Feeling the Pressure For Fresher?
Chilled or Canned, Veggies Still Deliver the Goods
In an era when farm to table reigns, and the pedigree of every leaf of lettuce and crown of broccoli on the menu is avidly scrutinized, is there still a seat at the chef’s table for vegetables that arrive in hermetically sealed steel cans or quick-frozen in poly pouches?
Unequivocally, the answer is yes, and for reasons you may not expect. When even renowned chefs like Rick Bayless have touted their use of frozen produce, it’s time to reconsider these unfairly sidelined players. When he first started freezing produce in 1996, he kept it very much on the down low, recognizing the challenge of going up against the ‘fresh is better’ mantra. But by 2015, he was happily telling the New York Times, “That time has passed. Now I’m shouting from the rooftops.”
Here’s why you may want to make some noise too, and clear space on your freezer and pantry shelves for products that began as a breakthrough foodservice innovation … and decades later, may just be about to retake their crown.
Versatility and taste.
“There is no limit to the variety of recipes that utilize cut vegetables,” says Kimberely Challoner at Seneca Foods, the country’s leading provider of packaged fruits and vegetables, sourced from more than 2,000 U.S. farms. With no additives used and low-sodium versions available, chefs can confidently sub in virtually any frozen or canned vegetable for fresh. As for taste, Challoner recommends the canned super sweet corn: “An excellent product year round; in fact, my family won’t even eat the fresh kind!”
Both methods – canning and freezing – adhere to multiple safety measures every bit as rigorous as for fresh produce during fruit and vegetable processing. For instance, at Seneca, heat processing and hermetic sealing kill bacteria and prevent microorganisms from spoiling the fruits and vegetables; a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point process ensures the canning process is monitored at all stages. Microbiological tests are conducted for all frozen products. All are done swiftly to optimize freshness: once the product is harvested, it’s brought into the facility and placed in either the canning line or freezing line within hours of coming in from the field.
Long shelf life.
Food waste in the U.S. amounts to 30 to 40 percent of the food supply – an astounding 133 billion pounds of food from stores, restaurants and homes in 2010, according to the USDA. Decreasing food spoilage through strategic use of frozen and canned vegetables can prove of enormous value in minimizing environmental impact, and in helping a restaurant’s bottom line.
Labor savings are built in, with vegetables already washed, chopped, and consistently sized.
Surprisingly, frozen and canned vegetables are not only nutritionally comparable to fresh, but in some cases, superior. Unlike fresh produce, which loses nutritional value day by day, frozen vegetable are harvested at the peak of freshness, and keep a nutritional edge as a result. According to a well-reported study from the University of California-Davis, which evaluated the nutrient content of eight commonly purchased frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables, freezing had a positive effect on the vitamin E content, and on minerals, fiber and health-promoting plant compounds. Canned foods also stand up to fresh, often with higher levels of nutritional content due to the heating process. Reach for canned tomatoes (more lycopene than fresh), corn (more absorption of the antioxidant lutein), pumpkin (over 600% of Recommended Daily Intake of Vitamin A versus 143% for fresh); and blueberries (larger amounts of the antioxidant anthocyanins).
Frozen in Time: A Brief History of Freezing and Canning
- Late 18th century. Frenchman Nicholas Appert conceives the idea of preserving food in bottles, like wine, and develops an airtight container.
- 1812-13. Englishman Peter Durand invents a method of sealing food into unbreakable tin containers. Fellow countryman Thomas Kensett emigrates to NY and establishes the first American canning facility.
- 1862. Louis Pasteur discovers and then demonstrates that the growth of microorganisms is the cause of food spoilage, explaining canning’s effectiveness.
- 1912. Clarence Birdseye, a young engineer, sees Eskimos use ice, wind and temperature to freeze just-caught fish. Intrigued, he envisions a way to apply the process to vegetables.
- 1926. Birdseye unveils the “Quick Freeze Machine” for flash freezing.
- 1930. Birdseye introduces a line of frozen foods to the public. The public, however, is not impressed, and sales of frozen foods languish over the next decade.
- 1940s. As a result of strict controls on canning materials during WWII, frozen foods come to the forefront. Frozen concentrated orange juice becomes the first volume item for the frozen food industry. Birdseye's company starts national distribution by leasing refrigerated boxcars to transport frozen foods.
- 1950s. The TV Dinner, a complete meal in frozen form, debuts on snack tables across the U.S.
- 1970s. The microwave oven debuts and leads to explosive sales for frozen foods.
- 1990s. The era of healthy eating leads to more choices in frozen foods - lite, low-fat, low-salt and low cholesterol.
- 1997 and later. A University of Illinois study shows the canning process may enhance the nutrient profile of certain foods.
Sources: National Frozen & Refrigerated Foods Association, Canned Food Alliance