Frozen food - Your friend for eating healthy Let’s not beat about the bush – we know that you can get some, excuse the term “crap” in frozen foods, potato waffles and crispy pancakes spring to mind and by healthy frozen food I don’t mean those so called “health ready meals” with no fat and all sugar. This week we look at the components of or meals that we can freeze, the meat fish fruit and vegetables, now frozen herbs, char grilled vegetables, berries and scallops can be found next to the ice-cream
Freezing can actually the best way to preserve vitamins and minerals in our food. In terms of nutritional content, freezing doesn’t damage food. Within three days of vegetables being pulled from the ground, 80 per cent of vitamin C is naturally lost from them and most ‘fresh’ food has a useful nutritional lifespan of up to five days. Freezing food stops this nutritional depletion, and improvements in fast-freezing technology have made it more appetising, too, as the speed at which food is frozen has a direct impact on its taste. As food freezes, moisture inside and outside it forms ice crystals. The slower something freezes, the bigger the ice crystals become — and the more damage they do to the structure of food, and therefore its flavour. Products including fish and meat can now be fast-frozen using liquid nitrogen to chill them to -23c in less than a minute.
Here are the pros and cons of freezing a variety of foods.
Meat Meat freezes beautifully and contains nutrients including protein, minerals and vitamins A and D that are unaffected by the process. Fatty, red meat has relatively low water content, so fewer ice crystals form which alters cell membranes, ruining texture and taste. White meat such as poultry (including pork) lacks fat and can have high water content, so it fares less well frozen. Water inside the meat freezes into crystals, eventually affecting the internal structure and taste. Use frozen white meat within six months, before it deteriorates. Although its nutrients will remain largely unaffected, after this time the meat becomes increasingly watery, limp and tasteless. Large cuts and joints of all types of meat last better than smaller ones. Small cuts have a larger surface area compared to their volume, so more air reaches the meat, making them more prone to ‘freezer burn’. This happens when water evaporates from food, causing it to dry out and leaving discoloured, bruised-looking patches. Food with freezer burn, although entirely safe, tastes bland and pretty horrible.
Prawns & fish Prawns, shrimp and other crustaceans are especially good from frozen as they have a high fat content. As soon as they are pulled from the ocean, fish begin to decay. Surprisingly, fish on ‘fresh’ counters can be three weeks old (fillets and whole fish are chilled instead of frozen to stop them going off), so buying frozen means it’s effectively fresher, with more nutrients intact. On-board freezers and fast-freezing technology mean fish can be frozen within hours of being caught, so nutrients are well preserved. Frozen fish also tends to be cheaper — by about 25 per cent — as it’s easier to transport.
Herbs Basil, mint, coriander, parsley, chives and sage — every herb can be found in the frozen aisle now, chopped and ready to go. But to be honest most frozen herbs are a disaster. Freezing then defrosting leaves destroys their delicate flavour, turns them to mush and makes them hopeless to garnish with, as they cling together in soggy clumps. Woody, tougher herbs such as rosemary and thyme fare slightly better if mixed with oil and kept as a freezable marinade to use on meat such as a leg of lamb. Frozen aromatic spices such as ginger, chilli and garlic are fantastic frozen, however. They taste stronger than their fresh versions and work better in cooked dishes such as curries, stews or fragrant fishcakes. This is because freezing then defrosting makes the raw foods take on moisture and soften, so their juices are more ready to seep out and flavour food. Frozen ginger may never mimic the fresh taste of just-grated but it packs a more aggressive punch — and makes better ginger tea.
Vegetables Peas, sweetcorn and broad beans last well frozen. As soon as peas are picked their natural sugar begins to turn to starch and they lose their sweet taste, so freezing them quickly is essential. Modern freezing methods developed by the UK mean peas can be frozen in an hour in countries that have bumper pea harvests such as India and China. Sugar and nutrients are locked in, and each pea stays deliciously fresh. I always keep a bag of frozen chopped mix vegetable in the freezer and add them to pretty much everything – sauces soups, stir fries, just another way to get the veg count up!
Fruit When it comes to frozen fruit, consumers are spoilt for choice. Mangos, pineapples, cherries, bananas, grapes, berries, melons and peaches come conveniently peeled and sliced, and survive for months in the freezer. They can be blitzed in seconds into a delicious smoothie or ice-cream milkshake that tastes just as good as fresh. Research has shown that delicate anthocyanin flavonoids — the compounds in fruit that gives them their bright colour and have antioxidant health benefits — are well preserved by freezing. Studies have found that in two out of three cases, frozen fruit scored better for antioxidants than fresh fruit, and retained more vitamin C and other nutrients.
5 of the best freezer standbys
1 -Pepper slices – no mess or fuss and easy way to throw into any recipe that calls for peppers
2 -Soffritto – make this yourself a mixture of finely diced carrot, onion and celery - great for the base of many sauces or risottos
3 – Summer berries- blitz frozen for smoothies or add to Greek yoghurt for breakfast and sprinkle with seeds
4- Spinach – just remember to squeeze the excess water out, mix with cream cheese for a great filling for pancakes
5 – Raw Prawns – they best way to buy prawns, they are at their freshest, defrost and pop into stir fries.