Food Science

Why Buying Frozen Produce Doesn't Sacrifice Nutrition

April 24, 2017

Should you buy your fruits and veggies frozen? This question's been debated many times over, with studies that have disproven the working assumption that fresh produce beats its frozen analog. Yet there are still those who remain skeptical.

The results of yet another study in the upcoming June issue of the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, though, give further credence to the claim that frozen fruits and veggies can be as desirable as those we store in the fridge.

This particular study was conducted over the course of two years by researchers at the University of Georgia, funded by the Frozen Food Foundation, a non-profit that, let's be clear, has an obvious vested interest in singing the praises of frozen foods. Yet the results are pretty even-keeled. Researchers took various foodstuffs—broccoli, cauliflower, sweet corn, green beans, green peas, spinach, blueberries, strawberries—and analyzed the presence of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folate. They conducted this analysis for three different storage forms: on the day of purchase, frozen, and "fresh-stored," a classification that refers to food that's stored in the fridge for five days, mimicking typical consumer habits.

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The findings? There's usually little statistically-significant variance in the nutrients concentration between the three treatments. When there are differences, though, frozen produce beat their fresh-stored analogs in nutrient retention—more often than not.

"In the cases of significant differences, there was a generally consistent observation of five days of refrigerated storage having a negative association with nutrient concentration," the researchers write. Green beans have less Vitamin C when they're fresh-stored than when they're bought from freezers; frozen corn has more beta carotene than when it's fresh-stored. I should note that there are exceptions here and there—for example, the finding that beta carotene in frozen broccoli was lower than that of its fresh and fresh-stored analogs—but they're few and far between. These results are heartening for those of us who gravitate to our bags of frozen vegetables and fruits, be they for a stir-fry or smoothie. We are affirmed!

Do you buy your fruits and vegetables frozen? Let us know in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Simon G SMith
    Simon G SMith
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    Barb LaPierre
  • Smaug
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    Meredith Ryan
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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Simon G. April 27, 2017
I don't understand the bio/chemistry myself, but in Dr. Mercoli's book How Not To Die he says "What about frozen broccoli and other cruifers? Commercially produced frozen broccoli lacks the ability to form sulforaphane [he explained earlier that this compound is desirable] because the vegetables are blanched (flash-cooked) before they're frozen for the very purpose of deactivating enzymes...... (goes on to reference fresh kale being 10x better at suppressing cancer than frozen). [LATER IN THE CHAPTER] "If you sprinkled some mustard powder on frozen broccoli that's been cooked, would it start churning out sulforaphane? Yes!" [HE EXPLAINS WHY]

Example 2 is the one I don't have a reference for but raw vs cooked spinach gives different nutrients.

My point: it's not black and white with regard to raw/cooked/frozen vegetables, each one is different, and the key is probably to do a variety (better to eat frozen than not at all, but even better, if you're eating frozen, maybe there is a hack to help it... gotta research).
Barb L. April 27, 2017
Frozen veggies are great for me to have on hand. I am a senior who lives in a food desert and who tries to "eat healthy." Good quality dried veggies also help.
Smaug April 24, 2017
Even the more organic types have long conceded that frozen green peas are the way to go, unless you're growing them and eating them right from the garden. Sweet corn isn't much better- even in season, it's gotten difficult to find yellow corn on the cob, and white is a poor substitute. Berries for baking (or, I would think, jam making) lose nothing in freezing, though they behave a bit differently, and, once again, fresh are not so easy to come by- the supermarket berries are uniformly flavorless. If you know a seller at the farmer's market who has good ones, great- it'll probably be a pretty expensive pie, though.
Meredith R. April 24, 2017
I buy peas, spinach and wild blueberries frozen - because the quantities I want to eat these pretty much preclude buying them fresh! And then I don't feel pressured to shuck, rinse, or use up any of them before they go bad.
E April 24, 2017
I always always always have frozen berries (esp wild Maine blueberries), mangos, acai, peas, peas & carrots, shelled and unshelled edamame, corn, spinach, and onions around. That excluding things like frozen lime leaves, curry leaves, galangal, etc! I could make so many meals from just those frozen fruits and veg, and a few pantry staples. In fact, I prefer frozen peas to fresh since fresh peas can become SO starchy even from the Farmer's Market if not cooked right away.
Susan April 24, 2017
Goodness. I would starve without my freezer. When done properly and with future use in mind (for instance I roast my eggplant before freezing and freeze my berries on trays before transferring them to vacuum-pack bags), frozen veggies and fruits are a godsend.
Whiteantlers April 24, 2017
I've heard this information in various iterations for years so I guess it's still okay to embrace frozen corn when the fresh stuff is out of season and those darling pearl onions are calling out from the freezer case to be taken home for inclusion in a beef stew.