Woohoo! Summer weather is finally hear (at least for those of us living in the northeast!). One of the benefits of summer is that there are lots of tasty fruits that are in season, including berries! And, by “in season,” I mean “cheaper”! I’ll give you lots of tips on buying berries cheaply, below.
But first, let’s talk nutrition. Berries are a nutritional powerhouse. Low in calories, great in taste, but high in vitamin C, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and minerals (potassium, magnesium, folate, calcium), which means they fight inflammation and are cancer-inhibiting. They also help to regulate blood sugar levels. I often see them included on super-food lists.
But…berries are pretty expensive to buy, as many of you probably know. So if you’re going to buy them fresh, the next few months are the time to do it, and do it often, because they are priced cheaper than when they’re not in season. In fact, this is the time of year you are likely to find all sorts of berries on sale in your local supermarket. At the Stop and Shop near my house in CT, organic strawberries are perpetually on sale throughout the summer, and blueberries and raspberries are often marked down, as well. So, shop the sales when you can (Wholefoods and other health food stores have sales every so often, too). I’ve found that for organic berries, Trader Joe’s has the lowest (non-sale) price, while Costco and other big-box stores have some of the best deals on conventional berries. Also, try out farmers markets in the spring and summer–they may have good deals, especially if you come at the end of the day, when you might be able to negotiate a better price. But, don’t bring them home and let them sit there: it’s really best to eat them within a couple of days, before they start losing nutrients.
Note: If you buy the conventional type, you should consider soaking them in a special pesticide wash designed to remove some of the pesticides, as strawberries and the other berry types contain lots of pesticides (their thin skins make them highly absorbent). The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List (which analyzes pesticide residue in common fruits and vegetables) ranks strawberries at #2, blueberries at #13 and raspberries at #21 in terms of most pesticide residue.
Another tip for buying berries on the cheap (and year-round) is buying them frozen. In fact, some researchers have argued that frozen fruits/veggies may have as much or more nutritional content as the fresh version. Why? Fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing are usually processed at their peak ripeness, a time when they are most nutrient-packed. By contrast, produce destined to be sold fresh are picked before they are fully ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. (For a really great overview of the pros and cons of frozen vs. fresh, click here).
One thing you should know about frozen produce is that it is often blanched before being frozen, to arrest bacterial growth and general food decay. This always seems to be the case for vegetables. But, GOOD NEWS: fruits on the other hand are not always blanched. I’ve read that Trader Joe’s frozen fruit is not blanched first, and though I haven’t confirmed this yet, I believe the same about the Wholefood’s 365 brand. If you have a favorite brand, I’d encourage you to contact their customer service department and ask about the freezing process. Makes sense to use the brands that don’t blanch first, right?
Another benefit to frozen is that you can buy bags of mixed berries to enhance nutritional variety.
The cheapest frozen berries I have found are at Costco (conventional, but some stores carry and organic bag of mixed berries) and Trader Joe’s (has many organic varieties at the best price for non-bulk). And, of course, when there is a sale in your local store, stock up, since frozen doesn’t go bad…at least not very quickly. It’s best to eat them within a few months, though, because nutrients in frozen produce to eventually degrade.
So, let’s bottom line this: Fresh, I believe, is still best! Buy in-season to reduce cost (and decrease carbon emissions). Shop sales, and frequent the store with the best prices. Try out farmers markets, which are plentiful during the warmer months. Frozen is a great back-up, more affordable, and year-round option.
Okay, so now you are wondering, what the heck do I do with frozen berries? Here are some ideas:
1. Easy-peasy smoothies: I don’t even want to call this a recipe. Get out your blender.Combine a fresh or frozen banana (I buy a bunch of bananas, let them ripen a bit, chop them in half or thirds, then freeze them) and a handful of strawberries. If you like, add in some other berries to taste (blue-, rasp-, whatever). Pour in a liquid base, such as OJ, apple juice, coconut or almond milk. Optional but super worth it: add in a handful of greens, such as spinach, kale, or whatever you have. You probably won’t even taste it. Then blend!!! If you prefer added sweetness, add agave, honey, or coconut nectar. If you want it thinner, add more of the liquid base. Consider including a protein or greens powder for added nutrition.
2. Defrost and eat plain: that’s it. Don’t do anything, just eat. My mom taught me this trick. I don’t mind the consistency, though some people do. She takes out a bowlful of berries the night before and leaves them in the frig to defrost so they are ready for eating at breakfast.
3. Make sorbet! There are tons of easy recipes on the web, but here’s one that my friend Cara of Stamford Treats made and served at a recent event, it was delish! Super easy: blend 1 lb frozen mixed berries, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup Rose’s lime juice, and a enough coconut milk to make the mixture soft enough to blend. That’s it!
4. Use in baking: it’s better not to cook berries because you lose some of the nutrients, but hey, everyone likes a berry-muffin or cake once in a while.
5. Sprinkle on your cereal, yogurt, waffles, pancakes (or whatever!): I take the berries out in the morning and let them defrost for a little while. Then I sprinkle them on my cereal or yogurt. You can also remove some berries from the freezer the night before, and keep them in your refrigerator overnight so they are ready for breakfast time!
With all of these tips, I am sure you will become a berry good eater! Enjoy!