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Soon, many vegetables and fruits will be ready for harvesting, and many gardeners will have more produce than they can readily eat. Those who want to preserve fresh, summer foods for later consumption will consider either freezing or canning the harvest. But is one way of preservation better than the other? The answer depends on the type of food you want to preserve.
If proper techniques and correct temperatures are used, frozen foods retain greater amounts of their vitamin content, natural color, flavor and texture.
Freezing foods preserves them by stopping or slowing the growth of microorganisms that cause food-borne illnesses and spoilage.
Freezing is perhaps the easiest food preservation method, but not all foods freeze well. Some vegetables with high water content are not well suited for use as raw vegetables after freezing, but work well as ingredients in cooked dishes, like soups. Green, leafy vegetables like lettuce, cabbage and celery can become limp and watery.
They may also develop an oxidized flavor when frozen. Foods containing eggs or milk may separate water from solids or become tough, frothy or watery depending on the other ingredients. Freezing fried foods can cause them to lose their crispness and become soggy.
Like freezing, canning, when done correctly, can stop the growth of microorganisms that cause food-borne illnesses and spoilage. Canning is a safe and cost-effective way to preserve foods. Many fruits and vegetables begin losing their nutritive value once harvested, so it’s best to can foods at the peak of freshness. This is usually within six to 12 hours after harvesting or purchasing from a farmers market.
You should know the acidity of the food you are canning. Foods high in acid can be prepared in a boiling water canner while low-acid foods must be preserved using a pressure canner to minimize food-borne illnesses.
If you’re canning for the first time or have previous experience but want to can a new food, check that the food has recommended canning guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These guidelines can be found in USDA’ s Complete Guide to Home Canning available online at http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/publications_usda.html. Do not can foods lacking USDA guidelines, as the absence of guidelines for a particular food is likely due to a safety or quality concern.
The amount of freezer space or access to canning supplies and equipment are additional factors to consider when choosing the best way to preserve fresh summer produce. As food consumers become more familiar with food preservation, the question of freezing or canning becomes a choice based on taste, food preferences, convenience and available resources.
The University of Kentucky offers extension publications on the correct way to freeze and can foods. For more information on food preservation, contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service at (502) 255-7188.
Sources: Sandra Bastin and Janet Mullins, extension specialists in food and nutrition
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Jane Proctor is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for family and consumer services.