Canning or Freezing – Which One is Better?

There is a renewed interest in food preservation, perhaps due to the fact that it saves money, makes it easier to eat healthier, or both. Regardless of the reason, most people will agree that nothing tastes better in the winter than vegetables picked and preserved at the height of freshness. Food preservation by canning or freezing makes it possible to enjoy summer’s bounty year around. Which food preservation method you choose may be due to a variety of factors. Each method has its pros and cons, yet both yield good results when done properly.

How freezing preserves food

Freezing preserves food by slowing the growth of harmful pathogens like bacteria, mold and yeast. While freezing does not kill these pathogens, they are rendered inactive when stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Likewise the action of enzymes, responsible for ripening foods, is also slowed during freezing. Both pathogens and enzymes can become fully active again after the food is thawed.

The key to a good frozen food product is freshness. Fruits and vegetables should be frozen as soon as possible after harvest. Since vegetables are low in acid, most need to be blanched for a few minutes and cooled, prior to freezing. For example, to blanch green beans, place them in boiling water or in a steamer basket over boiling water, when the water returns to a boil allow the beans to blanch for three minutes. Remove beans from the water or steamer basket and place in ice water to cool them down. Drain well and place in freezer bags, leaving about one inch of head space and store in the freezer. Blanching helps inactivate enzymes that would cause these vegetables to deteriorate. Blanching also gives a bright color to green vegetables. To prevent fruits from darkening in the freezer, treat them with a commercial anti-darkening product found in the canning section of the grocery store. Follow the directions on the container when using this product.

Frozen fruits and vegetables will hold their quality for about one year if the freezer is kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. However they will taste better if prepared and eaten close to the date they were frozen. As time passes you can expect some deterioration. Some foods may have more of a mushy texture and off flavors can occur. Always use containers designed especially for freezing rather than bread bags or recycled food containers.

How canning preserves food

Canning preserves food by heating it to a temperature high enough to kill pathogens. The canning process also drives air out of the jars which is instrumental in preventing some pathogens from growing. There are two methods of canning. Boiling water bath canning requires placing hot food into hot jars, capping it with a lid and ring and boiling the jars in a large pot of hot water for a certain amount of time. This method of canning is used for foods like fruit, pickles and acidified tomatoes. Since these foods contain acid, which prevents excessive bacterial growth, the 212 degree Fahrenheit temperature reached when the water is boiled is enough to kill bacteria that might be present.

Pressure canning is used for low acid foods like corn, green beans, lima beans, and meats. Such foods do not have enough acid content to prevent bacteria from growing rapidly. Bacteria that cause botulism can grow rapidly and without air. Because these foods are susceptible to this deadly pathogen, they must be processed at 240 degrees Fahrenheit for specified period of time. At this temperature Clostridium Botulinum, the pathogen that causes botulism is killed. This can only be achieved by processing the jars in a large pot known as a pressure canner. Because this canner processes food under pressure, the temperature reaches 240 degrees.
Canning and freezing require some initial investments. If you don’t own a freezer large enough to store food, you will need to purchase one. If you don’t own a pressure canner, canning jars, and other equipment, you will need to purchase those. Canned foods usually taste better than frozen foods after a longer period, but you should not can any more than you can use within in year.

So which is better, canning or freezing? It really depends on personal preference. If you want to save time, freezing may be your best bet. If you think you would prefer a product that will have a better texture and flavor and you have the time, canning might be a better option. Both can save money after you make the initial investment in equipment. Both allow you to control what goes into the final product. Whichever you choose, purchase an up-to-date canning and freezing guide and follow the instructions carefully for a quality product.