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Dubai: With vacations in full swing and home-alone residents fending for themselves in the absence of their families, frozen foods have almost become a staple in many kitchens. Freezers are stacked to the brim with boxes of home-cooked favourites, instant readymade fixes and processed foods, providing what many believe are cool substitutes for freshly prepared meals.

But just how cool are they?

The dependence on frozen foods is a subject of a heated debate. Last month, the UAE withdrew a well-known brand of frozen fruits and vegetables of European origin over fears they could contain a deadly bacteria that thrives in ready-to-eat foods and can cause food poisoning.

While that may have been a rare instance, research has established that not all frozen foods are bad.

Vital nutrients

In fact, studies say frozen fruit and vegetables contain more vital nutrients than those that are refrigerated fresh - but in a short to medium timeframe. As Dubai-based Neha Jamani, a holistic chef from Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition & Culinary Arts in Berkeley, who works with the Sesame restaurant, said, “Frozen fruits and vegetables are processed at their peak ripeness and are snap frozen when they are most nutrient-packed, so they can be just as healthy as their fresh counterparts. But like any food, the nutritional value inevitably degrades over time. So eat frozen foods within three months of packing to ensure they retain the nutrients.” Even with meats and poultry, research has shown that short- to medium-term freezing does not affect the quality of the product.

In other words, the key to these conclusions lies in the type of food and duration for which it is frozen.

There’s also the convenience and taste factor. Lovely Ranganath, senior nutritionist at HealthTrendz, said, “Fresh vs frozen, home-cooked vs restaurant-cooked, made-from-scratch vs instant-ready-made, one minute noodles vs 20 minutes pasta … it’s about how these fit into the individual’s lifestyle. The fact that fresh, home-cooked, made-from-scratch meals are the best is a no-brainer with no arguments. Lack of time or basic cooking skills are the main reasons why convenient foods are much sought after.”

She said, “Every food may have a place in the bigger picture since it all boils down to bio-individuality. Freezing home-cooked meals which are labelled and dated for convenience is a great option if the person has zero cooking skills but prefers home-cooked meals. Healthy meal deliveries which use the expertise of dietitians and chefs are another great option for those who can afford it. I would not recommend demonising individual foods, especially with the UAE government vigilantly monitoring public health.”

“Educating oneself to read food labels is also a fantastic way to make better choices which are convenient.

There are many tips that can come in handy. Jamani said it is important to avoid ultra-processed frozen foods as these tend to be industrial formulations and would normally contain preservatives, additives and artificial sweeteners/ingredients. She said, “Look for one ingredient when purchasing frozen foods such as fruit, vegetables or meats - they may be seasoned of have a sauce or dressing already on it. It’s best to go for the “naked” version of the food; there should be just one ingredient on the label. Ensure that frozen food is thawed in a safe manner. Never thaw at room temperature, such as on the counter top. Safe ways to defrost food are in the refrigerator or in cold water. However, food thawed in cold water should be cooked and consumed immediately.”

According to her, homecooked food should be completely cooled before it is frozen.

“Freezing food when hot will only increase the temperature of the freezer and could cause other foods to defrost. Make sure that frozen foods are wrapped well or kept in tightly sealed containers, otherwise the food can get freezer burn. Also portion foods prior to freezing so you don’t need to defrost a big batch just for one meal.

“Clearly label foods when freezing so you know what the item is, and when it was frozen along with a use-by date. And, if you are doubtful about the duration of the freeze, just throw the item out.”

YOUSPEAK

How often do you eat frozen foods? What are your favourites?

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