The summer season is a bountiful time for a variety of fruits and vegetables. There are many natural ways to preserve fresh produce to save for the winter months, and continue to reap the nutritional benefits! Did you know that preserving foods helps to not only enhance its shelf-life, but also to keep or enhance its nutritional profile! Here are 3 easy ways to get started on preserving produce:
Fermentation as a means of food processing and preservation has been around since ancient times. Food fermentation has a few purposes for use other than for preservation; it is also used to enrich a food’s flavor and texture, to enrich the diet by enhancing the nutrient content of the food being fermented, and to eliminate compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
The fermentation process is caused by the action of bacteria converting carbohydrates into alcohol, organic acids and carbon dioxide. For example, the production of carbon dioxide is used to make bread rise. Alcohol is produced when fermenting grains, and then made into beer. Fermented vegetables go through lacto-fermentation, a specific type of fermentation that uses lactic-acid-producing bacteria.
Fermented foods influence human health in a number of ways. Fermentation is a sort of pre-digestion that makes food more easily digestible. Additionally, fermentation lowers many anti-nutritional factors that inhibit digestive enzymes, enhancing the absorption of certain nutrients. Fermented foods may also have increased probiotic activity, providing the gut with bacteria that support our immune function, digestion, and nutrient digestion and absorption. Research has shown that lacto-fermented foods rich in live microorganisms, aka probiotics, have been associated with a wide range of health benefits.
Almost any fruit or vegetable can be fermented, and fermenting fresh produce is a great way to reap the nutritional benefits of the product throughout the year.
How to ferment?
To get started, create a brine solution with 1 quart of water and 2 tablespoons of salt. Cut the fruit or vegetable into small pieces. Put them into an airtight container, and pour the brine on top. Seal the lid. Make sure the food remains fully submerged until the fermentation process is complete. Fermenting fruit can take as little as 48 hours, but fermenting vegetables may take a few days. The brine will get cloudy as it ferments.
Freezing your summer produce is the easiest way to ensure the produce keeps its nutritional value and shelf-life throughout the winter. Freezing produce at its peak ripeness ensures preservation of the maximum amount of nutrients. However, the process of freezing and thawing can change the texture of softer produce like berries. Additionally, freezing doesn’t kill all bacteria but instead makes them dormant until defrosting. Therefore, frozen fruits and vegetables are best used in cooking, baking or putting into smoothies.
How to freeze?
Clean the fruits and vegetables and place them in one layer on a metal tray. For cut fruits that can turn brown, first soak them in lemon juice. Once the produce is frozen, transfer them to an airtight freezer bag. If you want to freeze starchy vegetables like potatoes, it is best to blanch them before putting them in the freezer.
Standard methods for drying plants include air, spray or oven drying. However, these methods can degrade the biochemical profile of a plant. For example, vitamin C content is damaged with heat.
Freeze drying, also known as lyophilization, is the process in which water is removed from a food product after it is frozen by conversion of ice directly from solid to gas without passing through the liquid phase.
Research shows that freeze drying actually protects and retains much of a fresh plant’s potency, biochemical integrity and enzymatic activity. In fact, the biochemical profile of a fresh freeze-dried plant very closely resembles a concentrated version of the original fresh plant, due to the removal of the plant’s moisture content.
By weight, dried fruits and vegetables contain up to 3.5 times the fiber, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals of the fresh product since water has been removed. Additionally, freeze dried food is shelf-stable, yielding food products that may last up to 25 years.
How to freeze dry?
Freeze drying is a delicate process that is typically used in commercial processing. It is a 3-stage process that consists of freezing, vaporizing and sealing fresh foods in oxygen-proof packaging using a low-pressure vacuum chamber. The entire process takes 9-24 hours to complete. However, now there are home appliances available for those interested in freeze drying at home.