Best Summer Veggie Storage Tips
You know that eating local produce tastes amazing and is good for both you and the environment. But what actually happens to the nutrient density of produce as it makes its post harvest road trip to your kitchen?
To get the most nutrient bang for your buck, you should buy, store and cook your produce in a manner to minimize nutrient and phytochemical loss. Phytochemicals are the non-nutrient compounds in plants that have beneficial biological activity in the body. They impart taste, aroma and color and act as antioxidants, bacteria destroyers and enzyme stimulators. These actions may suppress diseases like cancer and heart disease.
When buying produce from local farmer’s market you can rest easy knowing that it traveled from farms close to home and that your produce is the cream of the current season’s crop. The shorter travel time from the farm to you means less exposure to air, light, water, acid, heat and time – all of which enhance nutrient loss. Natural processes like respiration and enzyme activity cause vitamin loss. Respiration is what it sounds like– plants breathe. Opposite to mammal respiration, plants take in oxygen and produce carbon dioxide. Plant respiration rates differ depending on the plant. But if oxygen is reduced or eliminated the plant dies losing flavor and nutrients. Less time in the truck means less opportunity for these processes to occur.
What about washing and prepping your produce? Wash fruits and vegetables in cold water. Thoroughly dry the produce after rinsing. Nutrients may leak into the water if they are stored while wet. Leave edible skins on vegetables and fruits like carrots, potatoes or pears. Because most vitamins and minerals are found in the outer leaves and skin, trim as little from the outer layer as possible. Peels are also natural barriers that help protect against nutrient loss. Wash produce with skins by gently rubbing the vegetable while holding under cold running tap water.
Proper storage will also keep your veggies (and in turn – you!) as healthy as possible. Store your vegetables and fruits according to their individual needs. Water-soluble vitamins like vitamins C, thiamin, riboflavin and folate are the most vulnerable so be mindful of how you store your citrus, dark leafy greens and mushrooms. For example, delicate leafy greens like spinach should be washed in cold water and dried with a towel or salad spinner. Place the leaves in a resealable plastic bag. Squeeze the air out then poke holes in the bag with a pin (10 – 20 holes). Store in the crisper. Larger leaves can be torn before storing. The plant (since it is alive) will respond to the trauma by producing a burst of phytonutrients.
Below is a cheat sheet of storage tips to keep your local produce in tip-top nutrient dense shape.
Refrigerate Immediately: Beets, Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Collard Greens, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplants
Ripen at room temperature then refrigerate: Apples, Berries, Cantaloupe, Citrus Fruits, Cherries
Store at room temperature: Basil
Store fruits and vegetables separately: Fruits emit ethylene gas (especially ripe fruits). The gas hastens ripening but can also cause decay and spoilage. Take advantage of the ethylene gas by placing unripe fruit (like pears or avocados) in a brown paper bag. The gas will be trapped in the bag and ripen the fruit.
The best preparation method is to no preparation method – just eat raw (after cleaning and cutting if necessary)! Otherwise steaming and oven roasting will maintain the good stuff because of the limited exposure to water and heat. Eat your cooked vegetables tender-crisp and cut vegetables which need to cook longer into larger pieces – the less surface area exposed to heat, the fewer nutrients lost.
Try this delicious recipe for ROASTED SUMMER VEGGIES:
1 summer squash cut into medallions
1 zucchini cut into medallions
1 red onion cut into quarters
1 red pepper cut into ½ inch chunks
1 green pepper cut into ½ inch chunks
1 yellow pepper cut into ½ inch chunks
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss the veggies with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some sea salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables for 20 minutes. Give them a stir midway through the roasting process.