While much emphasis has been placed on the use of fresh vegetables in recent years, frozen vegetables can be “fresher than fresh” since they are often processed and frozen — nutrients in tact — within hours of harvest. And with today's IQF technology, it can be tough to distinguish between fresh and frozen in the final application.
Many times, frozen vegetables offer convenience, value and availability, and eliminate the prep work of washing and chopping vegetables. All of the product is usable, so there's no waste.
But because vegetables are value-added, they entail their own specification and handling requirments. Here are some basics.
About Frozen Vegetables
For most applications, IQF vegetables are preferred since they better retain the shape, texture and appearance of their fresh counterparts. (IQF — individually quick frozen — means that each piece is frozen by itself so ice crystals don't form and the product doesn't beccome a solid block.) Some vegetables are available in either IQF or ‘wet pack’ and there are some applications where such block product remains a more economic choice. Frozen vegetables come in a variety of cuts (diced, julienned, etc.) and also come in mixed bags featuring medleys of different items.
California Blend, Winter Blend, Italian Blend and Oriental Blend are classics, but new blends are introduced all the time, with manufacturers offering up-to-date flavor profiles and combinations. Newly popular vegetables, such as edamame, are also appearing more often.
Frozen vegetables are available with buttery or cheese sauces, and with a wide variety of seasonings.
They also are packaged with grains, pasta and even pearl couscous, making for a ready-made side dish. Alternately, for a quick speed-scratch solution, the addition of a protein like shrimp can make a convenient one-bowl meal.
Specs and Terms
Depending on your operation, you may or may not use USDA frozen vegetable specifications. These describe varying grades, sizing and packing requirements that are necessary to identify products with terms like “Grade A Fancy,” which are specified by the USDA. You can find more information about USDA grading at www.ams.usda.gov.
Labels will also use many other terms to describe features of the product. These include:
Variety: specific kind of vegetable. Color: color of vegetable. Form: the appearance or stage of processing. Style: appearance including the way the vegetable is cut, whether it is breaded, whether salt or sauce is added. Special label: special certification. Contents: kinds and shapes or cuts of vegetable.
Item size/item weight: thickness or cut, length of a single piece; count per pound or weight of a single piece. Fortification: added vitamins and/or minerals in product. Preparation: equipment recommended by the processor for preparing this product.
Storage and Handling
Frozen vegetables should be stored at 0°F or lower to maintain optimum quality. The rule is: the colder the better to slow the rate of deterioration of nutrients.
Avoid torn or damaged packaging, which invites freezer burn and ice crystals.
Follow the “first in, first out” adage for storing frozen vegetables. About one year is the maximum shelf life for frozen vegetables.
It is important to not allow frozen vegetables to sit out for long periods of time during delivery. Make sure truck doors are kept shut as much as possible.
Frozen vegetables should be cooked from their frozen state, never thawed.
Sizing it Up
Pack sizes of frozen vegetables vary depending on the vegetable, but most manufacturers pack vegetables in 2 lb. or 2½ lb. poly (plastic) bags, with a dozen, or sometimes six bags per case (which can bring the case cost down). Some packs are 3 lbs. with 8 bags, a popular size with vegetable blends.
Manufacturers have developed pack sizes to fit every need. If you are looking for a 20 lb. case of corn (bulk pack) to put into a kettle at once, you can find it; on the other hand, smaller pack sizes can allow operators to take out only what is needed, for example, in batch cooking operations.
Look for perforation or tear strips on packaging for a safer operation.