Fun Facts: Fruits and Veggies
BY Cade Fields-Gardner
March 31 2004 1:00 AM ET
It is all well and good to say that people should eat more fruits and vegetables, but does everyone know how to buy them and prepare them? Here are some fun facts about fruits and veggies to help you to enjoy them more.
Which is fresher: 'fresh' or frozen? Frozen vegetables are actually 'fresher' than fresh ones because they are taken to the processor and frozen right out of the field. Fresh ones have to endure the trip to the store, the stay on the shelf, and time in your storage space before being prepared to eat.
Why do fresh veggies deteriorate faster than processed ones? Deterioration happens in three ways: through loss of moisture, enzyme action inside the vegetable, and attack from microorganisms on the outside. While the decomposition occurs, heat is generated, making the process happen even faster. Make sure to buy veggies with intact skins when you shop for the fresh varieties and to store them properly to slow that process down.
Should I cook veggies in water? Because cooking water can leach out some nutrients, you should cook vegetables in as little water as possible. If you microwave them in a loosely covered or plastic-wrap'covered dish (with small vent holes), you may not need water for the cooking process. If you are cooking leafy vegetables, the water left on them from washing is probably enough for cooking purposes. Sometimes there are vegetables with strong flavors that you may want to smooth out, which will require some water and works well for soup veggies.
If I cook veggies in a pot, should I cover it? Covering vegetables can keep a bit more of the nutrients in, but the 'superheat' that is created by capturing the steam cooks vegetables quicker but turns their color bland. To liven up the color, you can add a small amount of baking soda and greens will stay bright, but you should know that veggies will lose a little bit more vitamin C and might be mushier in texture. It is a real trade-off, so you should decide if texture or color is more important to your enjoyment.
How should I cook corn? First, if you buy fresh corn, you should keep it refrigerated until you are ready to cook it, to preserve its sweetness. If you are lucky enough to get fresh-picked corn, take advantage of the natural, quickly fleeting sweetness by cooking it within an hour for an amazing treat. You should not cook corn with table salt. Table salt can contain calcium, which can toughen up the skins. It is not a significant effect these days, but you may enjoy corn more if you leave the salt on the table.
Should I store carrot and celery sticks in water for serving? If the sticks are fresh, you will want to serve them as is. If some moisture is lost, you can perk them up by placing them in cold water.
Should I serve tomatoes cold? After buying firm tomatoes you should store them at room temperature and eat them at their peak of ripeness. Tomatoes at room temperature maintain substances that make them smell heavenly.
Why are smaller, younger fruits and vegetables tastier than their older, larger counterparts? The larger ones will likely be less expensive, but the younger ones will have less thickening of the skins, fewer seeds, and less lignin (which causes the veggie to lose its tenderness).
For more fun food facts look for Howard Hillman's The New Kitchen Science.
Fields-Gardner is the director of services for The Cutting Edge, an HIV nutrition company in the Chicago area. She is a member of the International AIDS Society and the American Dietetic Association's Dietetic Practice Group on HIV and AIDS. She has written a book on HIV medications and a guide to nutritional management of HIV for clinicians.