Your guide to seasonal foods
If you can’t tell your winter fruits from your summer vegetables, you’re not alone. It used to be that strawberries were a summer fruit and turnips were a winter vegetable. Now, you can buy either of them, or any fruit or vegetable for that matter, whenever you want.
While having blueberries available all year round is great for your daily breakfast ritual, out-of-season produce does come at a number of costs including:
An environmental cost: Truth is, if you are eating pineapples in winter, they have probably travelled thousands of kilometres by road, sea or sky in order to get to you. In fact, it has been estimated that out-of-season food will travel 21,073km on average to reach shelves in Victoria, Australia! The fuel emissions, refrigeration and packaging associated with these foods contribute tremendously towards greenhouse gas emissions.
A quality cost: Transported ‘out-of season’ produce is usually picked before fully ripened, in order to prevent spoiling along the way, which can negatively impact taste, aroma and colour. Have you ever noticed that tomatoes, which are seasonal in summer, appear pale, and less juicy in winter? This is why! Furthermore, the nutrient density of fresh produce starts to decline immediately after harvesting, as fruits and vegetables are removed from their growth source. So, out-of-season varieties undergoing long-transit may have lower nutrient values than those making it to our shelves in less time. Greenhouse produce and mechanically-harvested produce can also be similarly affected, as these methods put more stress on the plant.
A financial cost: The price of fresh fruits and vegetables that are out of season is always greater. This is related to the cost of transport and/or expensive greenhouse systems. Let’s compare figs and strawberries in spring. Strawberries are in season, and you can pick up 3 punnets for $5 or less at every street corner. Figs, on the other hand, are hard to find at this time and must be transported hundreds or thousands of kilometres. They can cost up to $60 per kilo!
But if these aren’t reasons enough, eating seasonally can help you expand your food knowledge and repertoire, by encouraging you to try new produce. Have you ever experimented with artichokes in spring, or parsnip in winter?
If you are interested in shopping seasonally, here are the top 5 tips to get you started.
1. Buy fresh produce locally
Shop at farmers markets or greengrocers. They are more likely to order and sell according to seasonal variation than supermarkets, so you won’t need to guess!
2. Check the price and the qualityIf you notice that the cost of a fruit or vegetable seems very expensive, or if the aroma or appearance seems different, it may be an ‘out-of-season’ crop.
3. Keep seasonal guides handy
Do your research and always be aware of what is in season, and most importantly, what isn’t. There are a range of helpful guides and recipes that can help you navigate seasonal produce.
SPRING (think green and red!)
Asparagus, leeks, peas, broadbeans, broccoli, spinach, silverbeet, capsicum and strawberries.
Apricots, cherries, all types of berries, peaches, nectarines, pineapple, mango, asparagus, tomatoes, corn and eggplant.
Figs, kiwi-fruit, nashi, guava, quince, pomegranate, Brussel sprouts, mushrooms, radishes, spinach and sweet potato.
Apples, pears, grapefruit, broccoli, cauliflower, beetroot, celeriac, horseradish, swede, parsnip and turnip.
4. Ask the experts for help
Ask your greengrocer what’s in season, and ask them to direct you towards the best produce in store. They might even give you some tips on storing and preparing too!
5. Try new things
Change your eating habits with the season, and look up some new recipes!