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Fresh vs frozen vegetables

We’ve all been there. You start the week with the best of intentions, stocking up on loads of fresh produce. You can’t wait to get your 5+ a day, so you buy a rainbow of fresh fruit and vegetables in the hope of becoming the picture of health. But life gets in the way and a few weeks later, the fruits and vegetables destined to boost your vitamin c, minerals, and dietary fibre, are still in your fridge looking limp and wilted.

If you’re trying to save money on food and reduce food waste, it might be time to consider the merits of buying frozen vegetables.

Benefits of fresh vegetables

We have to start by pointing out that we’re not here to bad-mouth fresh vegetables. Fresh fruits and veg are a fantastic addition to your diet. Who doesn’t love enjoying a banana with breakfast or popping some fresh apples and carrots into your juice?

Fresh Produce

Fresh food will always have its advantages; frozen fruit and vegetables will never have the same variety as fresh fruit and vegetables. You’ll be hard-pressed to find frozen tomatoes or frozen celery in the cold storage section. Both fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables have a place in your kitchen and the food you eat.

While this article will mainly look at the benefits of food substituting frozen veggies and fruit, don’t let us put you off or adding those salad ingredients to your shopping trolley!

Benefits of frozen vegetables

Frozen vs fresh vegetables – price

When fresh vegetables and fruit are out of season, prices can skyrocket. There is no such thing as cheap asparagus in July because it's a summer vegetable.

Frozen vegetables don’t have these same seasonal limitations. They’re available year-round and at pretty steady price points – give or take the odd special! As a general rule, they’re also known for being pretty cheap. A frozen 300g bag of Pams chopped leaf spinach could be better value that a bag of fresh salad spinach.

Longevity

When trying to eat healthy on a budget, there’s no point buying a whole trolley full of fruit and vegetables and finding that half of it goes to waste. The long shelf life of frozen foods is a major benefit.

Nutrition, vitamins and minerals

There’s a common assumption that frozen vegetables and fruits have less nutritional value than fresh. But, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

  • Fresh vegetables and fruits are typically picked before peak ripeness, giving them less time to develop a full range of vitamins and minerals that they would if left to fully ripen on the vine.
  • On the other hand, frozen vegetables are not picked until they’re the perfect ripeness. This means their nutrient content is at its peak.
  •  After fresh vegetables are picked and harvested, they often travel a long distance to make it to our grocery stores. During this journey, the nutrients in the food slowly decrease – especially delicate vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamin thiamine. According to Healthline US, studies have shown that green peas can lose up to 51% of their vitamin C during the first 24-48 hours of harvesting.
  • On the other hand, frozen produce’s nutrients are sealed into them during the freezing process. As they are usually snap frozen with special machinery soon after they’re picked, the nutrients are locked in – making them just as nutritious as their freshly picked counterparts. The snap freezing process means it’s pretty easy to have a higher concentration of vitamins in a frozen vegetable than a fresh one.
  • There’s no question that frozen vegetables have a longer shelf life, but if they’re stored for too long, some nutrients begin to break down. Studies suggest that this process starts after about a year,
  • Some vegetables are blanched before freezing. This involves placing the produce in boiling water for a few minutes, killing harmful bacteria and preventing any loss of flavour, colour and texture. However, it also results in the loss of water soluble nutrients and water soluble vitamins like B vitamins and vitamin C. This doesn’t apply to frozen fruit, which doesn’t undergo blanching.
  • Studies show that vitamin A, vitamin E, minerals, carotenoids and fibre levels are not impacted by blanching and are similar in fresh and frozen produce.
Convenience

No preparation is needed with fresh vegetables! Since they’re pre-prepped and chopped, they can go straight into whatever you’re cooking, saving you time and effort. A mixed bag of frozen veggies can be a quick and simple healthy homemade takeaway honey soy stir-fry and some peas or green beans can be chucked straight into a soup or a chilli.

Frozen spinach vs fresh

We’ve already compared the price of frozen and fresh spinach – so you already know how much more bang for your buck you can get from these frozen green leaves.
But how does fresh vs frozen spinach stack up on other counts?

  • Nutrients – a former food science and technology researcher at the University of California, Davis, found that spinach loses 75% of its vitamin C content in seven days if stored in the refrigerator. In comparison, it only loses 30% of its vitamin C when frozen.
    Frozen spinach is also more densely packed, meaning you get more of it in less volume. We estimate that one cup of frozen has more than four times the amount of nutrients (including fibre, folate, iron, and calcium) as a cup of fresh spinach.
  • Flavour – little to no difference!
  • Texture – what you plan to do with these greens will impact whether you decide to buy fresh varieties or frozen vegetables. Frozen spinach is delicious in an omelette, a casserole, a soup, even stir fries. It’s also a great addition to smoothies – create spinach smoothie bags in advance as a handy meal prep idea. However, if you try to put frozen spinach in a salad or a sandwich, you’ll be left with a soggy and watery mess.

Although you can use fresh in almost any recipe that calls for frozen, the opposite is not always true. Having both types on hand allows you to choose which form you prefer for any given dish.

Frozen kale vs fresh

Fresh kale has been lauded as a superfood, packed with tonnes of vitamins and nutrients. But is frozen kale just as good as its fresh counterpart? Let’s look at the battle of fresh vs frozen kale.

  • Nutrients – there are differences in how easily different nutrients get damaged in kale’s blanching and snap freezing process. While it’s lucky to retain all of its fibre, minerals, and fat-soluble nutrients like beta-carotene and vitamin K, some of its water soluble vitamins are not as lucky. Unfortunately, it does lose some of its vitamin C when blanched and frozen. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still have excellent health properties.
  • Flavour – fresh kale can be quite bulky and tough. Sometimes it can even be quite intimidating to cook with and the flavour when raw is too intense for some people. However, frozen kale is far more palatable.
  • Texture – Like with spinach, what you plan to do with your kale will impact whether you decide to buy fresh or frozen. Frozen kale is delicious cooked into most meals but won’t make a great addition to a salad.
Frozen broccoli vs fresh

These little green trees might not be the most commonly considered frozen veg, but they play their part in many meals! Next up in the ring is fresh vs frozen broccoli.

  • Nutrients – broccoli as fresh food has tonnes of nutrients like calcium, fibre, vitamin C and A. But unfortunately, it’s also a fresh food that falls victim to losing its nutrition content if it’s made to travel long distances. The longer it stays in your fridge (even after a few days), the less nutritious it becomes. Broccoli and cauliflower are known for wilting quite quickly and tend to be vegetables that easily end up as food waste. The frozen food versions retain these nutrients much more effectively.
  • Flavour – pretty much the same.
  • Texture – the preparation of frozen broccoli has a considerable impact on its consistency and nutritional value. Boiling it for a long time lets the vitamins leach out into the water. Whether you are cooking fresh or frozen, we suggest using as little water as possible and cooking for a short amount of time. Steaming or microwaving frozen veggies is a much better option than boiling.
Frozen Brussels sprouts vs fresh

Brussel sprouts are one of the most universally controversial fresh vegetables out there – you either love them or hate them. If you love them, read on. And if you hate them, skip to the next section!
It should be noted that brussels are not available in New Zealand as fresh produce year round. They’re usually harvested between May and October, so they are available as frozen produce only for six months of the year. This means that when we’re talking Availability, frozen wins over fresh.

  • Nutrients – there isn’t a huge difference, but fresh Brussels sprouts win out over their frozen produce counterparts when it comes to nutrition. Fresh brussel sprouts better retain phytochemicals and antioxidants when fresh.
  • Flavour – very little difference between the two fresh and frozen options.
  • Texture – while great in soups and stews, these green orb-shaped frozen vegetables can be tricky to eat when just steamed or microwaved, as they can be strangely soggy and mushy. We love the frozen produce here, but we suggest you proceed with caution!
Frozen asparagus vs fresh

Unlike carrots, peas, cauliflower and green beans, asparagus is super seasonal. You’ll really only find this vegetable on the supermarket shelves for six months of the year. And if you do find it the other months when it’s not being harvested, it’ll likely be imported and pricey.
So how do you manage to eat asparagus the rest of the year? Introducing the wonders of frozen asparagus.

  • Nutrients, flavour and texture – we’ve merged all three into one here because we have some food news. There’s very little difference between asparagus whether you buy it as fresh produce or from the frozen vegetables section.

Like with broccoli, though (and same as with frozen vegetables like frozen peas or carrots or green beans), try steaming it where possible rather than destroying the nutrients through boiling.

Canned vs frozen vegetables

Just to confuse the matter of frozen fruit and vegetables, we’re now going to throw another candidate into the mix: canned vegetables and fruits. If you’re looking for more affordable food substitutes, canned produce can be an excellent option. Let’s look more closely at some of the benefits and disadvantages of canned fruit and vegetables.  

Canned vegetable 800px iStock-157606250

Benefits of canned vegetables and fruits
  • Longevity – canned food has a ridiculously long shelf life. The processing method of canning means that many canned vegetables can last up to four years. Of course, it’s always worth checking the expiry date just to be sure.
  • Affordability – canned food is known for being incredibly affordable – even more so than frozen fruit and vegetables! Let’s compare canned green beans vs frozen. A 410g can of green beans costs only $1.99, while 750g of frozen whole green beans is around $4.99 – making the canned beans slightly cheaper.
  • Convenience – one of the greatest appeals of canned foods is that they’re often safe to eat straight from the jar. Extra cooking is entirely optional – a can of peaches, beans, or other kinds of fruit or vegetable will provide a quick and nutritious ready-made meal!
  • Availability – canned fruit and vegetables are available year-round, regardless of the season.
Disadvantages: Frozen vs canned vegetables – nutrition
  • Nutritional value – the canning process often includes blanching, bleaching and preserving, which means some canned vegetables and fruit can be less nutritious than fresh and frozen produce.
  • No additives – many canned foods have added salt or added sugar to preserve the ingredients. Carefully read the can to check for helpful labels like ‘no added salt’ if you’re looking to avoid these.
  • Variety – just like frozen fruit and vegetables will never have as much variety as fresh, canned fruit and vegetables will never have as many options. There are seemingly endless options in the fresh produce section of your supermarket, but a limited range of canned produce is available.

Let’s single out a few of our favourite canned foods.

Frozen beets vs canned beets and fresh beets vs canned beets
Frozen beets have less salt, but canned beets have better texture and taste – we say go with the canned beetroot! Fresh beets are tasty and nutritious but can be time-consuming to prepare.
Canned peas vs frozen peas
If given the option, we pick frozen peas. They have less salt and taste similar.
Frozen corn vs canned corn and frozen corn vs fresh corn
Corn is one of those magical vegetables that can be purchased fresh, frozen and canned. It’s also incredibly versatile in all of its forms. Canned, frozen and fresh all have their place in your kitchen.
  • Fresh corn on the cob is a delicious Kiwi summer staple – perfect for an affordable and easy side when you’re entertaining on a budget.
  • Frozen corn is a quick and simple addition to any pie, casserole or roast. It has pretty much all of the same nutritional value as fresh corn.
  • Nothing is easier than using a can of corn to create fritters, chowder, or even pudding!
Fresh tomatoes vs canned tomatoes
  • A fresh tomato is perfect for sandwiches, salads, salsa and bruschetta.
  • Canned tomatoes are known for being one of the most versatile staples in your pantry. Create pasta sauce, casseroles, soups and broths using a few simple cans.

Tips for using frozen fruits and vegetables

  • When using frozen vegetables and frozen fruits, you don’t need to worry about defrosting – they can be cooked or used from frozen.
  • When freezing fruits and vegetables, make sure they are in an airtight sealed bag or container. Air can cause freezer burn, which will impact their texture negatively.
  • Frozen vegetables are best steamed rather than boiled.
  • Frozen vegetables cook super quickly since they have been blanched already during the freezing process. Make sure you pay close attention when cooking them, so they don’t go soggy.
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables make great additions to smoothies.
  • Frozen vegetables are excellent in soups, casseroles and stews.

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