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Fresh, canned or frozen food?

Let's take a look at how fresh, canned and frozen products can vary in terms of function, flavour and nutrition. And of course reducing the cost of your groceries. 

When money’s tight or you’re saving up for something special, it’s important to take every saving where you can. Sometimes that comes down to the type of produce, meat or seafood you buy: fresh, canned or frozen.Some people feel a little wary of moving away from what they’re used to, but there are definitely benefits to each different type of product. Let’s take a look at how fresh, canned and frozen products can vary in terms of function, flavour and nutrition.

Fresh vegetables, meat and seafood

Fresh foods come exactly as you see them on the shelf. These products have usually gone through minimal processing and represent the “raw” fruit, vegetable, meat or seafood in its truest form.

Benefits of fresh foods

  • Fresh products are as natural and basic as they come. This means you don’t have to be wary of any additives like extra salt, sugar or preservatives.
  • Most recipes usually call for fresh food ingredients, so they’re often the “easiest” option (of course, it’s also easy to make substitutions for frozen or canned ingredients once you know how!).
  • Being more natural, fresh produce sometimes has more nutritional value over canned or frozen.
  • You can see exactly what you’re getting when you pick up fresh products in store, because there’s much less packaging getting in the way.Disadvantages of fresh foods
  • Fresh products can be more expensive than canned or frozen, especially when they are not in season.
  • Fresh foods may require more preparation before they can be used. For example, many fruits and vegetables can be bought pre-chopped in cans or frozen.
  • Not all fresh foods are as fresh as they seem. “Pre-frozen” meat and seafood is perfectly safe, tasty and nutritious but can’t be refrozen.

Canned fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood

There’s a huge variety of ingredients and ready-to-eat food you can buy in cans. For example, canned tomatoes are a very popular ingredient for making sauces, while canned tuna is a favourite grab-and-go protein for many people.

When food is canned, it’s first prepared according to the type of food. For example, certains veggies may be peeled or seeds may be removed. They’re then added to the cans and sometimes topped up with brine, syrup or juice. Finally, the can is sealed and heated to kill any micro-organisms in the food.This process means that the canned food has a very long shelf life and doesn’t deteriorate in quality over time. So you can stock up on canned food and it will last you years. Of course, if the can is damaged then outside bacteria may enter and contaminate the food.

Canned food is also often cooked or blanched before being preserved, so it’s usually safe to eat straight from the can even if you plan to cook it further anyway.

Benefits of canned food

  • Canned food’s greatest benefit is its long shelf-life. The canning process keeps food safe for up to four years. Of course, you should always check the expiry date on the can to be sure.
  • Canned foods tend to take up less space, so you can keep a greater volume in a smaller cupboard.
  • No matter what type of canned product you choose, it’s almost always safe to eat straight from the can. Any extra heating or cooking is often totally optional, so canned food is by far the easiest option for a quick feed.
  • Canned food is especially affordable.
  • Canned food is available off-season. While you may struggle to find fresh asparagus or corn in the middle of winter, you’ll be able to find them in the canned aisles all year round.

Disadvantages of canned food

  • Due to the canning process, canned food is usually at least partially cooked, so it’s not suitable for any recipe calling for raw foods.
  • Some foods may lose some nutritional value when blanched for canning. Fruit often has its peel removed, which contains a lot of valuable fibre.
  • Many canned foods have higher sodium and sugar contents, as they’re preserved in salty brine or syrup. You can avoid this by choosing cans with no added salt or sugar.
  • Ultimately, not every fresh food is suitable for being canned, so there’s less variety in canned food than fresh or frozen.

Frozen fruits, vegetables, meat and seafood

The supermarket freezers are for more than just ice cream! There’s a huge range of proteins and produce that are frozen for your convenience.

Many frozen foods are often as fresh as possible — even fresher than the fresh foods! For example, corn on the cob will start to become less sweet with time as the natural sugars turn into starch. With frozen corn, the kernels are scraped from the cob shortly after the corn is picked and immediately snap frozen. This means the ripening process is halted, and those natural sugars stay to keep the corn delicious and sweet.

Veggies aren’t the only great option from the freezer, however. You can buy large quantities of chicken pieces from the freezer at a great price, and simply defrost as you need them. Look out for other cuts that might be cheaper, but just as tasty as fresh.

Seafood is a great option to buy frozen, as it’s often frozen at sea. For example, as soon as prawns are caught, they’re prepared and frozen before the ship has even come into land. So those prawns are extra fresh, even if they’ve been sitting in the freezers for a while.

Benefits of frozen food

  • Frozen fruits and vegetables are actually more nutritionally consistent than fresh options. Because they’re frozen as soon as they’re picked, fruits and vegetables don’t ripen on the grocery store shelf or in your fruit bowl, and instead maintain all their optimal vitamins and minerals.
  • Frozen foods make it easier to find produce and proteins all year round.
  • You’ll often find frozen food is cheaper, because it’s less likely to expire on the shelf. This means you can sometimes buy choice cuts of meat for less simply by shopping from the freezers.
  • Unlike canned food, frozen food is usually free from preservatives like extra salt and sugar because freezing is a natural form of preservation.
  • Frozen foods are often prepared for you, whether that means the veggies are chopped or the prawns are deveined. You can even get flavoured vegetables so all you need to do is heat and eat.

Disadvantages of frozen food

  • Frozen food doesn’t last forever. After three months in the freezer, most food can start to develop “freezer burn”, which covers the food in frost and draws out all moisture, making the food unpalatable. Vacuum packaging is the best deterrent to this.
  • Not every food freezes nicely. For example, frozen spinach is a great addition to soups or vegetarian lasagne but is not a substitute for salad greens.
  • When food is frozen, the water within it expands and ice crystals cause the cells to rupture. As a result, the texture of previously frozen foods can sometimes be softer. This is more noticeable in foods you’d normally eat raw, like fruit and greens.

Should I buy fresh, frozen or canned?

Ultimately, the kind of food you should buy comes down to when you plan to eat the food and what you intend to use it for. Fresh food, though often the tastiest and most nutritious, goes off much faster and should be frozen or consumed shortly after buying.

Canned food is best for pantry staples, as has a very long shelf life. Keep tins of tomatoes and beans around to throw together an easy dinner, or cans of your favourite fruit for a cheeky (but healthy) dessert with some yogurt.

Meanwhile, frozen foods are best for ingredients that will be cooked, such as meat, seafood and hardy vegetables. Frozen fruit is perfect for cobblers or smoothies, where the texture doesn’t matter as much.

Are fresh, frozen or canned foods more nutritious?

If you’re shopping for the most nutritious food, the good news is that the nutritional value of these foods tends to remain pretty similar. Here are a few key examples using data from NutritionData.

Fresh vs. frozen vegetables

Overall, fresh and frozen vegetables are nutritionally very similar. Whether you buy fresh vegetables or frozen should therefore depend on how long you need the produce to last, how you plan to use it and what best suits your budget.

Fresh peas vs. frozen peas

Fresh peas and frozen peas, both boiled with no salt, include the following vitamins and nutrients per 100 grams.

Fresh peas:

  • Calories: 84
  • Fibre: 5.5 g
  • Thiamin: 17% DV
  • Niacin: 10% DV
  • Folate: 16% DV
  • Vitamin C: 24% DV

Frozen peas:

  • Calories: 78
  • Fibre: 5.5 g
  • Thiamin: 19% DV
  • Niacin: 7% DV
  • Folate: 15% DV
  • Vitamin C: 17% DV
Fresh spinach vs. frozen spinach

Frozen spinach is first blanched to remove a lot of liquid. This means it’s often cheaper to buy more frozen spinach, but because it’s already cooked it can’t be used for salads like fresh vegetables. Frozen spinach is perfect for anything you need cooked spinach for: lasagne, soup, or dip. So how do they differ nutritionally? Below are the nutritional values for 100 grams of raw spinach, versus 100 grams of precooked frozen spinach.

Fresh spinach:

  • Calories: 23
  • Iron: 15% DV
  • Vitamin A: 188% DV
  • Vitamin K: 604% DV
  • Folate: 49% DV
  • Magnesium: 20% DV

Frozen spinach:

  • Calories: 29
  • Iron: 10% DV
  • Vitamin A: 234% DV
  • Vitamin K: 465% DV
  • Folate: 36% DV
  • Magnesium: 19% DV
Fresh broccoli vs. frozen broccoli

Here’s a breakdown of how 100 grams of fresh broccoli compares with frozen broccoli when both are boiled without salt.

Fresh broccoli:

  • Calories: 35
  • Fibre: 3.3 g
  • Vitamin C: 108% DV
  • Vitamin K: 176% DV
  • Folate: 27% DV

Frozen broccoli:

  • Calories: 28
  • Fibre: 3.0 g
  • Vitamin C: 67% DV
  • Vitamin K: 110% DV
  • Folate: 14% DV

Fresh vs. canned vegetables

Canned and fresh produce can vary a bit in nutritional content, depending on how the produce is preserved. Avoid any tins that have lots of added sugar and salt to get the best nutrition from canned produce.

Fresh tomatoes vs. canned tomatoes

Canned tomatoes are a cheap and easy way to build a healthy sauce, but they’re a bit harder to include in a salad or a sandwich. Fresh and canned tomatoes often have different uses, but which one is healthier? Per 100 grams, fresh and canned tomatoes have the following vitamins and nutrients.

Fresh, raw tomatoes:

  • Calories: 18
  • Sodium: 10.0 mg
  • Fibre: 1.2 g
  • Vitamin C: 21% DV
  • Vitamin A: 17% DV
  • Potassium: 7% DV

Canned tomatoes, in juice, no salt added:

  • Calories: 17
  • Sodium: 10.0 mg
  • Fibre: 1.0 g
  • Vitamin C: 15% DV
  • Vitamin A: 2% DV
  • Potassium: 5% DV
Fresh lemon juice vs. bottled

While not canned, bottled lemon juice is similar in that it has been preserved to last longer on the supermarket shelf. It often contains sulphites as preservatives which can affect the taste — but what about the nutrition? Below are nutritional values for 100 grams of fresh and bottled lemon juice. Note that some of these values may vary according to individual brands.

Fresh lemon juice:

  • Calories: 25
  • Sugars: 2.4 g
  • Vitamin C: 77% DV
  • Folate: 3% DV
  • Potassium: 4% DV

Bottled lemon juice:

  • Calories: 21
  • Sugars: 2.4 g
  • Vitamin C: 41% DV
  • Folate: 2% DV
  • Potassium: 3% DV

Canned vs frozen vegetables

Sometimes out of season produce simply isn’t available, and you have to look for canned or frozen alternatives. But which option is better? Overall, frozen vegetables may be slightly more healthy than canned.

Canned corn vs. frozen corn

Corn is wonderfully sweet and a great way to get the kids enjoying vegetables, but fresh corn itself is only available during a short time of the year. Fortunately, both canned and frozen corn are readily available from your nearest PAK’nSAVE whenever you need them. Here’s how 100 grams of canned, whole corn kernels with no added salt, drained and ready to eat, compare to the same amount of frozen corn kernels, boiled with no salt.

Canned corn:

  • Calories: 81
  • Dietary fibre: 1.9 g
  • Protein: 2.6 g
  • Niacin: 2% DV
  • Folate: 11% DV
  • Sugars: 3 g

Frozen corn:

  • Calories: 81
  • Dietary fibre: 2.4 g
  • Protein: 2.5 g
  • Niacin: 7% DV
  • Folate: 9% DV
  • Sugars: 3.1 g

Fresh vs. canned meat

Meat and seafood can be bought in a can for maximum convenience. Whether it’s chicken, salmon or tuna, a small tin of meat can make a work lunch extra easy with no need to keep your lunch refrigerated.

Fresh salmon vs. canned salmon

Salmon is delicious served raw, quickly baked or even straight from a tin. Here’s how 100 grams of fresh salmon cooked in dry heat compares to 100 grams of tinned salmon.

Fresh salmon:

  • Calories: 149
  • Protein: 25.6 g
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1455 mg
  • Vitamin B-12: 58% DV
  • Sodium: 86.0 mg
  • Selenium: 82% DV

Canned salmon:

  • Calories: 136
  • Protein: 23.1 g
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1210 mg
  • Vitamin B-12: 82% DV
  • Sodium: 399 mg
  • Selenium: 56% DV

Fresh vs. frozen meat

Don’t overlook frozen meat! Not only is it often cheaper, it’s also just as healthy.

Fresh chicken vs. frozen chicken

Fresh and frozen chicken are usually nutritionally identical. The only time they differ is when you buy flavoured or tender-basted chicken. In these cases, the processing can cause some nutritional variation.

For example, let’s compare 100 grams of Tegel fresh chicken drumsticks to the same amount of Tegel tender-basted frozen drumsticks.

Fresh Tegel drumsticks:

  • Calories: 146
  • Protein: 17.9 g
  • Fat: 8.3 g
  • Carbohydrates: 0.0 g
  • Sodium: 75 mg

Frozen Tegel drumsticks:

  • Calories: 137
  • Protein: 15 g
  • Fat: 8.3 g
  • Carbohydrates: Less than 1 g
  • Sodium: 131 mg

How to save money buying fresh, frozen and canned food

At the end of the day, whether you buy fresh, frozen or canned often comes down to one simple thing: What’s the best way to save money? Here are our tips for saving money on proteins and produce by buying fresh, canned or frozen.

1. Buy fresh food in season

Did you know that fruits and vegetables aren’t the only seasonal foods? Seafood is seasonal as well. Hoki, a Kiwi favourite, is readily available in July and August, but in June and September is limited and likely to cost a lot more.

The same goes for all your fruits and vegetables. Find out when your favourites are in-season, and go for frozen or canned during the off season. If a recipe calls for off-season produce, try substituting for an in-season alternative, or buy it in a can instead.

2. Buy frozen or canned foods for cooking

Planning to cook your fruits or veggies? Why not cut corners and get them pre-cooked. Canned and frozen food often has a softer texture than fresh due to the preserving process. They’re often partially cooked, so a great way to use them is in your cooking.Use canned tomatoes for a sauced. Try canned potatoes for faster roasting. Buy tinned peaches for a quick and easy cobbler, or frozen apple slices for a homemade pie.

3. Choose canned protein for grab-and-go meals

Canned fish is a great way to get a lot of protein quickly, as well as other vital nutrients like Omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also super affordable. Turn to canned seafood for easy lunches, and leave fresh or frozen for when you’re trying to impress. A tin of tuna on a pasta salad can be exactly what you need to get you through the workday.

4. Buy in bulk, freeze for yourself

Whether you’re buying fresh, canned or frozen, it’s a great idea to take advantage of extra low prices when they’re available. Buy your favourite fruits, veggies or cuts of meat on sale and store them at home. You can fill up your freezer or pantry and save both money and a few trips to the supermarket.

Don’t forget, you can also freeze your cooked meals. Why not cook up a big batch of your favourite dinner and freeze portions for later? Freezing leftovers often means they won’t go off before you get to them.

5. Get the most out of your fresh food

When buying fresh, it’s best to get your money’s worth by ensuring as much of the fruit or vegetable is used.

Fruits and veggies are still alive after harvest, so handle them gently. Bruising can encourage rot and make the produce less palatable.

Greens and more delicate vegetables are less hardy, so aim to use them earlier in the week. Meanwhile, carrots and potatoes will last longer.

Here are a few more tips to keep your fresh food going further:

  • Store green vegetables, cauliflower, carrots and parsnips in the crisper draw of your fridge.
  • Keep potatoes, kumara, uncut pumpkin and onions in a cook, dark and dry place — but not in their plastic bags!
  • Cut vegetables should be wrapped in cling film and put in the fridge, then used as soon as possible.
  • Mushrooms should be kept in a paper bag in the fridge.
  • Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, not the fridge.
  • All of the cauliflower and broccoli is edible! Cut the stems up and steam them or just eat them raw.
  • Be mindful when storing fruit together. Different fruits produce ethylene gas as they ripen, which encourages other fruits to ripen faster. Bananas are a common culprit.
  • You can use ethylene gas to your advantage, too. Try storing your bananas and unripe avocados together to eat them sooner.
  • Fresh herbs can be submerged in water in an ice cube tray and frozen.
  • Meat lasts longer in the freezer when it’s vacuum packed. You can also transfer it to a snaplock bag and then squeeze the air out before freezing.
  • Look out for any labels on meat or seafood saying it’s “pre-frozen”. Pre-frozen foods shouldn’t be frozen again.

Frequently asked questions

Are fresh foods more nutritious than canned or frozen?

Not necessarily. Many canned and frozen food is preserved as soon as possible, so it’s arguably fresher than “fresh” foods!

Some preserved foods may have extra sugar or salt added to help preservation. Also, some fruits and vegetables are blanched or have their peel removed before they’re preserved, which can affect the nutritional value. Ultimately, the nutrition of fresh, frozen and canned foods tends to be very similar.

How long is frozen food good for?

The general rule of thumb for food that you’ve frozen at home is three months. However, food you’ve bought from the freezers may last longer because it has been specially prepared for freezing. Always refer to the guidance on the packet.

How long is canned food good for?

Most canned food is good indefinitely, but you should always check the dates on the can for further guidance. If the can is damaged, it is possible for the contents to spoil and you should avoid eating it.

Is fresh food always better than canned or frozen?

Not at all. Fresh food is food in its purest form, completely unprocessed, so you know exactly what you’re getting. This is preferable for some people, and most recipes will usually call for fresh ingredients.

However, canned and frozen foods shouldn’t be overlooked. Frozen meat and seafood typically has the same nutritional value and deliciousness of fresh, at a lower cost. Just watch out for added flavours, which can affect the nutrition.

Canned fruits veggies can be brilliant shortcuts for quick cooking, and make it easier to get all your 5+ A Day during winter. Choose cans with no added salt or sugar, preserved in water or fresh juice, to ensure you’re getting the best nutritional value.

Lastly, canned proteins like tuna, salmon or even chicken can be fantastic for getting lots of protein into a quick meal — and they’ll last in your cupboard for ages.

Looking for more ways to save? Check out the great deals at your nearest PAK’nSAVE today.