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When it comes down to nutrition, frozen vegetables travel better.

Americans don't seem to know the facts. What about the rest of the world?

When it comes to vegetables, American consumers aren't very well-informed: they don't know that frozen vegetables are as good as or better for them than fresh.

"One reason consumers aren't turning to frozen vegetables might be because they are highly misinformed about frozens," said Ben Frega, chairman of the Frozen Vegetable Council (FVC) at a recent press event called Nature's Pantry.

After three days in the supermarket and three days in the home refrigerator, which is typical, "fresh" green beans retain only 36% of their vitamin C, Frega gave as an example. But frozen green beans keep 77% of their vitamin C until used.

A series of Gallup polls commissioned by the FVC indicate that most American consumers think "fresh" vegetables are more nutritious than frozen, he said. They also think frozen vegetables contain additives and preservatives, when they actually don't.

While the polls were taken strictly among American consumers, it is possible that European, Japanese and other consumers would respond similarly. And the advantages of frozen over "fresh" vegetables may be similar in Europe, if not exactly the same -- given shorter average distances for transport of fresh vegetables from, say, Spain to Britain.

"People assume that because frozen vegetables are so colorful or flavorful, then there must be something added to them," said Shepherd Ogden, a professional gardener in Vermont who uses frozens himself when fresh is out of season. "If they read an ingredient listing, they'd see that there's nothing in a package of frozen vegetables but vegetables. That's their natural color and flavor locked in by the freezing process."

A third of American consumers think "fresh" vegetables take only two days to get from the farm to their homes, whereas it can actually take seven to ten days for them to reach the consumer -- out-of-season fresh produce comes from all over the world. Frozen vegetables, by contrast, are frozen within hours after they are picked, and keep their freshness thereafter while so-called "fresh" vegetables are deteriorating and losing their nutrients.

"It is incredibly difficult to convince people that frozen vegetables are infinitely fresher than 'fresh' vegetables in the supermarket," lamented Irena Chalmers, president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, who demonstrated proper cooking (too many people overcook frozens) at the Nature's Pantry event. "The problem is that we generally believe only what we want to believe. That's why it's far more important what we put in our minds than what we put in our mouths."

Pushing the Facts

The FVC has taken on the daunting challenge of putting the facts about frozen vegetables into the minds of American consumers. It works through food editors at consumer publications to communicate the truth about frozen vegetables. People don't eat enough vegetables, fresh or frozen, the organization has noted -- but would perhaps eat more if they knew how convenient and nutritious they are. Maybe they should also ignore President George Bush, who has bashed broccoli in public (frozen broccoli, a good source of both vitamin A and vitamin C, has also been positively identified as an anti-cancer agent).

"The Cold Facts about Freezing," a study cited by Frega on the nutrients of "fresh" vs. frozen green beans, was carried out at the University of Illinois under Barbara Klein, PhD. To make the test as fair as possible, the study used Bush Blue Lake 94 beans, a variety widely used for canning, freezing and fresh market production. Vitamin C was emphasized in the study, since it is the least stable vitamin. But beta carotene (vitamin A) was retained at least as well in frozen green beans as in fresh, and the same held for frozen broccoli (grown by a local farmer; the green beans were raised by the university's own Department of Horticulture).

Healthy Puree

FVC promotional releases appeal to everything from health concerns (a health spa in Florida has substituted a puree made from frozen spinach for fatty creams and sauces) to the hunger for new recipes (one handed out at Nature's Pantry was for butternut squash loaf cake, and there was a whole series for Mediterranean specialties -- minestrone, basque bisque, broccoli-zucchini cheddar cheese quiche). Eight million Americans now practice vegetarianism, the FVC pointed out, and even many who aren't vegetarians per se are eating more vegetables and using them in center-of-the-plate dishes rather than as side dishes.
COPYRIGHT 1992 E.W. Williams Publications, Inc.
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Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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