Bon Appetit - Just Plain Good Food
To Can or Not? A look at home canning, freezing and fermenting foods
by Tammera J. Karr, PhD
Few things get your tongue’s attention faster than where sweet and tart meet in the heart of a ripe peach, or that zest in the seasoned grilled zucchini that came from your garden. Those generous squash or tomato plants that keep on giving have left many folks googling recipes. But if you are one to home can freeze or dry your bounty you know the merits of being the ant versus grasshopper of the children’s story when winter comes to town.
There are those in the natural health field who will tell you home canning just doesn’t add up for nutritional content when compared to freezing. For some foods that may be true, but the food value goes out the window if you never eat it because you don’t know or remember to get the stored foods out of your freezer.
If produce is home canned right after picking, the nutritional levels can be as good as if not higher than “fresh” produce you see at a supermarket, and will be better than anything frozen for a few months or more. The growing nutritional concern from healthy experts with home canned goods is more about what we add to them: salt and sugar.
What experts say
- Dehydrated food loses the most nutrients
- Frozen foods will lose more nutrients during their frozen storage period than home canned goods
- Fresh foods canned right after harvest can be more nutritious than fresh produce you buy at a supermarket, especially if you delete the salt and sugar.
- Sugar and salt only added for flavoring
- Completely fresh produce is best for vitamin C
- Produce stored in the refrigerator lose their nutrients, half or more of some vitamins will be lost in a week
- Heat from canning will destroy 1/3 to 1/2 of these 4 vitamins: vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, and riboflavin – other vitamins and minerals are preserved at close to fresh levels
- Food stored longer than a year can lose 5 to 20% per year of vitamin content depending on vitamin
- Home canned foods are not dependent on electricity in order to maintain food safety.
Every year we can Peaches, salsa, tomato sauce, apple sauce and of course our own bone and vegetable broths. We are able to save money on the food budget in the winter and spring months when other living expenses go up, without compromising healthy food choices.
Consider: A strawberry jam recipe calls for 7 cups of sugar, and 5 cups of fruit. That’s not a fruit product: that’s candy. Healthy adults need about 1500 mg of sodium per day. Children roughly 1000 to 1500 mg of sodium per day. Individuals with high blood pressure, edema or kidney disease may need to aim for lower sodium intakes.
Using frozen produce can be a huge time saver in a crunch. While freezing slows down spoilage by changing the water contained in the food into a solid, it also expands during this process; resulting is ruptured cell walls and a softer texture when thawed. Foods with little water content – nuts, seeds, dried legumes and fruits will not lose their integrity by the freezing process.
Freezing is one of the top preservation methods to protect nutritional value. As always, the length of time between harvest and processing will affect the nutritional content of all foods (freshly harvested produce has the highest nutritional content). Just like drying, blanching foods before they are frozen is the main culprit for nutritional loss of water-soluble nutrients. Research shows the thawing of foods will degrade vitamin C.
Fermentation a return to tradition!
Not all microorganisms lead to food-borne illness, and the human genome research is confirming healthy bacteria is a must for health and disease prevention. The bacteria used in fermented foods leaves the food with a higher level of acid, not only making it inhospitable for the spoilage bacteria, and actually helps preserve nutrients and creates digestive aids. Fermenting has even been shown to increase the bio-availability of minerals present in food.
One of the finest advantages of eating fermented foods is eating the bacteria used to culture it. These bacteria are known as probiotics and promote digestive health and increase immunity.
Some foods are first heated and pasteurized before the fermentation process occurs. This the case with store bought yogurt and cheeses the milk serves only as a bacteria culture and many nutrients are destroyed in the processing. Most nutrients are sensitive to light, air, heat, and water. Fermenting can significantly increase the nutrient content of your preserved food.
The food value of your local farmers market even if not listed as organic is still safer and fresher than the produce found in chain grocery stores who do not always purchase from local farmers.
To Your Good Health, and Local Home Canned Fresh Foods.