Veggies -What's in a Can?

Canned vegetables are stockroom staples often taken for granted. One of the food industry's original "value-added" products, canned veggies still offer their original advantages: convenience, consistent quality, long shelf life, good portion control and predictable food costs.

Here are some tips to choosing and using them.

Grades

Canned vegetables are graded according to USDA guidelines on maturity, color, tenderness, flavor, texture, odor and absence of defects.Their grade measures how closely they match "ideal" qualities of the vegetables in question.

  • Grade A (Fancy): The most succulent and tender vegetables, they are uniform in size, color and shape. Though often the most expensive variety, Fancy vegetables make the most attractive presentations.
  • Grade B (Extra Standard): High quality but slightly less uniform in size and color. Grade B veggies may have a few blemishes and are a bit more mature, with a slightly different taste. They are less expensive than the Fancy variety and work well for such dishes as casseroles and gelatin salads.
  • Grade C (Standard): Good quality vegetables but not uniform in color or flavor.They are more mature than other grades and thus, cost less. Standard vegetables are often used in soups/stews.

Worth noting is that the right "quality" depends on application.The right product for a steam table is not likely the same right product for a catered plate presentation. It's also important to remember that USDA grades are " minimum" standards. It's not unusual for products with the same grade to vary by brand.To accurately compare competing products you expect to purchase in significant quantities, request a cutting.A professional cutting is a scientific comparison in which competing products are compared in terms of drain weight, appearance, uniformity, blemishes, etc.

Storage

With proper storage, canned vegetables can last up to three years. It's best to store cans in a cool place—between 55 and 70°F— and avoid temperature and humidity extremes.This preserves nutritional quality and increases shelf life.

Storage in low-humidity environments also helps prevent can damage. (Exterior rust doesn't affect the contents of a can, but does indicate a high-humidity storage area.)

Preparation

To help hold nutrients and maintain a fresh appearance, it's best to warm canned vegetables (raise temperature to about 180°F and then remove from heat) rather than boiling them.

To prepare, drain liquid from the can into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the vegetables and allow them to heat through for about two minutes without boiling. (The packing liquid is chock full of nutrients and makes an ideal cooking base for the vegetables or for flavoring soups and stews.)

Prepare canned vegetables in small batches and avoid excessive stirring, as it can cause veggies to break apart. If using canned vegetables as an ingredient, be sure to add them last in the cooking process.This helps maintain the appearance of the final dish. Besides saving nutrients, proper storage and preparation keeps harmful bacteria from forming on food.

Source: Much of this information is from the Canned Vegetable Council, www.cannedveggies.org [4]

Adding the Essence

Spices not only add zip to vegetables but also enhance the overall appearance of side dishes, soups and salads. Here's a rundown of those that best complement canned, fresh and frozen veggies.

Allspice: Use in soups, consommes and hearty stews.
Basil:
Complements tomatoes, tomato juice, beef stew, tossed salad, green beans, squash, eggplant and potato soup.
Caraway seeds: Add to coleslaw, cooked cabbage or sauerkraut.
Celery seed:
Works for potato salad or meat stew.
Chives: Use to garnish potatoes, tomatoes or spaghetti.
Cumin:
Livens up soups, stews, sweet corn and Mexican dishes.
Dill seeds:
Use on mashed, boiled or baked potatoes, coleslaw or tossed salad.
Garlic:
As powder, salt or clove, garlic flavors most vegetables.
Ginger: Use with glazed carrots.
Marjoram:
Spices up green beans, peas, asparagus, eggplant and tossed salad.
Mint:
Fresh or ground, mint refreshes vegetable salads and summer squash.
Mustard:
Use dry on green beans and as a condiment for potato salad, baked beans and sauerkraut.
Oregano: Adds zest to tomatoes, eggplant and Italian dishes.
Paprika:
Garnishes green and light-colored vegetables and sauces.
Pepper:
Sharpens the taste of vegetables, soups, dips and sauces.
Rosemary:
Use on cauliflower, corn or green beans.
Tarragon: Flavors beets, broccoli, squash and tossed salads.
Thyme:
Works well for tossed salads, green beans, onions, peas and tomatoes.