Frozen Broccoli

Frozen Broccoli can’t compare to fresh in taste and quality, but the dirty little secret is a pound of frozen broccoli yields about 10 ounces – if you’re paying a dollar a package, (and you’re probably paying more) that’s $1.60 a pound - over 2 1/2 times the cost of fresh and some expensive water!

For years, I’ve relied on frozen vegetables to help get us through the winter here in Minnesota, and sometimes it seemed as if I’d hardly had a minute to get dinner on the table, let alone a complete dinner. The solution: Microwave a frozen veggie. Broccoli was our number one go to vegetable. The kids ate it and I could make it in minutes.  Oh, sure, we had fresh broccoli, too, steamed, stir fried or eaten raw in salads, but frozen broccoli was just such a work horse – it was easily a side or an ingredient in casseroles, etc. I decided to put it to the test!

  • We’ve all heard that frozen is harvested at the “Peak of Freshness” and processed, and may even be better for you than fresh. Is it true?
  • The cost often seemed inexpensive, too. That seems to play out when we consider the cost of fresh. Or does it?
  • Of all the frozen vegetables, I think broccoli is one of the best tasting.  Does it compare to fresh?
  • I’ve noticed recently, too, that almost all the brands I’ve bought frozen don’t seem as nice as they used to: They’re smaller and more water-logged – how does that affect the quality?
  • What about time: How much longer does it take to get the fresh on the table?
You could go with this or you could go with that.  Frozen & liquid on the left, fresh on the right.
You could go with this or you could go with that. Frozen & liquid on the left, fresh on the right.

Frozen & liquid on the left, fresh on the right. I don’t think I seriously considered and thought this through before, but the picture above, of one pound frozen and one pound fresh says it all. The liquid in the photo is what I drained from the frozen broccoli. What was more interesting is that when I weighed it out, about 10 ounces of my one pound bag was broccoli, the other 6 ounces, 2/3 of a cup, was water. Way more water than you’d get if you froze your own broccoli. When I weighed the liquid, it came out to just a hair over six ounces. I did not cook it with any additional water, even though the package suggested doing so.

I had always assumed that the weight of the frozen broccoli was exactly one pound, and that the liquid was just extra. As far as nutrition goes, a huge factor in the amount of nutrients your vegetables retain is the amount of water in the cooking process.  You can see the water from the frozen is quite green, and was still green even after I strained it to get the weight.  I used a bit less than a half cup of water in my broccoli, and discarded it, because without it, I actually still had one pound of broccoli after it was cooked.  (Cooking liquid can go in your soups or green smoothies if you make them regularly.)

Hmmm, a pound is a pound the world round, except when you are talking about frozen broccoli, then it’s 10 ounces.

As far as which is better, fresh or frozen, there are many arguments on both sides – a lot of which seems to stem from the idea that fresh is subjected to light during the long shipping process which destroys the nutrients and that they are sometimes picked when they are not quite ripe, giving nutrients less time to develop.

I would argue that much of this shipping process is done in boxes and crates and inside trucks and trains, and I’ve seen enough films of the processing method to know that the to be frozen vegetables are picked when not quite ripe as well. They also lay around in fields, and are trucked to the processing plants where they sit in open trucks and train cars and in giant piles outside. Then they are cooked twice, once in processing and once at home, and nutrients lost in each cooking process.

My instinct says fresh is generally better unless you live in some small, isolated town or an inner city food desert where fresh vegetables are old and scary. The argument about the “Peak of Freshness” just doesn’t ring completely true to me, although it sounds great.

The Frozen Food Industry has spent tons of money on studies and advertising to “prove” that frozen is as good as fresh – and all of a sudden a shift has taken place and many consumers now believe frozen is better than fresh, based on very limited information provided and paid for by the frozen food industry.

I would also say, just as the article below does, that eating any vegetable is preferable to none. Read and decide, and weigh the options by the time of year, what’s available and the individual vegetable. Here’s a site with a little info and discussion about each side of the argument:  Eating Well, Where Good Taste meets Good Health.

Here is the cost comparison of the fresh vs. frozen broccoli in December of 2011:

  • Fresh:  1 pound was $.59 cents.
  • Frozen:  1 pound bag, yielded 10 ounces, bought on sale with a coupon was 88 cents.  This equaled $1.41 per pound.

That pricing difference is a HUGE revelation to me!  I had really thought the frozen broccoli was usually less than the fresh. This can vary a bit throughout the year, depending on the sales, the coupons and the produce cost.

How about taste and quality? While I am typing this right now, the broccoli is still sitting on my kitchen table.  I have nibbled multiple times on my fresh broccoli, and only tasted one piece of the frozen. Why?  I like it better.  Period.

How much time did it take, and how did I prepare the broccoli?  About 2 minutes to wash and cut, and just a few more to “pan steam.” That’s putting a small amount of water in the bottom, then adding your stems. Drop the florets on top, cover and bring to a simmer. Cook until desired doneness is reached, generally about 4- 5 minutes for pieces, 5 – 7 minutes if you’d like to cook spears.

By the way, the frozen recommended four to eight minutes in the microwave.  I cooked the package in the photo for four.

First, cut off florets leaving a bit of the stem so they stay intact.  Then divide those with the point of your knife by cutting from what would be the bottom end of the floret.  They’ll separate out into beautiful pieces.

Forming the Florets
Forming the Florets

Next, take the top part of the stalk and cut it into about 1/4 inch slices.  I like to cut them at an angle, so they look pretty, stay intact and cook evenly.

The top pieces of the stem, sliced on an angle.
The top pieces of the stem, sliced on an angle.

Take the stalk and shave off a bit of the hardened outside edge.  You could use a peeler for this, but it only takes a few seconds with a knife.  This helps it cook evenly, and frankly, I think it tastes a little better.  I slice those stalks into 1/4 inch pieces, too.  I save those peelings for my green smoothies.

Shaving off the outside edge of the stalk means they'll be tender.
Shaving off the outside edge of the stalk means they’ll be tender.

In about two minutes, you’ll have this:

2 minutes work, tops, if that.
2 minutes work, tops, if that.

Final Frugal Judgement: 

There’s no need to subject yourself to frozen broccoli unless you’re in a super time crunch and literally can’t take the extra 2 minutes to make fresh!  The numbers don’t support it:  Frozen costs more!

Personally, I’ll go for the fresh. Date: December ’11

At $.88 a package, this producer added water cost me 33 cents!
At $.88 a package, this producer added water cost me 33 cents!
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