Frozen Produce

June 5, 2018 in Food Economics, Foodland Chronicles by Joyce Bunderson

Sometimes people are shocked when I say that frozen produce is an excellent source of nutritious, top quality fruits and vegetables. It is a common idea that frozen commodities are somehow inferior to fresh produce, and that it costs more.

There are quite a few factors that support my claim that frozen produce rates “excellent” compared to fresh. One issue is the when produce is commercially harvested to sell fresh; it needs to travel to market. Sometimes the produce is, therefore, picked a little early to keep it from spoiling before purchase. But that may be before it has fully developed; it has not reached its nutrition potential, nor is the flavor potential where it might be if allowed to ripen longer on the plant. Also, while the produce is being shipped and waits to be purchased, it loses some of its nutrients. Frozen produce, on the other hand, is harvested close to peak ripeness, and is usually frozen and packaged within hours of harvest; preserving the flavor and nutrients.

There are several issues that impact the price. First, think about how much of the fresh product you would dispose of (trimmings, peelings, seeds, woody stalks, pods, and spoiled or damaged trimmings). Another factor to consider is how often you may overestimate the lasting quality of certain produce and it gets thrown out because it spoils before you get a chance to eat it. Also, there is the convenience factor – having certain types of produce on hand just in case you want to have it almost instantly.

At our home, we enjoy mostly fresh produce that I grow or purchase at the farmer’s market or my favorite vegetable stand. But I keep a stock of both fruits (strawberries, blueberries, mangos, pineapple, and bananas); and vegetables (rhubarb, peas, peas and carrots, mixed vegetables, broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, and corn) in the freezer.

There are two main reasons that I utilize frozen vegetables and fruits. One is when I’m in a last minute rush to make dinner; I can always use a package of frozen vegetables and quickly microwave them. The second main reason is so I’m ready for the occasional Yonanas soft serve or a refreshing smoothie. Periodically, I use frozen strawberries to make topping for ice cream or pancakes and I also use frozen mangos to make relish for fish.

The major caveat for frozen produce is “What’s added?” Just yesterday, I was zipping through Costco, and a nice big bag of frozen sweet potato fries caught my eye. Wow! I thought, that would offer a nice bit of variety to our regular fare, without the painstakingly intense work and time involved in cutting fresh yams/sweet potatoes into fry strips. So as my usual habit goes, I picked up the new product and quickly went over the ingredient list. Good grief! It listed an ambiguous list of oils, and a whole long list of additives. I’ve been so spoiled by the “only strawberries” style frozen produce ingredient lists. I can go with a bit of salt, but not a highly processed bag of produce. Some products have sauces (often high in fat or sodium) and sugar syrup in some of the frozen fruit offerings; those never even make it into my cart. The sodium and other additives are also the reason that I prepare our own packets of frozen veggies, some fruits, vegetable sauces, and soups and store them in the freezer.

The number of varieties of fruit and vegetables available as frozen has increased recently; but there are still many that are not available as a frozen option. Also some produce doesn’t lend itself well to the freezer. Lastly, there is only so much freezer space in the average family’s home. So many of those of us who enjoy a large variety of fruits and vegetables, must utilize fresh, frozen and even some products that are canned or dried.

So if a variety of nutritious produce is high on your priority list, consider adding frozen produce to round out your options.