Is there a better way to store fruits and vegetables? Are there better kinds or times to purchase them? Is there one preservation process that’s more nutritious than others? The answers to these questions all depends on what you are ultimately more concerned about. Taste, texture, freshness, appearance (familiarity) or nutrition. What I’m going to provide you with today is simply a rule of thumb as to the hierarchy of the condition of the fruits and vegetables to obtain in terms of nutrition and cost. Then you’ll need to decide, as always, which type really fits your family.
The first choice for most people when obtaining fruits and vegetables is to
get them fresh--either they grow their own or they purchase them from the store. However, you should be aware that the nutritional content does vary dramatically dependent on what types of pesticides and other chemicals are used and WHEN the fruits and vegetables are harvested. Obviously, harvesting them at their peak time in an organic setting will be the most enjoyable and nutritious for your family. The downside to fresh produce is that you don’t know if they were harvested at the ideal time. And even if they were, how long did they travel before they got to your store? How much will you end up having to toss as a result of spoilage? These types of mostly unanswerable questions make the top dollar you pay for fresh produce a bit of a gamble. I wonder if fresh really does belong at the top of the produce hierarchy?
Having said that tough, I’m all for making my own FRESH produce by growing my own sprouts. Sprouts have significantly more nutrition in them than just about any produce you can purchase anywhere. Not only that, but they are economical and they contain no nasty chemicals. Remember, you can easily sprout any whole grain, nut, legume, or seed. (Stay away from the flowers on tomatoes and potato sprouts. They are toxic.) I can’t believe I’m saying this, but my husband actually got me hooked on having sprouts on my sandwiches instead of lettuce. In fact, at the end of this article I’ve got a GREAT Orange Marmalade Sprout Salad recipe for you. Yum!
So, if not fresh, then what’s next on the hierarchy? Freeze-dried. Not to be confused with dehydrated. Freeze-dried produce typically contains 90-95 percent of the same nutrition as picked-in-their-prime fresh produce. And there are no contaminants with freeze-dried produce. I’ve not kept it a secret that I’m in love with all of the freeze-dried fruits and vegetables that Blue Chip Foods manufacturers. They truly are my favorite. I can do just about anything with freeze-dried produce as I can with fresh. They take very little, if any, time to reconstitute. The taste packs a punch of REALISM that you wouldn’t expect. The fruit doesn’t taste soggy like frozen, defrosted fruit does and I’ve also discovered that it’s actually quite economical. I don’t end up throwing away ANY freeze-dried produce despite the fact that my hubby isn’t a veggie fan. I find myself eating the strawberries, raspberries, bananas, and peas right out of the #10 cans. Dollar for dollar, the purchase price is the SAME between fresh and freeze-dried when you get the cans at regular price—even better when they go on sale. That’s right. I can pay $35 for about the same amount of raspberries at a farmer’s market right now as I would get freeze-dried in a #10 can. Yet there will inevitably be some waste with the fresh produce. That’s just how Mother Nature works. Whereas the freeze dried product I purchase is guaranteed to maintain its nutrition, taste, and texture for a full 18 months AFTER I’ve opened the can, and for years and years when prior to opening. This is why I use the freeze-dried versions as much as possible, everyday. I use the peas in my tuna casserole, the apple slices in my apple crisp, the strawberries in an easy jam made with clear gelatin and water, etc. etc. etc. I love how I never have to cry over cutting an onion. I just open the can, scoop up the amount I need, sauté it, and I’ve got carmelized onions or whatever the recipe calls for. I never have to slice or dice peppers, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli—well, you get the point. (I AM a bit zealous when it comes to my freeze-dried produce, aren’t I? I sometimes even get goosebumps just telling people about it in my classes. Too bad you aren’t close enough to get a sample of these yummy raspberries right now.) :)
Next in the hierarchy are dehydrated fruits and veggies. This level of nutrition is at approximately 70-75 percent of the same nutrition as fresh produce—even when you dehydrate your own. You can enjoy dehydrated produce easily as a snack and they make easy additions to slow cooking dishes. Otherwise you need to reconstitute them and that may take a while and a bit of water. (You can also dehydrate meat successfully, but that’s another article.) When you dehydrate produce you don’t have to use your oven to do so. You can simply use the good old sunshine by itself or make use of a great solar oven. Dehydration is quite simple to do yourself, however, most dehydrated foods sold commercially are about the same cost as freeze-dried. If you have the choice, pick the freeze-dried version. Here’s a tip. When you’re rehydrating your foods, instead of using water to do so, use broth, juice, milk, or the water from the cans of other ingredients—whatever is already a part of your recipe. It will give your dish a much greater flavor. When I reconstitute apple chips, I use this yummy “Apple Delight” drink I get from Blue Chip. When reconstituting vegetables, I’ve also been known to use the water from the cans of other veggies I may be using in order to no throw any more nutrients and flavor out than necessary. I’ve also used the pasta water, potato water, etc.
Next, and definitely last in the hierarchy is canned. Canned produce keeps about 40-45 percent of the same nutrition as fresh right off the bat. Even when you do it yourself, you’re not likely to obtain more than 50 percent of the nutritional value as you would a fresh piece of produce. Obviously, the longer you store it, the more of its nutrition you lose. I personally do not can my own fruits and vegetables. Why? Because I can purchase the canned goods for a much better price than what my time and energy are worth—especially with coupons! And considering what all I get in return, in terms of nutrition, I just don’t think it’s worth the money. I’d rather pay more for the other options.
One point I do want to make. When you purchase fresh produce, such as the oversized bags of spinach at Costco, don’t hesitate to freeze it. The frozen produce is great and you don’t need to do anything special with it. Just seal it and throw it in your freezer. (The frozen spinach makes for great healthy smoothies or a lightly blanched spinach salad.) Of course you know that tomatoes, lettuce, and other high water content produce don’t freeze so well. So use your best judgment on that.
Hopefully you’ve learned a thing or two about what produce to select for your family for long and short term storage. While it may be more important that your family see something familiar at mealtime as opposed to something freeze dried, at least you can now make an educated decision.
Orange Marmalade Sprout Salad
Orange marmalade photo c/o notecook.com
Combine the following ingredients in a small bowl with a whisk
2 T. Orange Marmalade
4 T. Olive Oil
1 T. Balsamic Vinegar
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
Drizzle the dressing over about 4 to 6 cups of fresh sprouts of your choosing. I also like to lightly toast some nuts and put these on the salad as well. This is yummy and something you can easily make with food storage ingredients.
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