Is Fresh Really Better Than Frozen or Canned?

Julia

Editor

Every two weeks the editorial team at Kitchen Stories has been highlighting seasonal fruits and vegetables to show you new, delicious recipes for your favorite fresh produce. But, as we all know, every fruit and vegetable season ends sooner or later—no matter how much we wish we could feast on fresh strawberries, peaches, and rhubarb all year round. Might there be a solution hiding in plain sight on the supermarket shelves?

You can buy almost every fruit or vegetable canned or frozen in the supermarket, but their reputation precedes them—and not in a good way. In Germany, frozen vegetables are the most oft-bought frozen food—even outranking pizza! So why do frozen and canned fruits and vegetables have such a bad reputation, and should they always be just a last resort?

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We’re taking a deeper look at the pros and cons of fresh, frozen, or canned fruits and vegetables to give you tips on which to buy, and when.

Fresh fruits and vegetables

Fresh fruits and vegetables contain higher amounts of nutrients than frozen or canned and should almost always be your first choice. When the season for your favorite local produce is over, you might be able to find imported products—but these will rarely ever taste as good as what’s local and in season.

Imported vegetables and fruits are harvested raw, expected to ripen during their long journey to supermarkets around the globe. Sometimes treated with chemicals or stored in refrigerators for months at a time, they lose some of their natural nutrients and flavors before making it to the market—just another reason to shop local when you can.

Frozen fruits and vegetables

A lot of people think frozen fruits and vegetables are lacking in natural vitamins and minerals, but this loss is not as bad as everyone thinks.

Produce that is flash-frozen is picked ripe and frozen immediately after the harvest to help lock in the best texture and taste. It’s best to buy frozen products without any added ingredients. For example, instead of buying creamed spinach, use normal frozen spinach and add the desired creaminess yourself.

Did you ever wonder why you couldn’t find a specific frozen fruit or vegetable? Here’s the answer: Some sorts (for example apples, lettuces, garlic, papaya, radishes, tomatoes, and watermelon) change so much in taste, texture, and even in smell, that they are nearly unrecognizable when frozen industrially, or at home.

Canned fruits and vegetables

Canned fruits and vegetables seem to last forever–hence the reason why they’re often stored for natural disasters and other emergencies. In order to make fruits and vegetables last so long, they’re heated two times to “deactivate” the contained enzymes and microorganisms—losing lots of important nutrients and vitamins along the way. Not to mention the other added preservatives and high amounts of sugar or salt often found in canned products. Canned is the least “healthy” of the bunch when it comes to fruits and vegetables, but does that make it the worst in every situation?

We tested: Fresh, frozen, or canned?

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Fresh or canned tomatoes?

Whoever has cooked a tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes knows that it takes some time. Many opt instead for tomato purée, canned crushed tomatoes, or whole canned tomatoes, but do sauces using these products have a markedly different taste from fresh tomato sauce?

In Germany, most fresh tomatoes at the supermarket are imported from southern Europe because the warm climate brings out the best tomato flavor with longer growing seasons. To survive the journey from southern Europe to our supermarkets, tomatoes are harvested early, so their flavors and nutrients are not given the time to fully develop. A look inside the can? The same tomato varieties that had the chance to ripe completely before, therefore containing more nutrients and richer flavors.

The verdict: Before buying fresh tomatoes from Spain or Italy, it could be worth taking the canned ones. Tomatoes are in season from July to September, with variation depending on where you live–so go for what’s local when you can!

Fresh or canned peaches?

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The Season for ripe and juicy peaches definitely is too short to try out all of the delicious peach recipes, so it’s no wonder that people rely on canned peaches from time to time. But let’s be honest, canned peaches are a special kind of fruit, barely resembling the texture or taste of a perfect summer peach.

The verdict: A fresh peach is not only healthier but just plain tastier than their canned relatives. If you’re still craving a peachy something in winter, the canned option can help out. Just keep an eye out on the amount of sugar added.

Fresh, frozen, or canned peas?

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Next to spinach, peas are one of the most favored frozen vegetables—as not everyone is willing to shell peas by hand. Besides fresh or frozen peas you can buy canned peas, so which type is the best?

Peas are tiny and powerful, containing a lot of mineral nutrients and vitamins. Frozen peas are blanched after harvest and flash-frozen, keeping most of their vitamins, while canned peas contain less nutrients.

The verdict: Definitely buy fresh or frozen–but be careful with their cooking times. If you blanch them for too long they’ll lose most of their nutrients and turn to mush. Toss them into your dish near the end of cooking, just to warm them through, for the best result.

Fresh or canned pineapple?

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As the pineapple has very specific growing regions (mostly in South America), it probably doesn’t matter if you buy them imported fresh or canned—right?

Well, what we can all agree on is that canned pineapple is the easier way–no cutting, no peeling, and no worrying whether it’s ripe or not. However, in return there is a lot of sugar and other ingredients like acidifier and citric acid added to the cans.

The verdict: For some of us it just can’t be sweet enough, so canned pineapple is both the easier and tastier option. When making grilled pineapple, we say go for the fresh stuff, but no harm done if you go for the canned stuff for other recipes—whatever you prefer!

Fresh or frozen broccoli?

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Frozen broccoli cut into florets, ready to serve in just minutes? Yes, we know, the temptation is great. But by now we’ve already learned that freshly harvested vegetables contain the most nutrients. So, if broccoli is in season in your region, definitely buy it fresh from the market. The stem, which is missing in the frozen alternative and often thrown out by home cooks, can also be peeled, chopped, and used. You can even portion and freeze fresh broccoli at home to make meal prep that much easier.

The verdict: Buy frozen broccoli without hesitation, but when it’s broccoli season, always go for the fresh version.

Fresh, frozen, or canned strawberries?

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There is no other fruit that can give us the same sunny feeling as strawberries. But even in winter, the craving for a strawberry crumb cake can come up, so what can you do? You can’t possibly wait for summer, but can you substitute fresh strawberries with canned or frozen ones?

There are few kinds of fruit where the difference is as big as it is with strawberries, especially when it comes to the texture. Canned strawberries are softer, more sugared, and with less of their natural nutrients. Frozen strawberries can make an okay substitute in a pinch, but can also have a spongey texture and overly sweet taste.

The verdict: We couldn’t think of any reason to buy canned strawberries. As soon as strawberry season starts, you should always buy fresh berries–if they’re not in season, better go for frozen strawberries instead.