Is there a food science angle behind why seasonal foods are so tasty? Yes, definitely, but before we address that let us discuss the overall benefits of eating seasonal foods?
Benefits of eating seasonal foods
1) The number one benefit of choosing seasonal foods is taste!! Whether it is juicy strawberries in spring, ripe watermelons in summer, or sweet carrots in winter – the best tasting produce comes when it is fresh in season. There is a food science reason why these seasonal foods are so darn tasty (see discussion below…)
2) Eating seasonal foods reduces your carbon footprint. You are not eating foods that are transported from the other end of the globe (which has the opposite season than your home country). For e.g, grapes grown in Argentina or avocados from Mexico.
3) Eating seasonal produce are more nutritious than non-seasonal produce. A University of California study shows that Vitamin C in vegetables can plummet 15-55% below their peak levels within 1 week of their harvest. Produce flown in from other parts of the country or world thus will have much lower Vit C content than the local farmers market produce.
Why are seasonal foods so tasty?
There is a reason why these seasonal foods are so darn tasty. For e.g, sweet fruits are all the rage in summer. The high temperatures in the environment accelerate the ripening process. This ensures juicy, soft and ripe fruits filled with aroma that allure humans and animals to eat it. The seed within the fruit can then pass through them and be disbursed far and wide.
The plants that are seasonal in winter have their own characteristics to combat the low temperatures. During the cold weather, plants are stuck in one spot unlike animals who can migrate. To combat the low temperatures they convert some of the starches into sugar which works somewhat like an ‘antifreeze’.
This is why black carrots, beets, turnips etc. taste sweeter in winter compared to ones grown in summer and it’s why root veggies are popular in winter. Similarly the leaves of Mustard greens grown in winter are sweeter while summer grown leaves are spicier in taste.
Are there any downside to seasonal foods?
Ok, this one may be making you scratch your heads. You must be wondering, what could possibly be a downside, Swetha?!! And I am writing this from personal experience. The only downside with cooking purely with seasonal veggies is that you have to know how to cook it!! Let me explain…
When I first came to the US, I began to realize that during Fall and Winter, the grocery stores will be filled with all kinds of winter squashes – Butternut Squash, Spaghettis Squash, Acorn Squash, etc. Now, back in my 20’s, I knew how to cook with onion, tomato, carrot, spinach, potatoes all day long; but what the heck do I do with an Acorn Squash?? So, I had to learn slowly, year after year.
You see, cooking is learnt through iterations and the more often you work with a certain daal, vegetable or grain; the more you get the feel for its properties and how best to prepare it. But if some ingredient makes an appearance only once in a year, the learning curve gets a bit steeper.
But that is just a practical aspect; over time this will even out and you will learn how to make tasty Undhiyo with winter sweet potatoes or roast the Acorn squash to perfection and make a soup with it.
I hope this post about the science of seasonal foods was useful to you. Do post your favorite seasonal vegetable/fruit/dish below and please share any favorite memory or personal experiences cooking them. I look forward to hearing from you.
For other benefits of seasonal foods, read the Hindustan Times column, “Seasonal eating for winter nutrition” published today (Dec 16, ’21) where I’m quoted: