With regular frequency I am asked the question "is it okay to use frozen?" This question comes up when I am sitting with a client and we are coming up with meal ideas that the client likes and that include the recommendations I have made. When that question gets asked, the look on the person's face is usually a mixture of guilt and hope. Guilt, because that person is using frozen already, and hope because they desperately want me to answer "yes" for convenience sake. I always answer with a resounding YES! Fresh isn't always best. That statement is especially true for Northern climates, where the local growing season is short, and reliance on imports is heavy for much of the year.
When produce is shipped to distant locations, it is picked before it is ripe. Doing so allows for the fruit to continue to ripen during transit, so that it doesn't go bad before reaching its destination. The problem with picking vegetables and fruit before it has ripened is that it hasn't reached its full nutrient potential or flavour. Frozen produce also loses some nutritional value in the freezing process, but it has been picked at peak ripeness. Nutritional value is likely comparable but the advantage of the frozen product is that because it was allowed to ripen naturally, it is much more flavourful, so you end up with sweet fruit and vegetables that are full of flavour.
Add the fact that further nutritional value is lost during transport, and imported produce just doesn't measure up when compared to locally grown and picked. Have you ever purchased bananas that just didn't ever ripen? Or strawberries that looked big and beautiful, but had no flavour? Or tomatoes that were beautiful and round on the outside, but mealy and flavourless on the inside? When that happens it's because these foods were picked much too early to withstand long transport times.
In contrast, frozen fruits and vegetables have been picked at peak ripeness and are frozen soon afterwards ensuring the best flavours and nutritional content. A great example of fresh picked and frozen is Stahlbush Island Farms. You can also freeze your own fruits and vegetables if you have the time and inclination, though there are some techniques, so don't just bring large quantities home and immediately freeze them.
Fruit needs to be washed, pitted and is best laid out to freeze on baking sheets. Once frozen it can be packed into air-tight containers or bags and kept in the freezer until needed. I typically don't freeze vegetables except for in soups and stews, but according to the Joy of Cooking bell peppers can be frozen after washing and seed removal. Otherwise vegetables need to be blanched or cooked for good freezing results. It's less work than canning, but if you have your own garden, or have the time to freeze it can save you money and leave you with great produce through the winter months. Take the time to make sure you are freezing your vegetables correctly.
So next time you are shopping have a look at where your fruits and vegetables are coming from. If the label has a far off country on it, then it might be worth considering frozen. And sometimes it's just better to wait until that food is seasonal. It's definitely worth the wait to go a few months without tomatoes or asparagus, and enjoy them at their best.
Frozen berries and other fruit are great for smoothies, gut-health/Paleo muffins and other gut-healthy/Paleo desserts. Frozen vegetables are great for soups and stews, and can be stir-fried. You can always use a combination of fresh and frozen as well.
What are your favourites? Do you have recipes that work well with frozen fruits or veg? I'd love to hear from you.
Happy, Healthy Eating Fresh or Frozen!