Nutrition was the reason my man and I returned to living on the land. Not only do we grow as much of our food as possible, but we have a cold room in our basement where we overwinter home-canned goods, fermented food and raw produce.
In fact, it was our pursuit of nutrition that led to this post.
After the summer season in which I preserved over 400 jars of food via the waterbath and pressure canner, I questioned the efficiency of this method. It took so much time! And was it the healthiest and the best way to go? After being processed, how much nutrition was left over in comparison to other food preserving methods?
A Summarized Answer
Instead of going on what I thought (as I’m prone to do), I dove head-first into researching and discovered…there isn’t enough research to form a conclusive and accurate answer because most studies available pertain to vitamin, fiber and mineral content only.
Disappointing when one wants to take in the entire benefits of whole food! Here is what I did discover.
The Key to Retaining Vitamins
Every source I uncovered claimed that regardless of the preservation method, the key to retaining vitamins is found in moving quickly from harvesting to processing. Every.last.one. Whether freezing, canning, root cellaring, dehydrating or fermenting, vitamin-rich food depends on this. Popping it in the refrigerator will help for a short time. But speed is of the essence.
Truth About Refrigeration
Don’t fully trust your refrigerator! Even when refrigerated at temperatures of 40-45F, some vegetable types deplete by 1/2 their original vitamin value in one week. In terms of nutrition, it pays to harvest only what you can preserve in a day, whether it be from your own garden or the local u-pick!
Truth About Canning
Sources state that canning food destroys enzymes. Food also loses 1/3-1/2 of its vitamins in the process. Included are vitamin A, C, B1 (enables the body to convert food into energy) and B2 (supports metabolism and body tissue). After being canned, these vitamins will continue to break down. Depending on storage conditions and the amount of time, it can be little as 5% or great as 20%. Minerals and fiber remain (mostly) intact.
It’s unfortunate there’s so little information available! But what we do know is that storing canned goods in a dark, cool place will help preserve what is left of vitamins! A cold room or root cellar is ideal. If you don’t have this option, keep goods in a dark closet, away from the light.
Truth About Freezing Food
Studies were ‘iffy’ on this particular method of food preservation. Much depended on the preparation process. Was the produce blanched and if so, for what length of time? The longer heat is applied, the greater the depletion in vitamins. Other factors were dependent on how thoroughly the food was wrapped and even the set temperature of the freezer plays a part in the end result!
When researching, it soon became evident that freezing your food is good way to go in terms of keeping produce whole and intact, in its natural form. However, even though frozen, food will slowly break down. Studies revealed that within 6 months, vitamins and nutrients fall even with home-canned canned goods. If stored over 6 months, nutritional content will slowly begin dropping below that of canned food and continue to deplete until consumed or thrown out.
Produce that doesn’t require blanching is best frozen and consumed in half a year (fruits, berries and some vegetables). Produce that does require blanching is viable for either freezing or canning. It depends when you plan to consume the food, freezer space and available time! Either way, freezing is a wonderful way to put up food and in some cases, allows you to preserve some of the natural enzymes that help break down the food in our gut!
The Truth About Root Cellaring
Because of the varying conditions of root cellar (or cold rooms) there was no way to land on a solid conclusion. Temperatures, moisture and ventilation all effect the end result. Because most people don’t necessarily have ideal conditions and are dependent on the temperatures of unpredictable weather, it was impossible to come to an accurate conclusion.
However, there was a test that took place which seemed to indicate that some root vegetables may increase in vitamins while in cold storage. During a 14-16 day study with refrigerated carrots, it was discovered that when kept at 40-45F, these root vegetables not only maintained but had a 10% increase in beta carotene (which the body transforms into vitamin A).
In our home, the appeal for a root cellar (or cold room) is high due to the small amount of prep work required and because it enables us to keep vegetables in their raw, natural state with peelings intact. As to the vitamin levels in comparison to other methods? The variance in storage conditions makes a solid conclusion impossible.
The Truth About Raw Fermenting
Unlike many other methods of food preservation, fermented food has a myriad of thoughts and opinions available! If concerned about nutrition, fermenting food (particularly garden-fresh produce) is a wonderful way to preserve enzymes, vitamins and minerals! Fermenting food also enhances the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3 & B7) which help convert food to energy (source). In fact, studies have shown that fermenting food intensifies its nutritional content and digestibility.
The down side to fermenting produce is that not all types ferment well. Cabbages, garlic, onion, kohlrabi and root vegetables are most common and do best. If interested to see our favorites, visit my Food Preservation Page.
Fermented food doesn’t keep indefinitely and in order to preserve it, cold storage is necessary. Most forms of kraut, upon reaching full fermentation can be safely frozen for later consumption in meal-sized portions. A refrigerator, cold room or unheated entryway is often the best place to store ferments from your fall garden.
Fermenting produce is one of the best ways to preserve nutritional content but is one of the more difficult ones to preserve naturally. Cold temps are absolutely necessary.
In my quest for overwintering produce in its natural form, I discovered that fermenting is my favorite method. Because we live in the proper climate with adequate temperatures, we are able to overwinter home-grown, freshly-picked-and-fermented food in our cold room where it will last up to 6 months when tightly sealed. For particular types of produce outlined above, fermenting is a wonderful choice!
The Truth About Drying or Dehydrating
When food is dehydrated, it diminishes heat and oxygen-sensitive vitamins, namely vitamin A and C. As with everything, particular foods react differently.
Drying fruit increases calories and intensifies natural sugars. Fiber is left unaffected but there are significant losses in other areas. Keeping dehydrated goods cool and out of direct light will help retain vitamins left. Freezing your dried fruit will help retain flavor for longer!
Dried produce is a wonderful food to snack on but will be significantly lacking in vitamins. If you need a calorie boost, dried fruit will do it! However, in terms of nutrition, dehydrating produce isn’t the best (or recommended) way to preserve most of your food.
The Truth About The Best Preserving Method
The truth is, each and every method of food preservation has its place! While I wouldn’t dehydrate the bulk of my food, dried fruit, vegetable chips or berries make a delicious winter treat.
Freezing produce is a wonderful way to get nutrition for 4-6 months after produce is put up! If you have home-canned food on hand, eat the frozen goods first to maximize nutrition.
In terms of nutrition, fermenting produce appears to be the best option! However, unless you have a refrigerator dedicated to storing garden-fresh ferments, this nutrient rich food can only be preserved during winter months and is anything but shelf stable.
The root cellar affords food in its natural state. Enzymes have not been disabled, nor peels removed. No heat has been applied and produce awaits in its natural form. But as with fermented food, produce must be used before spring warmth settles on the land.
Canning is wonderful to have on hand after frozen food drops below the ideal storage time, after the warm weather hits and before the garden is producing in spring. Its being shelf stable is a wonderful thing!
Each method has its place and by combining all of the above methods, we now, more than ever before, have the possibility of keeping nutrition in the home year ’round. We are truly blessed to have so many options available to us!