Humans have been preserving food for thousands of years, so that it could safely be consumed long after the food was caught, harvested, picked, milked, or prepared. Preserving food reduces the growth of bacteria, fungi or other micro-organisms, slows the oxidation of fats and helps keep foods looking appealing.
Many methods of food preservation are truly the "old ways". Canning or jarring, smoking, salting, drying, jugging, curing, fermenting, pickling, and sugaring are all traditional, "old ways" of preserving food -- which we'll explore in future issues of Fresh Friday. Freezing and refrigeration may seem more recent, but in fact, our ancestors took advantage of cool caves and cellars for storing food, and always slaughtered large animals in the fall so that the meat wouldn't spoil before it could be salted or smoked.
Since 1930, when Clarence Birdseye's first line of frozen foods hit grocery stores, we've been fortunate to have access to frozen food whenever we want. But too often, we dismiss it as somehow less worthy than fresh. Like many people, you may think it would be great (nutrition-wise and taste-wise) if we could all eat fruits and vegetables just as they're picked from a garden, farm, orchard or backyard. Although we know this just isn't possible or even realistic, we may not realize that frozen food can help, without compromising nutrition.
While nothing compares with just-picked, the reality is that most fruits and vegetables sold in stores have spent several days -- sometimes even weeks--in warehouses, trucks and on store shelves since they were harvested, all the while losing key nutrients. Because of this, researchers at the University of California Center for Excellence in Fruit & Vegetable Quality concluded that "frozen fruits and vegetables--picked at the height of quality then flash-frozen--are equally nutritious as their fresh and canned counterparts and perhaps more so for some nutrients."
Dr. Barbara Klein, a professor of food and nutrition at the University of Illinois, found that when fresh green beans are harvested, the vitamin C content begins falling immediately and a significant portion of it is gone within just 24 hours. "Actually, 58 percent of the vitamin C found in freshly picked green beans is lost within three days," says Klein. Dr. Klein also discovered that the amount of vitamin C in frozen green beans dropped by only 15 to 20 percent from the beans' just-picked state.
In another study led by University of Georgia scientist Ronald Pegg, results showed that the nutritional value of many frozen fruits and vegetables is generally equal to that of their fresh counterparts. In addition, the amount of vitamin A, vitamin C and folates in some frozen fruits and vegetables is actually greater than that of fresh-stored produce. Professor Pegg speculated that this is because of the nutrient degradation that occurs in fresh produce during storage.
Pegg and his team purchased fresh and frozen blueberries, strawberries, corn, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, green peas and spinach from six independent grocery stores, to average out differences in growing conditions, country of origin and time in the supply chain. Nutrients in each food were analyzed three ways: frozen, fresh (on the day of purchase) and fresh-stored (after five days in a kitchen refrigerator).
In today's grocery stores there are thousands of frozen food options; Oldways and the MFA suggest that you read labels and look for simple frozen foods that preserve all the goodness of the original food in the same minimally-processed form that residents of the Mediterranean region might have enjoyed centuries ago.
See below for three recipes that make use of frozen foods for Mediterranean inspired meals.
Click on the recipe title or photo to go to the recipe.