The old fresh v frozen debate. Fresh isn’t blanched so has more nutrients. Frozen doesn’t sit around all year in storage so has more nutrients. Fresh vegetables have more ‘life force’ so are better for your chakras… yep, the debate continues to rage and it’s heated.
But for many of us, the question of fresh v frozen is kind of irrelevant anyway. Most of us don’t eat nearly enough plant food to start with, let alone worry about whether it is fresh or frozen.
I want to take a moment to compare fresh and frozen vegetables from a cost point of view. You see, I’ve had broccoli on my mind a lot over the last few weeks. We eat a lot of broccoli. It’s high in nutrients (fresh or frozen) and it’s one of the few greens I don’t have to force feed DH.
But what to do with the stems? I’ve thrown them in the stock pot, cut them up and to put in the stir fry, I’ve even made broccoli stem soup, but mostly the stem gets wasted. This got me thinking about the true cost of fresh broccoli and whether it is better value (from a purely cost perspective) to purchase frozen.
So I did a little weighing and a little calculating.
I purchased a head of broccoli for $4.70 per kilo. Total weight for the piece was 500g so the total purchase cost was $2.35.
The actual yield after cutting the broccoli into florets was only 300g, a 40% loss. After accounting for the waste, the actual cost of the usable portion of the broccoli went up to $7.83 per kilo. Or to put it another way, I would have to buy at least 700g of broccoli (not accounting for the further waste of stem when buying a second head) to get a 500g yield of broccoli.
Now compare this with frozen broccoli. When buying frozen, there is no loss in yield as the stem has already been discarded. The cheapest brand I could find at my local supermarket was selling at $6.58 per kilo, cheaper than the true cost of the fresh.
Now, broccoli is in season at the moment, so the prices are fairly evenly matched and you will probably even find it cheaper fresh over the next few months. When it’s not in season, frozen broccoli will win on cost hand’s down.
Below is a summary of the pros and cons of frozen vegetables:
Advantages of Frozen Vegetables
- Tests have found that frozen vegetables are just as healthy than fresh vegetables and if the ‘fresh’ vegetables have been sitting in cold storage for quite some time, the snap freezing process can mean that frozen vegetables are higher in vitamins than fresh.
- Local climate conditions may mean supply of fresh food dwindles or is very expensive during the cold months.
- Cooking with frozen vegetables is easy and saves time when cooking. There is no preparation, just boil or steam and serve.
- Having some frozen vegetables in the freezer means that you always have some vegetables on hand to make a healthy meal.
- Frozen vegetables aren’t going to go mouldy if you forget about them, so there is less chance of waste. Also, the sorting for quality has been done for you, so you don’t have the problem of cutting into a carrot and finding it rotten at the core.
- As shown above, frozen vegetables can be cheaper.
Disadvantages of frozen vegetables
- Whereas you can choose to avoid plastic when buying fresh vegetables, frozen vegetables come packaged in plastic. Try to avoid the single serve wrapping to reduce plastic waste.
- Frozen vegetables are often transported over great distances, increasing the ‘carbon footprint’.
- Fresh vegetables can often taste better.
- The blanching process prior to freezing can result in some loss of nutrients, so the best choice is organic, fresh picked. Obviously this isn’t an option for all of us, so fresh vegetables come in second place and frozen are a pretty darn good third place.
- Frozen vegetables can come from overseas rather than be grown here is Australia. Check where the vegetables are grown if you’re concerned about buying Australian grown.
- There is (usually) less of a variety of frozen vegetables than there is fresh.
So buying fresh v frozen, what do I think? We buy mostly fresh vegetables, mostly ‘local’ and mostly in season from a greengrocer. While I would love to buy organic, it’s way out of our price range, so the only way we’ll be eating organic is by growing. (By the way, the Environmental Working Group has released a guide on which fruit and vegetables to buy organic, and which non-organic ones are lowest in pesticides.) We supplement our fresh vegetables with frozen peas, corn, beans and broad beans for convenience (and maybe broccoli in the future). For us, that’s a good balance.
Melissa Goodwin is a writer and the creator of Frugal and Thriving who has a passion for living frugally and encouraging people to thrive on any budget. The blog is nine years old and is almost like her eldest baby. Prior to being a blogger and mum (but not a mummy blogger), she worked as an accountant doing other people’s budgets, books and tax.