Ascorbic acid is just vitamin C.
How much nutrient loss occurs during the freezing process?
The nutrient loss due to blanching will vary depending upon the particular fruit or vegetable, but this also occurs with fresh vegetables. Let’s look at the loss of one water soluble vitamin due to blanching and freezing. The range of loss for vitamin C is between 10 and 80% due to blanching vegetables prior to freezing. The average loss is 50%. Among canned vegetables, the average loss of vitamin C is above 60%, so freezing is better than canning for this vitamin. These nutrient losses don’t mean that fresh is better than frozen. It is estimated that fresh green peas lose approximately 51% of their vitamin C within 24 to 48 hours after harvest. Most of these peas haven’t even made it to a distribution center by that time, and the vitamin C continues to be depleted during the shipping process.
Since fruits aren’t subjected to the blanching process, and since they are harvested when they are fully ripened before being frozen, frozen fruit doesn’t experience the same loss of water soluble nutrients. In fact, due to the long shipping process, it’s possible that frozen berries could contain more nutrients than fresh ones that have traveled for over a week to get to your local store.
Frozen fruits and vegetables aren’t organic.
I said this in the post about canned food, but it seems that there’s a huge misconception among my friends who eat only organic. For some reason, they believe that they can only eat fresh produce. One was shocked when I showed up on her porch bearing cans of organic black beans. Just like in the canned section of the store, there are generally some bags of frozen organic fruits and vegetables in the store. The next time you’re in your local grocery store, walk slowly up and down the frozen food aisle, and you’ll probably discover that there are several organic options available though this varies from store to store. Eating organic doesn’t mean you can’t have some convenience when cooking, and frozen fruits and vegetables are definitely convenient.
The texture of frozen fruits and vegetables is all wrong.
Freezing does affect the texture of fruits and vegetables. There’s a scientific reason for this. Fruits and vegetables contain a high water content (about 90%). When they’re frozen, the water in the cells freezes and expands. These expanding ice crystals cause the cell membranes in the fruit or vegetable to rupture. When the fruit and vegetables are thawed, they lack some of the structural stability of their fresh counterparts. That makes them softer when compared with fresh. This doesn’t seem to affect some vegetables. like corn and peas. as much as other vegetables, like peppers and squash.
Frozen vegetables can become quite soggy after they are cooked if you cook them the same way you would fresh vegetables. This means that you have to adjust how you cook them. For instance, when making fajitas using fresh peppers and onions, I usually toss the vegetables into the pan with meat that’s barely begun to cook, but when I’m using frozen peppers and onions, I cook the chicken almost all the way through, then add the peppers and onions at the end. I cook the frozen vegetables only until they’re heated through. That helps them to retain some of the texture.
Frozen fruit is an entirely different situation. If you’re going to be cooking your frozen fruit into a pie, there’s really not much textural difference in the final product. If you’re blending the frozen fruit into a smoothie, the frozen fruit will probably help you to have a more concentrated smoothie compared to fresh because you may not have to add as much, or any, ice to the blender. For those situations, frozen fruit works well. It will also work well in situations like when you’re making a shortcake since the berries are usually sweetened and macerated a bit before being used as a topping. The texture change won’t be as noticeable. If you’re eating the fruit after it’s thawed from the freezer, you’ll notice the changes in texture.
I was an adult before I ever knowingly ate frozen fruit. I was attending a seminar for work, and for the afternoon snack, there were large bowls of fruit on the table. The fruit, a mixture of melons and grapes, looked a little odd, but it tasted great. It was very cold. One of the other attendees stated that she always bought this fruit at a local warehouse store. During the conversation that followed, I learned that the reason the fruit looked a little odd was because it was a mixture of frozen fruit. The secret, she told me, was to only thaw the fruit right before you are planning to eat it, and serve it while it’s still just a tiny bit frozen. That way, it doesn’t become soggy. I began to buy that mixture of frozen melon during the winters to have on hand for snacks and Sunday brunches. It was convenient, and it was much cheaper than purchasing fresh melons in the middle of winter, too.
Basically, it’s true that there are texture changes when fruits and vegetables are frozen, but this isn’t as important in some applications, and by modifying your cooking techniques and times, or changing the way you serve them, these differences can be masked so that they’re barely noticed. Frozen fruits and vegetables are still a palatable option.
Are frozen fruits and vegetables a good choice for your food storage plan?
Obviously, we recommend frozen fruits and vegetables as part of any food storage plan. Frozen fruits and veggies are a huge convenience when trying to put together a meal for the family. In addition, they allow you to eat produce out of season without paying exorbitant prices, and unlike fresh vegetables, most frozen vegetables are already in serving size pieces. Compare a head of broccoli to a bag of broccoli spears, and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no need to pull out a knife if you’re using frozen broccoli.
Another benefit of keeping frozen fruits and vegetables on hand is that they have a much longer shelf life. If you only like to shop once a week, or once every other week, having frozen produce on hand allows you to eat through your fresh vegetables in a couple days after shopping, but still have other vegetables on hand for your meals. Since they’re stable in the freezer, you don’t have to worry about them spoiling, unless you leave them buried in the freezer for over a year. Even then, they won’t necessarily be spoiled, but the nutrient content will have degraded.
The only down side to frozen fruits and vegetables is that they’re, well, frozen. In order to maintain them in that frozen state, you will need a freezer and some way to power that freezer. In the event of a prolonged power outage, it’s entirely possible that you could lose your entire supply of frozen fruits and vegetables.
In spite of that risk, though, we still recommend having some frozen foods on hand to incorporate into your diet. It’s just important to have some diversity in your food storage plan. Some frozen, some canned, and some dried fruits and vegetables in the correct proportion, can help you to have a well stocked pantry that you can draw from to create a variety of delicious and nutritious meals.
Do you store, and eat, a lot of frozen fruits and vegetables? What are your favorites? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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