Thursday, September 3, 2009

To blanch or not to blanch?

If you’re scratching your head and saying, “Blanch? What’s that?”, you’re not alone! This step in the freezing process seems to have fallen out of favor with a lot of people, but there are some very good reasons to reconsider it. At this time of year, when the produce is pouring in (our apple trees are heavy laden!), one of the best ways to save some of that goodness is to freeze it, especially if you have a dedicated freezer available. We’ve got a big old monstrous upright freezer, and I love it to pieces.

So what is blanching anyway? It’s the process of quickly boiling and quickly cooling your produce before bagging it up to freeze. Here’s an explanation from the University of Missouri Extension website:

Blanching, or scalding vegetables in boiling water or steam for a short period of time, is a must for almost all vegetables to be frozen except onions and green peppers. It slows or stops the action of enzymes. Up until harvest time, enzymes cause vegetables to grow and mature. If vegetables are not blanched, or not blanched long enough, the enzymes continue to be active during frozen storage causing off-colors, off-flavors and toughening.

In addition, blanching cleanses the surface of dirt and spoilage organisms, brightens the color and helps retard loss of vitamins. It also wilts or softens vegetables and makes them easier to pack.

Blanching time is crucial and varies with the vegetable and size of the pieces to be frozen. Under-blanching speeds up the activity of enzymes and is worse than no blanching. Over-blanching causes loss of flavor, color, vitamins and minerals. Follow recommended blanching times for specific vegetables.

So, maybe if you’re going to be using that produce within a couple of weeks, you can get away with simply throwing it unblanched into the freezer, but for my money (and nutrition!), I’ll take the extra step and make sure that the corn stays sweet and doesn’t get tough. And freezing is still faster and easier than canning any day! :-)

Check out the University of Missouri Extension website for more specifics on how to and how long for each vegetable and fruit. There are also tips on how to cook them up after you’ve frozen them. Great website!

Image: MorgueFile

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