Photo: StockFood / Westend61
The Frozen Food Foundation and the University of California-Davis released a study last week showing that the nutrient content of certain fruits and vegetables is better preserved in the freezer than in the refrigerator. (The foundation is a research-dedicated not-for-profit, but it is affiliated with the frozen food industry’s trade association.) This is good news for those who rely on their stocked freezers, and even better for those living in areas where the fresh stuff isn’t readily available.
“If the choice is to not eat a vegetable or to eat something frozen, eat the frozen vegetable,” said Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of New York City vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy. “If you like frozen peas or that Birds Eye mix—you know, with the peas, carrots and corn—if you like that, then eat it! It’s good! It’s vegetables! It’s high in nutritional content, and better than not eating them at all.”
Cohen also noted that frozen vegetables are picked at the height of their ripeness and chilled immediately, which helps them preserve both their flavor and nutritional value. UC Davis’s Dr. Diane Barrett, who led the study, confirmed this: “In the commercial industry, freezing plants are located close to site of production,” she said. “Vegetables are typically frozen within a short time, about 3-6 hours after harvest and blanching.”
Once in your freezer, though, Barrett recommends eating the vegetables within 90 days. Most modern freezers, she said, contain coils that warm up to prevent frost. “With those, your frozen foods may be experiencing [hurtful] cycles of freezing and warming,” she said. “Better to buy frozen products and use them quickly.”
At Dirt Candy, Cohen doesn’t serve many frozen vegetables whole, but she does use them to flavor custards and broths. “We use frozen corn for the popcorn pudding and frozen peas for pea stock and pea flan,” she said. “When we tried making the pea stock with fresh peas, we found it wasn’t worth it.”
“Sometimes, when it comes to working in a restaurant, you have to think: Is it worth the time?” questioned Cohen. “Fresh peas are so annoying to peel and the labor wasn’t worth it. The stock made with frozen peas was terrific.”
Frozen peas were also sanctioned by Peter Serpico of Serpico restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. ”I use them and endorse using them,” he said. “Peas taste really good frozen. The texture isn’t great, but you can change that.”
“A lot of chefs will turn their noses up at frozen peas, but then they’ll have them on their menus in December,” he continued. The frozen grocers freeze peas at the height of their short spring season, though, he said, so why not use them for flavoring agents in salads, spreads, soups, and stews? “We make a pea purée as a kind of salad dressing,” Serpico said. “Because it’s so thick, we don’t actually dress the greens in it; we put it on the plate and then build everything—whole, fresh herbs and a lot of different lettuces—on top of that.”
At home, Serpico relies on frozen fruits and vegetables. “Our freezer is always packed with cauliflower, raspberries, blackberries, and a vegetable medley,” he said. “It’s really convenient.”
Some of those things are better to freeze than others, though, according to the UC Davis study. It all depends on the nutrient in question: Fat-soluble vitamins A and E survive the freezing process well, meaning citrus fruits, carrots, leafy greens, and broccoli maintained their nutritive integrity in the freezer better than they did in the refrigerator. Fruits and vegetables with high amounts of water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C or B-complex vitamins didn’t fare as well; frozen versions were no higher in those nutrients than refrigerated ones. In other words, it’s best to consume bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and berries and berries when fresh.
Do you buy frozen vegetables? What do you like to cook with them?