Friday, August 30, 2013

How To Get the Most out of your Fresh Food

I’ve canceled nearly every magazine I subscribed to in the name of sanity. It gets out of control, and really, who has time for that many magazines? It’s not as if my life is overflowing with downtime. Besides, they were piling up in the corner of my kitchen counter and nagging at my conscience. There is no way I could ever read them all, so slowly but surely I’ve stopped re-subscribing. I have to note, though, this does not stop the magazines from continuing to arrive each month with ever more alarming bright paper covers threatening, “THIS IS YOUR LAST ISSUE!” I wish there was someone I could call and say, “Relax, I’m okay with that.”

I still subscribe to a couple that I can’t resist. One of those magazines is Mother Earth News. Mother has
been around since 1970 and has always been ahead of the curve in terms of protecting the environment, sustainable living, and organic food. It’s filled with scientific research, calls to action, and DIY projects for people living in the suburbs of New Jersey to people living off the grid on a hillside in northern Montana. I get a kick out of reading the classifieds in the back too. They appeal to my hippie nature – advertisements for modern day communes, composting toilets, dome homes, and mealworms by the pound. Entertainment value aside, the magazine is chock full of information and directions I trust whether it’s chicken keeping, pressure canning, building your own solar hot water heater, fermenting food, or this month’s feature – how to get more flavor and nutritional value out of your fresh food.

I saw the title and opened to the article, curious to know how you can improve fresh food you’ve already picked. I took it for granted that Mother assumed I was dealing with organic fresh food. The article boasted ten tips. I encourage you to look it up for yourself, but just in case you aren’t a subscriber (what?), I’ll summarize: 

  1. Fresh food does not die the moment you pluck it from the vine. It’s a process, but some die faster than others, so you should eat these first while they have their highest nutritional value and best flavor: artichokes, arugula, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cherries, corn, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, okra, parsley, raspberries, scallions, snap beans, spinach, and strawberries. The longer these treats sit in your fridge, the less yummy and good for you they’ll be. Hop to it.
  2. Certain fruits/veggies don’t travel well. This means that if you find them ripe in your store, they were probably picked unripe and ripened while shipping which means they won’t have as much flavor or nutritional value. These babes are best purchased from a local farm stand, grown yourself, or secured at a pick-your-own farm: tomatoes, strawberries, nectarines, blackberries, raspberries, and peaches. 
  3. Fruits used to be much more colorful. To appeal to the masses, farmers bred the color out of many veggies – potatoes used to be blue and cauliflower was purple! These colors are beginning to make a comeback and this is a good thing. Darker colors have more nutritional value. Imagine, carrots were once red! When you see these “novelty” veggies – grab them. You’ll get more flavor and value, plus maybe your kids will try these “new” colored veggies – after all, they like their goldfish multi-colored. 
  4. Most fruits and veggies last longer if they stay chilled. Shop for your produce last and take it directly home to the fridge. Otherwise bacteria begin to grow in warm produce, causing them not only to lose nutritional value and flavor, but to possibly make you ill. 
  5. Some veggies lose their sweetness if they are cooked longer than five minutes. Maybe you actually like Brussels sprouts; you’ve just always over cooked them. Try cooking asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage four minutes and see if you can’t taste the difference. Cooking them any longer can cause sulfurous fumes to develop. No wonder they smell so bad in a school cafeteria! 
  6. Here’s one I hadn’t heard – let your garlic rest for ten minutes after you chop, press or mince it. Garlic’s main ingredient is allicin. Allicin is a healthful compound which is created when garlic is chopped. It takes about ten minutes for this process to take place. This is a great reason to use those little prep bowls you bought at the last Pampered Chef party! 
  7. I once attended the Alaska State Fair, and beyond the worst traffic jam I’ve ever experienced (there was only one long, lonely road in and out to the fairgrounds and although there aren’t that many people in the state, they ALL go to the fair), what I remember most was the mammoth vegetables on display. I’ve seen the giant pumpkins at local fairs, but I’ve never seen squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cauliflower as big as a beach ball. Well, bigger is not nutritionally better when it comes to vegetables and fruit. Every year, seed catalogs proclaim the “biggest tomato yet,” but you’d do best to steer away from those giants who are actually dwarfs in nutritional value and taste. Look for smaller, darker fruits and veggies. 
  8. Sweet onions have only 1/3 the antioxidant benefits of yellow or red onions. I love them too, but try to use them only when necessary. If you cook the hotter onions for five minutes, they become sweet too but still pack a bigger antioxidant punch. And true to the smaller is better rule, scallions are better for your health than bulb sized onions. 
  9. When it comes to lettuce, dark, leafy lettuce is best. Here’s why – when head lettuce grows in its compact shape, the inner leaves are hidden from the sun and don’t receive UV light. This seems like a good thing, right? Wrong. When lettuce grows, it also must protect itself from the harmful effects of UV light. When we eat it, we eat the same chemicals it has been using to survive the UV light. This is one reason it claims antioxidant value. Leaves that have not had to fight off the UV light, don’t have as much of that chemical, hence they have less of its value to pass on to us. So look for red, leafy lettuce first and benefit from its anthocyanins
  10. Want to know how fresh those cherries or grapes you picked up at the store are? Check the stems. If they’re fresh, the stems should be green and flexible, if they were picked a week ago, the stems will be brown and brittle. Simple as that. 

The article also included a handy print out section with most of this information for you to post on your fridge. You can download it here

The season of fresh fruits and veggies is still going strong – don’t miss out. Get thee to a Farmer’s Market!

1 comment:

  1. You’ve made some good points there. It’s a good idea! Please visit