There’s no denying that eating an apple freshly picked off a tree is a completely different experience than eating an apple from the grocery store. Sometimes freshly picked produce tastes so fantastically amazing it seems it shouldn’t even share a name with whatever the corner store is peddling. While there’s definitely a psychological element to the experience, it’s also a fact that the “fresh” produce found at your grocery store is rarely actually fresh.
Unless you shop at a co-op that stocks local produce that was picked that very same day, your fruits and veggies were harvested well before ripeness (i.e. pre-peak nutrition and flavor) and shipped hundreds to thousands of miles to reach their destination. It’s no wonder it tastes so different.
Frozen produce might make a similar journey from farm to plate, but it has a huge leg up on fresh for a variety of reasons. Here’s why frozen produce is better than fresh.
Frozen produce is picked when nature intended.
As mentioned above, much of the “fresh” produce you buy at the store is harvested long before it’s actually ready and then ripens in a truck or warehouse – oftentimes via complex processes involving gasses or even genetic modification. Take the humble tomato, for example. Tomatoes are picked when they’re green, which is okay if they’ve hit a certain maturity point because they’re climacteric (i.e. capable of ripening off the vine). Sadly, 20-80% of tomatoes are picked immaturely resulting in a lack of flavor and a mealy texture.
Frozen produce doesn’t need to be treated with chemicals.
Fresh produce not only has to be manipulated in order to ripen, it also often has to be treated with chemicals that prevent over-ripening, sprouting, rotting, or simply anything that will make the fruits and veggies less appealing. According to Ethical Foods, here are some commonly used chemicals:
- Fungicides which prevent or delay the appearance of rot and molds in the product. Examples are, sodium orthophenylphenate (SOPP), thiabendazole (TBZ), sodium hypochlorite, and sulphur dioxide (SO2).
- Chemicals that delay ripening or senescence. Examples are: the kinins and kinetins that delay chlorophyll degradation and senescence in leafy vegetables; gibberellins that retard the ripening of tomatoes and hold citrus fruits on the tree beyond normal maturity; and auxins that delay deterioration of oranges and green beans.
- Growth retardants that inhibit sprouting and growth. Examples are maleic hydrazide which is applied pre-harvest and inhibits sprouting in a number of stored commodities, e.g., onions and potatoes.
- Metabolic inhibitors that block certain biochemical reactions that normally occur. Examples are cycloheximide, actinomycin D, maleic acid, ethylene oxide, and carbon monoxide.
- Coloring. The use of artificial colors is sometimes permitted in order to improve the appearance of a fruit. For example, an orange may have artificial color added to the skin for cosmetic purposes.
Frozen produce can be more nutritious than fresh.
The moment a piece of produce is picked, it begins to lose nutrients. Fruits and veggies destined for the freezer are allowed to fully ripen (meaning they’re picked at peak nutrition) and are frozen shortly after they're harvested locking in the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. On the flip side, much of the fresh produce at the grocery store was reaped before it reached its nutritional peak, then artificially ripened during transport. Every day post-picking (even on your counter or in your fridge), it’s losing precious nutrients.
“Scientists from Leatherhead Food Research and University of Chester, carried out 40 tests to measure nutrient levels in produce that had been sitting in a fridge for three days, compared to frozen equivalents,” writes Cynthia Sass, RD, MPH for ABC News. “They found more beneficial nutrients overall in the frozen samples, in everything from broccoli to blueberries. In fact, in two out of three cases, frozen fruits and veggies packed higher levels of antioxidants, including polyphenols, anthocyanins, lutein, and beta-carotene.”
On top of that, another study found fresh spinach stored at room temperature lost 100% of its ascorbic acid in less than 4 days and yet another study showed that one type of blueberry actually had a 29% increase in antioxidant activity after 3 weeks of cold storage!
Frozen produce prevents food waste.
In the U.S., we waste about a pound of food per person each day – and fresh produce is the most likely to be thrown out. At the end of a year, the average person will have thrown out 81 pounds of produce. Research published in the British Food Journal shows that frozen food generates 47 percent less food waste at home than non-frozen food.
All of this is not to say you should avoid fresh produce -- not at all! (We just happen to be big fans of frozen.) A whopping 90% of Americans don’t eat enough fruits and veggies every day, so we encourage you to eat fresh, frozen, canned, dried, whatever -- just eat it!