Nothing beats the taste of truly fresh produce, especially when it comes straight from your own garden or local farmer’s market, but there are times when “fresh” produce isn’t always best, especially when it isn’t really fresh, is out of season, has been stored, or has high food miles. Are you guilty of buying loads of fruit and vegetables from the shop only to find them growing moss in the back of the fridge a week later? Do frozen and tinned foods really deserve their bad reputations? If you consider your produce on a case-by-case basis, you may eat more healthily, save more money and be more sustainable while you’re at it. We take a look at the differences between fresh, tinned and frozen food and which produce is best in which situation
Let’s be clear right at the beginning: produce eaten soon after picking and not transported long distances is clearly the best. The question really becomes whether your “fresh” produce is really fresh and how many food miles it has taken to get to you. The claimed “fresh” produce at your local supermarket may not be as fresh as you think, since it can take days, weeks or months to reach the supermarket shelves during handling and transport. Most “fresh” fruits and vegetables are picked before they are ripe to allow them time to ripen and develop their nutrients during transportation. However, during transportation, produce is usually stored in a controlled atmosphere, speed-ripened artificially and treated with chemicals to prevent the food spoiling. As a result of this process, produce is usually less nutritious than naturally ripened fruit and vegetables.
Seasonality is also a key factor since most fruits and vegetables are not available year-round in certain parts of the world. You would definitely know this if you have ever tried to grow your own tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes are only available in Australia for a limited season, which makes tinned tomatoes a better alternative in off-season periods. So when buying produce at your local market, the first step to ensuring freshness is making sure it is in season.The amount of time food is stored also needs to be taken into account. It is estimated that fresh produce can lose half of its nutrients and vitamins during storage or cooking. Buying fresh fruit and vegetables and letting them sit in your fridge for several days means they are losing essential nutrients. Fresh produce is best consumed straight away, so it’s recommended to buy produce as close to the day that you will consume it as possible, to not only maximize your nutrition but minimize food waste.
Frozen produce has got a bad rap over the years, due to highly processed frozen pizza, pies and chips. But it’s about time we changed our thinking about this. As far as fruit and vegetables are concerned, most of them have been snap-frozen (frozen at –18°C in just minutes) right when they are harvested at their peak. This means that if the food is frozen soon after picking, most of the vitamins, mineral content and dietary fiber are locked in with only minimal processing. Unless you have a market garden and can access genuinely fresh peas, frozen peas are definitely the way to go since their sugar turns to starch as soon as they are picked. In just 24 hours, this may cause peas to be grainy and lose their natural sweetness and freshness.The added convenience of frozen produce allows people to consume a range of fruit and vegetables that is out of season, allowing people to add variety to their diet. Frozen food also has the added convenience of being able to be stored for months, although that is not without limits. Frozen vegetables should be consumed within eight months of purchase and frozen fruits should be used within 12 months of purchase (four to six months for citrus fruits). So it’s a good idea to make friends with your freezer when it comes to out-of-season produce: just avoid the heavily processed frozen stuff.On the downside, frozen vegetables are usually blanched (briefly submerged into boiling water) before they are frozen to kill bacteria, which means water-soluble vitamins such as vitamins C and B can be affected. Preservatives can also be added