Frozen vs. fresh
Cooks have long had a love/hate relationship with frozen food. Freezers revolutionised our lives in the 1970s when they started to become commonplace in the home kitchen.
Today, there is a world of frozen food beyond fish fingers, peas and ice cream (though, to be honest, we’d never be without them) – and it appears that we are increasingly waking up to its charms. According to research company Kantar, last year’s retail frozen food market was 15% bigger than in 2019 – a trend that is expected to rise.
DOESN’T FREEZING DESTROY THE NUTRITIONAL VALUE?
No. Nothing can beat a raspberry from the bush or a pea from a pod, but fruit and veg lose vitamins the moment they are gathered. Even if a product hits the shelf 24 hours after picking, it will have lost some nutritional value. So food frozen quickly might actually offer more benefits.
In a 2013 study at the University of Georgia, USA, researchers bought fresh and frozen fruit and veg from different supermarkets. Nutrient levels were analysed straight away, and then after the produce had been chilled for five days. In most cases, fresh and frozen varieties were nutritionally similar on day one. But after five days, the fresh produce had lost vitamin content, especially vitamins A and C.
HOW CAN I STOP FROZEN CARROTS AND BROCCOLI FROM GOING SOGGY?
Some foods freeze better than others. “Carrots go soggy because they contain so much water, which expands as it freezes and bursts cell walls, causing their structure to collapse,” explains James Wong, a botanist and TV presenter.
By contrast, peas and sweetcorn freeze beautifully because of their high sugar and starch content; this helps the veg keep its structure. It’s a similar story with fruit – it can all be frozen, but due to the high water content it’s best used straight from the freezer, blended into smoothies or milkshakes (think berries and bananas) or put to use in bakes or stews.
The cooking method is key. Most frozen veg has been blanched (cooked briefly in hot water) before packaging – partly to kill off any bacteria, partly to maintain colour. To avoid sogginess, you should never boil frozen veg, but ideally steam it. “You want to use a method that is speedy and uses the minimum amount of water. Microwave steaming is best. Put frozen veg in a bowl with just a teaspoon of water, cover, then cook for a few minutes in the microwave.”
WHAT ELSE CAN MY FREEZER DO FOR ME?
Savvy home cooks are recognising the benefits of frozen shortcuts. For example, frozen soffritto – the Italian mix of chopped onions, carrots and celery used in a multitude of sauces, stews, casseroles and soups – can revolutionise the time it takes to prepare a meal. Other pre-prepped products such as chopped onions, garlic, ginger and chillies, plus frozen herb mixes also save time and sometimes money. They are invaluable for those with health conditions that make kitchen tasks more challenging. Plus they extend freezer potential exponentially, playing a key part in fighting food waste.