Looking to have more control over the amount of sugar or salt in your food? Or do you have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables? Consider preserving your food through a variety of methods such as canning, freezing or drying.
“During food processing, salt and fat are often added. By preserving your own food, you can cut down on the sodium and fat content,” said Jaime Foster, an Ohio State University Extension associate.
Freezing is the easiest method of preserving food. Make sure your food is fresh because freezing doesn’t destroy the organisms that cause spoilage. For vegetables, you should blanch them before freezing to preserve the fresh taste.
To blanch, boil or steam a vegetable for a short amount of time and then put it in ice water to stop it from cooking more. Blanching also helps destroy microorganisms on vegetables, according to an OSU Extension tip sheet. Make sure you follow the recommended times for blanching vegetables because overblanching can result in the vegetable losing its flavor, color and nutrients.
For fruits, don’t blanch them but use ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to help stop browning and loss of vitamin C. You can buy commercial mixtures of ascorbic acid in stores or try using citric acid or lemon juice, but note that these aren’t as effective.
Drying is the oldest method of preserving food and involves removing water from food by circulating hot air through it, which prohibits the growth of enzymes and bacteria, according to an OSU Extension tip sheet.
For the most part, the nutritional content of food isn’t changed by drying. For foods that contain vitamin A such as carrots, sweet potatoes and peppers, make sure that they are stored in dark places because vitamin A is light sensitive, according to OSU Extension.
For drying foods, a dehydrator is recommended because foods that are not completely dried can become moldy. In preparing your food to be dried, you may have to blanch, steam or pretreat it. A nonmetal bowl is best for pretreating fruits and vegetables to prevent discoloring, according to OSU Extension.
Here are some additional facts about drying food and preparation tips.
This popular method of preserving vegetables and fruits requires caution. You have to make sure the appropriate amount of heat is used to kill bacteria in the food. Sealing a jar of food before certain bacteria are killed can make you sick or even kill you. Use only pressure canners, not boiling water canners, for low-acid foods such as vegetables, meat, poultry and fish, according to OSU Extension. Low-acid foods have to be heated at temperatures higher than 212 degrees Fahrenheit (the temperature at which water boils) in order to destroy Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism food poisoning. If botulinum bacteria grow inside a sealed jar, it can create a deadly toxin – just a taste of the food could be fatal.
For specific guidelines on canning, read the lengthy OSU Extension tip sheet.
“Don’t use any old recipe when preserving food,” Foster said. “Contact your local Extension if you have any questions about preserving food.
“Make sure you follow all recommended procedures carefully to keep your food and yourself healthy.”
Amy Beth Graves is a freelance writer from Franklin County.