Scientists make a case for going frozen.

By Meghan Overdeep
May 31, 2019
Brian Klutch

Fresh fruits and vegetables have long been considered superior to their frozen counterparts. And we can see why. Chopped up into small pieces and often flash-frozen to within an inch of their lives, in some ways, frosty fruits and veggies deserve their bad rap.

But not anymore. CNN reports that research in favor of going frozen is throwing old notions about frozen fruits and vegetables on their heads.

As it turns out, frozen produce has a lot more in the pro column than just extended shelf-life. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has revealed that frozen fruits and vegetables can have just as many vitamins—and sometimes more—as compared to store-bought fresh. That's because by the time they make it to your house, there's nothing "fresh" left about them.

"In terms of the ways humans have come up with preserving foods, freezing comes up at the top for preserving nutrients," study author Ali Bouzari, told CNN. "If you can't afford fresh or live in an area where a bodega down the street is all the access to produce you can get, it's important for people to know that frozen is a viable alternative."

Gene Lester, a plant physiologist and national program leader for the US Department of Agriculture, explained to CNN that frozen fruits "are commercially picked at the peak of ripeness and then individually quick frozen and packaged under a nitrogen atmosphere." Nitrogen helps to preserve the nutrients that oxygen degrades.

Vegetables with freezing in their future are also picked at peak ripeness, but, unlike fruit, they're blanched prior to freezing. Exposing the veggies to hot water destroys enzymes that cause discoloration, browning, and loss of flavor.

"Blanching keeps the bright green colors fairly bright green once they've been frozen and in storage—otherwise they can take on a grayish or brownish look," Lester said. With blanching, you can lose up to 50% of vitamin C, which is heat-sensitive.

Fortunately, it all evens out in the wash. Veggies intended to be frozen are typically picked at their peak ripeness, which is also when they are most nutrient dense. Fresh grocery store veggies, on the other hand, are picked at a younger, less nutrient-dense stage so they can last longer during transport and storage.

Basically, soon-to-be frozen veggies start out with a nutritional advantage that offsets nutrient loss during blanching.

"When you compare fresh string beans in a store versus frozen, frozen will almost always be higher in nutrient content, because they were picked and processed at the highest point of quality and then frozen to preserve them," Mario G. Ferruzzi, a professor in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences at North Carolina State University, explained to CNN.

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If you just can't stomach the thought of frozen produce, head to a farmers' market. According to Lester, vegetables sold at a farmers' market also tend to be picked at peak ripeness and are only held in refrigerated storage for a brief time. Fresh-from-the-farm veggies are superior to frozen in terms of nutritional value—but only if they are eaten within a day or so.

"After it's four or five or seven days old, it's a completely different equation," Lester concluded.

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