beginner cook here -- what is better fresh or frozen?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by anoop, Aug 3, 2011.

  1. anoop

    anoop

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    Is there a general rule for whether fresh veggies are better than the

    chopped ones in in the frozen section?

    So far I've stuck to fresh veggies, but I find myself avoiding 

    veggies that require a lot of cutting/preparation, e.g. green beans

    and green peas.

    Should I just stick with fresh ones?  Or is it worth going with

    frozen ones?  I'm a little concerned about frozen veggies because

    of the quality control -- there are many fresh veggies that I wouldn't

    pick up because they just don't look fresh, but who knows what 

    has made its way into the bag of pre-cut, frozen vegetables.

    Any insights appreciated!

    On another note, is there some place I can find out how to

    tell if certain vegetables are fresh?  I just bought some carrots

    yesterday and while they looked OK, they tasted so bad (after

    I had already cooked them) that I had to remove and throw 

    them away.

    Thanks.
     
  2. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    You've opened a real can of worms, Anoop, with no simple answer.

    The basic question is, "what is meant by fresh?"

    If you're buying at a legitimate farmers market, for instance, the produce was picked this morning, or maybe yesterday afternoon, after ripening on the plant. That's pretty fresh.

    On the other hand, the "fresh" produce in the supermarket can be as much as a year old, having been picked unripe and kept in cold storage. Even newly harvested produce is at least a week old before it gets delivered to the supermarket, where it may or may not get put out in an expeditious manner (what do you think is sitting in those trailers parked out back?). Then, when it is out, they keep spraying it with water to make it appear more fresh, which actually can hasten deterioration once you get it home.

    On the other hand (oh, wait, that's a third hand /img/vbsmilies/smilies/rolleyes.gif), frozen veggies are often processed right in the field. They are picked, cleaned, trimmed, flash-frozen, and packaged all in a matter of hours. Which often means frozen are better quality than fresh.

    As to judging freshness, it's mostly a matter of experience. Fresh produce should have a crisp, clean appearance. It should not be limp or droopy. A fresh green bean should actually snap when you break one in half. Broccoli should not have gone to flower. Tomatoes should be firm to the touch.

    Unfortunately, none of the signs of freshness mean much when it comes to taste. That has to do with the growing conditions, the shipping methods, and other factors. Because of how the food distribution system works, most supermarket produce is lacking in flavor to begin with. But it shouldn't taste bad. Carrots might be tough (it's incredible how many of them are all core and no outer flesh). And sometimes they can be bitter---which is more a function of age than anything else. I would complain to the produce manager at your market, and, if you have any of them left, uncooked, bring them back to the store.
     
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  3. highlander01

    highlander01

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    I gotta go with KYH on this one plus I myself would like to add this ... there are only 2 ways that I can think of that will get you honest to goodness FRESH vegetables

    1) Grow them yourself

    2) Farmer's market

    The veggies that they sell at the grocery store I can pretty much promise you are not fresh and like KYH said they really don't taste all that great to begin with (if you have ever eaten a tomato fresh and ripe off of the vine you will know what I'm talking about)

    About the only veggies that I buy that aren't frozen is cabbage, lettuce and carrots (the thought of buying pre-diced veggies seems to annoy the he!! out of me)

    Ohh and herbs those I buy non-frozen also (well the ones that I haven't gotten around to growing myself that is     /img/vbsmilies/smilies/crazy.gif   )
     
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  4. slayertplsko

    slayertplsko

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    Absolutely. Even if you live in a flat on the 6th floor like I do, you can always grow at least some herbs provided you have a balcony. Thyme and marjoram grow very well, so does chervil and I even had great success coriander. I suspect that basil, oregano and mint are also easy to grow. I had some troubles with savory though (really poor produce) and tarragon wasn't very easy either. And the fruits and vegetables at a farmer's market will probably be much cheaper, too. For example, I bought some Roma tomatoes at the market yesterday for 0,30€ a kilo (and what a taste!!), I would have to pay about 2,20€ in a grocery store.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2011
  5. chefedb

    chefedb

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    FIRST What kind of vege? what are you using them for? some veges can't be frozen. In most cases fresh is better but not all.
     
  6. siduri

    siduri

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    First of all,  the vegetables i get here are very good, even in some of the supermarkets.  So i use fresh mostly. 

    Given that, though, I dislike fresh peas and prefer frozen.  I suppose if they were growing in my back yard (presuming i were lucky enough to HAVE a backyard, and if i actually knew how to grow stuff) they might be good if picked and rushed to the boiling water (like with corn on the cob) because after picked they get floury, starchy.  The frozen ones are captured at the freshest stage before they can change.  The difference between frozen and a couple of day old fresh is like the difference between a couple of day old fresh and dried split peas.  The nature of peas, with their protective "skin" seems to be ok with freezing. 

    The second thing i buy sometimes, for convenience, is chopped spinach.  I don't prefer it for dishes that feature the spinach but if i have to make something containing spinach i will use it.  E.g. soups or maybe making sort of everyday ignudi (those ricotta and chopped spinach balls, like nude ravioli) though i do think fresh are better tasting.  But what a pain to pick over, wash and chop.

    One thing i really detest is frozen string beans - they don't taste anything like fresh, and often the fine peel on them kind of lifts off a little, and they have no bite.  I love fresh, i don't much see the point of eating frozen. 

    I often read that frozen are just as healthy as fresh.  That may be, and in places with a short growing season they may be better than no vegetables at all, but they don't have the same taste and definitely not the same texture. 

    As for growing your own... i have many herbs on my terrace, but some herbs need the ground they grow naturally in - my fresh sage is not nearly as tasty as my dried greek sage I brought back from greece. 

    And a couple of times i managed to grow some vegetables in pots but they weren't as good as the ones i can buy at the market.  The volcanic soil around naples is nothing like the soil i can buy in bags.  Some places just have the best dirt to grow things in. 
     
  7. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    2) Farmer's market

    Unforntunately, Highlander, while I certainly agree with your point, this isn't automatically true. There are farmer's markets and there are farmers markets. In Lexington, Kentucky, for instance, there are two farmers markets. One of them is not a grower-only market, and most of the vendors buy stuff at the terminal market, or import it from out of state, and resell it. In short, the same stuff you get at the supermarket, masquarading as "fresh." There also are many locales in which what is actually a central market is called a farmers market.

    Which is why I specified legitimate farmers market above.

    I would, too, add a third category: CSAs. In essence, these are farmers markets that deliver.

    Something the OP needs to learn, too, is that there is a difference between what we intuit things mean, and what the law says they mean. Take the phrase "vine ripened tomatoes," for instance. Normal people would interpret that to mean the tomato was allowed to ripen fully on the plant before being picked, and would be at it's full flavor and nutritional potential. Under the law, however, a tomato is vine ripened anytime it has passed the breaker stage---which means we'd consider it green.

     
     
  8. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Peas are almost always better frozen unless you've got access to a very good distribution system.  They lose a lot of quality on the way to market.

    Beans hold up better, and providing they look and feel decent are almost always better fresh even in the supermarket.

    There are things where frozen is better.  Unless we're talking about picking and cooking within hours of one another, frozen spinach is better than fresh for any dish where the spinach will be squeezed and drained.  Then the technique is more important than nominal freshness or damage caused by the freezing process.  Spinach which has been frozen loses water more efficiently, and drier is better.

    Frozen vegetables are often allowed to ripen further than veg picked for "fresh," and are frozen within hours of picking.  On the other hand, "fresh" vegetables can take days to reach market, are often picked slightly green, and "allowed" to finish maturing in the box as they wend their ways through the transportation and distribution systems.  They can languish for days in some produce sections, further stretching the meaning of "fresh." 

    It's not terribly helpful, but it comes down to case by case situations and rules.  In other words, "it depends."

    BDL
     
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  9. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    I agree with everything you say, Boar, except this:

    Beans hold up better, and providing they look and feel decent are almost always better fresh even in the supermarket.

    When newly delivered, beans can, indeed, be better fresh. Unfortunately, it doesn't take but a day or two, sitting around in a supermarket bin, for them to go limpid, spotted, and unappetizing. Frozen would be a better choice, then. But, as you say, it depends.... And has for a long time.

    I remember back in the 70s, when food-freezing wasn't as advanced as today, that a food-sciences school (I forget which one, but wouldn't be surprised if it was either Cornel or Princeton) did a study, comparing the overall quality and value of fresh, frozen, and canned peas. The canned versions were dismissed out of hand (as, I believe, they would be today). The frozen version, on all levels, out-performed the fresh, including the fact that with the frozen there was no solid waste disposal issue.

    The researchers wryly noted that they wanted to repeat the study in the winter. "But unfortunately, only two of the groups were available."

    What's changed, today, of course, is that all three groups would be available for such a study. But it's a good indication of how "fresh" fresh is, when it's shipped halfway around the world before getting to the market. Just when were those February peas picked? A week ago? Back in January? Or maybe even earlier than that?

    What's at issue here, I believe, is that the OP has bought into the great myth that fresh is always better. Experienced cooks know that such is just not the case.
     
  10. iceman

    iceman

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    LOL. "Can of worms", oh yeah. The best thing said so far was "It depends". That's the entire game; for me anyway. I'll give you some of my examples, since I like to talk so much. Corn. When I make tamales I use +/- 50% whole corn to make the masa. I first started with taking the corn off the cob myself and using it fresh right then. As it is, there is a lot of really nice delicious liquid in those guys. It was a real drag getting the right mix of flour and other ingredients balanced out right. I'd end up almost always with twice the end amount I wanted. When I use frozen bags, it's almost an exact measure of other ingredients every time. Some eyeballing goes into the mix, but you learn that quickly. The goofy part is that there is no flavor difference, and the price is equal or real close. That doesn't include work time involved. Green Beans. I hate green beans. I can't off the top of my head, think of a dish I make that could use fresh green beans and make any difference. I know someone will ratchet me for that, but I'm giving you my examples. Fruit. For lots of the deserts I make I like good fruit. For me fresh is absolutely better, when I'm eating one(1) of something. However, for lots (I didn't say all) of deserts, I go for frozen. When I use strawberries on top of a cheesecake, I know the berries I reach for from the frozen bag are (or were) all ripe, cleaned and the same size. I really hate getting smashed, mostly green, stupid sized or generally nasty fresh fruit from those little plastic containers. Farmer's markets are not always all they're cracked up to be. Some, depending on the location, have brutal prices. If you find a good store in close proximity to you, make good friends with important people. I have a store by me that every season has produce that I like. Is some imported from far away? Yes it is. But by having important friends in the store, I can sample whatever I want before purchase, and I can bring back what turns out to be junky. They get lots of my business. OK. So there are also things I'm never buying frozen, like salad stuff: eggplant, leeks, scallions, lettuce, greens. I like fresh spinach, but BDL made a good point. Anyway, I've filled up the "Reply" box, so I guess my time is up. My bottom line: try stuff, figure out what you need, see what works, realize what time you save sometimes vs. going fresh, practice ............................ (blah, blah, blah)
     
  11. chefedb

    chefedb

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    I used tons of Oregon Blue Lake Green Beans, the fresh could not compare to frozen in quality(taste and color) \Only way they could maybe is if I went to the fields that day picked them and cooked them right then and there.
     
  12. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Both IceMan and ChefEd raise an important point about frozen. And that is consistency. If you buy a bag of, say, frozen green beans, you know it will be essentially the same as the bag you bought last week, and the one you'll buy next week.

    The same cannot be said for "fresh." You can't depend on the quality being the same, day to day. Nor even that the store will have them in stock.
     
  13. maryb

    maryb

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    When I take beans straight from the garden, blanch, vacuum pack, and freeze a year later they still taste fresh picked.It is all in the handling. Home grown frozen corn tastes better to me when it is compared to store bought frozen corn, I add in all the corn milk to add flavor (and maybe a little butter) and put it in canning jars and freeze. Had some the other day that was 2 years old and it still tasted good.
     
  14. chefedb

    chefedb

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    Mary,

    I agree but I am not about to do that for a banquet of  1000 guest.
     
  15. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    There's a difference, too, Mary, in that you are picking home-grown at the peak of ripeness, and immediately putting it up---thus preserving most of the vine-ripened goodness. Not the same thing as buying supermarket produce and freezing it at home.

    Food preservation follows the same GIGO rule as everything else: Garbage In/Garbage Out; Gold In/Gold Out.

    All I've been trying to do is let the OP know that the "fresh is always better" mantra isn't always the best way to go. And that, taken as a whole, the bags of frozen veggies are, most often, of higher quality than so-called "fresh." For the same reasons that your frozen food remains so good.
     
  16. dc sunshine

    dc sunshine

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    Frozen can be pretty good, for certain veg & fruit.  Frozen I like include: peas, green beans, spinach (for pastry items mainly), corn, fries fo baking/ deep frying.

    Most other things I prefer fresh.

    As to how to tell if the items in the green grocery section are fresh, that can be tricky.  Carrots, turnips, rutabaga, swedes, potatoes, onions etc etc should all be firm to the touch and, moreover, smell good.  Green beans too, celery, potatoes, radishes....the list keeps going.  Feel and smell the produce - it really is the only way to tell.  I bought a purple carrot (new to our shelves here) the other dayjust for fun, but by the short time in which I got it home it had gone limp and quite frankly inedible.  It wasn't even a hot day(winter here) and I could almost tie it in a knot by that stage :(  Sounds as if those carrots you bought had been in storage way too long and all the sweet sugars we associate with them had turned to starch maybe.  Yuk.

    If you are lucky enough to find a good farmer's market that does not charge exhorbitant prices, and is run by the people that grow the produce - lucky you. 
     
  17. pete

    pete Moderator Staff Member

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    A lot of variables to consider so I guess the best answer, as most everyone has stated is, "It depends."  I'd also like to muddy the waters a little more and add canned vegetables to the mix.  While I stay far away from the vast majority of canned (meaning store bought canned, not home canned) vegetables, here in Wisconsin, I couldn't live without canned tomatoes.  Making a sauce from the nasty, insipid fresh tomatoes that the stores here get in winter (and really anytime) makes for a tastless sauce.  I much prefer to use canned tomatoes anytime I can't get locally grown, ripe tomatoes.
     
  18. dc sunshine

    dc sunshine

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    Ditto that re tomatoes.

    Canned beans are handy too - no overnight soaking, great for the end of a busy day. Corn kernels, and betroot can be ok, Won't touch many other canned veg, particularly peas, beans, mushrooms.  On the fruit horizon - yep they can be good.  Peaches, apricots, pineapple = that sort of thing.

    Frozen berries I really like.  Never out of season, handy when you need to reach for them
     
  19. chefedb

    chefedb

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    The frozen today and the frozen of yesteryear are two different things. The processing has changed drasticaly as they learned more as has the equipment and handleing.  Years ago I worked with guys who if something was going bad , would be put it  in freezer thinking it would come out better. Needless to say that was not the case.
     
  20. anoop

    anoop

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    Thanks everyone for all the replies...didn't realize there were so many responses until I got the weekly digest.  Usually I subscribe for instant notification, but I forgot in this case and I thought nobody had responded.

    I'm glad I opened the can of worms.  I guess there's no clear answer?  I always thought fresh was the way to go, but the comments about the way grocery stores store and transport their "fresh" produce was an eyeopener for me.  Why would that not be true for farmer's markets as well?  I'm sure farmers can freeze their stuff so they don't end up having to throw it away.

    Are there any brands of frozen veggies (organic) that you would recommend?  I tried a bag of frozen green beans this past week and it turned out OK.  I let it thaw before cooking and whil it wasn't crisp, it didn't smell or taste bad.  Most of the time, I avoid the fresh ones anyway, because they don't "snap" like they should.