The Frontal Cortex

Frozen Food

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. My own holiday meal was the subject of a simple food experiment. I made two versions of the same dish: brussels sprout gratin with chestnuts, bacon and Comte. (Yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds, even if you don’t like baby cabbages.) One version was made with fresh brussels sprouts. (Cost: $13.25) The other dish was made with frozen brussels sprouts. (Cost: $5.97) I naively assumed that the fresh version would be clearly superior.

I was wrong. While I slightly preferred the texture of the fresh sprouts – they were a bit less mushy – the frozen sprouts had a much better flavor. They tasted like the color green, at least if the color green could be swaddled in a sauce of bacon and aged cheese.

Which brings me to my question: What frozen vegetables do you think are generally better than their fresh counterparts? (And I’m talking about the kind of fresh fare you might find a standard supermarket. Obviously, a good piece of produce from a farmer’s market will trounce the frozen stuff every time.) Until recently, the only frozen vegetables I ever bought were peas, edamame and occasional bag of spinach. But now my list is steadily growing: brussels sprouts, haricot vert (not the big green beans, just the little ones), fava beans, artichokes (not the same as fresh at all, but so much less work), green garbanzo beans and yellow corn (it actually tastes like corn, and not just sweet starch).

But what have I yet to discover?

In related news, this chart is a wee bit depressing. It turns out that .37 percent of federal subsidies for food production actually go to fruit and vegetables:

i-7836a24f0bae5c0ef6b42ec781e76066-food subs pyramid-tm.jpg

For more, check out Neil.


  1. #1 chezjake
    November 23, 2007

    Since I don’t know the origin of either of your batches of Brussels sprouts, I can only speculate. It’s fairly well known that Brussels sprouts, although they can be picked from about August on, have a milder, more pleasant flavor if they’ve been picked after a frost. (They are quite frost tolerant, and there was one year when I picked them from my garden here in upstate NY for New Years dinner.)

    On frozen better than fresh, I heartily agree on peas, haricots verts, and sweet corn. Another is lima beans, but those should never be cooked in a microwave, where they become woody. I suspect that the same would be true of any fresh shell bean — would that we could obtain frozen cranberry beans. Perhaps I’d also include pearl onions, where the difference in flavor is far outweighed by the ease of preparation.

  2. #2 Moopheus
    November 23, 2007

    Which frozen foods are better is dependent on where you are, where you buy your food, and what time of year it is. Fresh produce bought in season from a farmstand or farmer’s market near where it’s produced is generally going to give you the best food. Getting something that’s locally out of season (or near the end of season), on the other hand, means buying something that’s been grown for shipping and then shipped long distances. In which case you may be better off buying frozen, which is more likely to be packaged near the point of origin. For instance, if you’re in New England (as I am), buying “fresh” berries in the winter is a waste of money. The frozen will be better. And of course, it’s true that some foods hold up better to the freezing or canning process (corn, beans) than others. And like any other product, frozen food producers vary greatly in quality.

  3. #3 John F. Lynch
    November 23, 2007

    Jonah: I enjoy brussels sprouts. Disagree about the conclusion of frozen being more flavorful, but here in the boonies of Washington State, I think we may have access to sprouts more fresh. In any case, a little more elaboration about the full recipe for sprouts preparation would be appreciated. Sounds delicious. BTW, if you respond, I may be bugging you in the future for recipes. John

  4. #4 Rachel
    November 23, 2007

    Frozen broccoli can be quite delicious, but be careful frozen broccoli is easier to over cook. The thing about good frozen fruits and vegetables is that they are often frozen at peak season and on site which keeps that perfect flavor in. I do not recommend frozen carrots. They definitely loose something in the freezing process. Carrots are reasonably priced and available year round most places I’ve lived.

    Fruit can be quite delicious frozen as well, but they seem to loose quite a bit texture in the defrosting process. However, frozen mango is just about as delicious as fresh mango. Frozen peaches are sub-par.

  5. #5 Bond investor
    November 23, 2007

    Jonah, I find that blanching the fresh Brussels sprouts greatly improves the taste.

    If you haven’t read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, you should! See his recent letter to the editor about this very topic:

  6. #6 peggy
    November 24, 2007

    I’ve never met a frozen vegetable that tasted really good. As for Brussels sprouts, I have that the best way to cook them is not to boil, blanch or even steam them. I slice them up like coleslaw and sauté them in olive oil (you can use butter too but don’t need it)until they are a little crispy around the edges (about 5 minutes), then add a little vegetable stock or water and let them cook until the liquid is absorbed. Then I mix in carmelized shallots (made with olive oil, a tiny bit of brown sugar and some apple cider vinegar), salt and pepper to taste.
    This recipe is very similar to one I found in Bon Appétit.
    Bon appétit!

  7. #7 Apium
    November 26, 2007

    Alice Waters would weep. As for me, the only frozen veggies I’ll touch are peas (far, far better than fresh), lima beans, and the occasional bit of frozen spinach. If there are absolutely no fresh green beans available, frozen haricot verts are usually acceptable. Mostly, I try to eat what’s in season, either locally or in the Southern hemisphere.

  8. #8 MattXIV
    November 26, 2007

    The comment on blanching is spot on. Both will have similar impacts on the vegetables – heat and ice crystal formation both break up things on the cellular scale and gas solubility goes down in water when it is heated or frozen. If you liked the firmer texture of the fresh ones but the taste of the frozen ones, you may be able to find a sweet spot where you can get both effects with blanching.

    Also, it wouldn’t suprise me if many frozen vegetables where blanching doesn’t hurt the taste are blanched before being frozen, for both taste and sanitation reasons. A quick dip in boilng water will get dirt off and kill most of the microbes on the surface, allowing the end-user to safely prepare the veggies without futher washing.

  9. #9 Pino
    November 17, 2008

    I have been trying to find a credible source all over the internet for that graph you have presnted(for college paper). I have looked for federal data, and statistics for the actual source of the information you are presenting here. However, there isnt any, there just tons of people using the same data in this graph but none list the source of the information..

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