Frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh. Why do we still stick our noses up at it?

The Independent
The Independent

Britain has a strange relationship with frozen food . Despite evidence showing that plenty of frozen fruit and vegetables retain their nutritional value – sometimes even better than fresh produce – there seems to be a prevailing attitude that frozen food is just not as good as fresh.

Home cooks such as Delia Smith , Nigella Lawson, and Jack Monroe have long hailed the practicality and usefulness of frozen vegetables at hand. However, Smith’s 2008 cookbook, titled How To Cheat At Cooking , drew intense backlash because she recommended ingredients like frozen potatoes and tinned mince.

Chefs such as Raymond Blanc criticised the TV cook for her audacity in suggesting the public use produce that had been packaged and preserved for longevity. At the time, he told The Daily Express : “Suddenly the great lady who helped us all to connect with our food has published a book which undermines her credibility.”

But the Michelin-starred Blanc appears to have now changed his tune. In an interview with the Radio Times , the French chef praised Smith for being the first TV chef to “really simplify food”.

Take the frozen pea. First, it’s delicious – all the nutrients are trapped in

Raymond Blanc

Blanc said: “[Smith] was heavily criticised for using tinned and frozen food in her recipes, but she was absolutely right.

“Take the frozen pea. First, it’s delicious – all the nutrients are trapped in. Not quite as good as fresh, but nobody wants to pick and pod peas. If it takes two hours, you’re not going to want to eat it.”

Anna Mapson, a nutritional therapist and founder of Goodness Me Nutrition , tells The Independent that in general, frozen food is just as good as fresh food, and at times, can have an even higher nutritional value.

She points out that a lot of fresh produce is flown into the UK from all around the world, and then stored for weeks at a time before it even reaches the supermarket shelves.

“A lot of fruit and vegetables we see in supermarkets are not really as fresh as we think,” Mapson says. “But when frozen, vegetables do retain a lot of goodness because they are frozen in time.”

However, the majority of Britons still idealise fresh produce. A 2020 YouGov survey found that the majority (64 per cent) of Britons “definitely” or “tend to agree” with the statement “fresh food is better than frozen”, while only three per cent said they “definitely disagree”.

The survey found that among those who prefer frozen foods, 68 per cent said it offers better value for money compared to fresh food. This reflects the significant difference in pricing between the two categories – for example, Which? found that in 2020, consumers spent around £1.57 per kilo of fresh broccoli compared to just 86p for frozen.

But despite the cost-efficacy and high nutritional value of frozen food, it’s still considered less good compared to fresh food – and this prevailing attitude boils down to wealth inequality.

When you are on a budget, frozen food can be really beneficial

Anna Mapson

Because fresh food is significantly more expensive than frozen, it is mainly purchased by higher income households. A study by the University of Cambridge that tracked the price of 94 key food and beverage products between 2002 and 2012 found that fresh fruit, meat and vegetables, which were considered “healthy foods”, were three times more expensive per calorie than less healthy products.

The researchers found that a quarter (25 per cent) of people said they felt that healthy and nutritious food was unaffordable in the UK. This figure rises among individuals with incomes lower than £20,000 and £10,000 to 27 per cent and 44 per cent respectively.

This means that frozen foods, largely purchased by lower income households looking to stock their freezers with food that is less likely to go bad before they get a chance to use it, have been relegated to the “unhealthy” foods camp.

Mapson says: “When you are on a budget, frozen food can be really beneficial, but the attitude of looking down on frozen foods may come from the other types of frozen food you can get.

“Plain fruit and vegetables with no additives are just as nutritious as fresh, but there are a lot of processed frozen foods like pizza or oven chips that people associate with being unhealthy.”

There is also a pervasive wellness culture that heralds perfect-looking fresh food as being better than anything else that feeds the view that frozen food is not as good.

That culture of everything being perfect, almost putting food on a pedestal, is actually quite unhealthy

Anna Mapson

Mapson says: “That culture of everything being perfect, almost putting food on a pedestal, is actually quite unhealthy.

“It’s all over social media and is about everything being clean, eat everything fresh – which of course would be great, but it’s not manageable for a lot of people. In the grand scheme of things, making sure you’re hitting your five a day and getting enough fibre can be met through frozen food.”

But things are changing, and not necessarily because Britons are starting to realise that many frozen foods are just as good as fresh. A combination of the Covid-19 crisis, inflation at its highest level for more than a decade and rising gas prices has pushed hundreds of thousands of people into poverty , while an increasing number of people are struggling with higher prices.

So as the nation grapples with stagnant wages and rising living costs, some Britons might just have to cast their snobbery aside and welcome more frozen food into their freezers – and, hopefully, develop more empathy for those who have relied on frozen food all along.

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