The friendly discussion often arises as to what is better, canning versus freezing.
What is better will of course end up being defined by what food item you are talking about, and covering aspects such as nutrition, energy costs, and appearance, texture and taste after storage.
It doesn’t need to be either / or
Almost all canners draw on a home freezer either as their actual primary storage, supplemental storage, or as “temporary” storage until they get time or enough of something to do a canning run. It’s doubtful that many canners would voluntarily surrender the use of a home freezer; it’s also doubtful that freezer owners would surrender access to good home canning and preserves either, if they had it.
For most canners, though, it’s not an either / or proposition. They do both, can and freeze, as appropriate.
Safe freezing is easier than safe canning
It’s easier to do freezing safely than canning. For freezing, you can just chuck veg in a bag and freeze it. Granted, if you didn’t blanch the vegetable first, peel, seed and core it, etc, the quality of what comes out of the freezer might not be the greatest, but it won’t kill anyone. For that reason, many exasperated home canning experts often just give up and point rebellious canners to a freezer, and tell them to go freeze their food instead.
What is the most energy efficient way of storing food?
For the record, in terms of being green / reducing your carbon footprint, according to Colorado State 1 the best storage means are in descending order:
- Root cellar
The University of Alaska disagrees slightly, and rates canning slightly more cost efficient than drying in the table below:
Pros and cons of canning
- More of a learning curve required;
- More work to store food;
- More energy required in getting the food ready for storage;
- Easy to organize jars on shelves in a semi-rational order, if there is sufficient shelving space;
- Easier to see inventory at a glance, and easier to rotate inventory;
- Energy storage costs are zero;
- Easier to find another space to put extra jars, even if just temporarily;
- Faster to use food from storage: open jar and use.
Pros and cons of freezing
- Less of a learning curve required;
- Less work to store food;
- Less energy required in getting the food ready for storage;
- Freezer gets cluttered fast, very hard to know what is in there and keep it organized. Jokes abound about stuff still in the bottom of deep freezers from the eras of President Eisenhower / King George;
- Freezers in fridge-freezers just are not good for long-term storage. Food gets freezer-burnt quickly;
- Energy storage costs are continuous, and ever mounting on an item of food the longer it is in storage;
- Storage space inside any freezer is finite and at a premium;
- Slower to use food from storage: advance planning and thawing required;
- Slower to serve food: after thawing, food often needs to be cooked, whereas with canned foods heating is usually sufficient.
Other reasons to can
- Only a small freezer;
- Live in an area with frequent power outages;
- Preferring to be somewhat more independent of the power grid;
- Wanting access to jam, relish and pickle types that you just can’t buy commercially;
- Some people want to put up a lot of food when it’s available in abundance at a great price, but don’t want to sacrifice all the freezer space that would be required long-term; they prefer to save the freezer space for more store-bought treats, etc.
Some things are better canned than frozen, and vice versa
The authors of Putting Food By say,
The benefits and pleasures of canning are exemplified in peaches: home-canned peaches are full of flavor, are versatile, and are considered by many cooks to be better than frozen ones.” 2
Some people prefer the texture of home canned green beans (which is nothing like store tinned green beans) to the texture of frozen and thawed green beans.
Potatoes in pieces do not freeze successfully, but they can beautifully and are ready for semi-instant potato salads in the summer.
For some veg such as broccoli, cauliflower, celery, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, etc, there are no safe pressure canning procedures established, so they can’t be canned as plain veg. (Though you can pickle most of those and then can them.)
It should be noted that canners were not willing to instantly give freezing a free pass when it started coming along. In 1941, the USDA’s Bureau of Home Economics said that freezing should not be an excuse of slacking off on proper food prep:
Foods can deteriorate in freezer storage, and this new and promising commercial method of food preservation must not be regarded as a means for eliminating all the attention to detail and the work that is incident to proper canning and curing.” 3
They wanted to remind people that the prep work for proper storage should still all be there!
Pat Kendall and L. Payton. Cost of Preserving and Storing Food. Colorado State University Extension. No. 8.704. August 2008. Accessed March 2015 at
Hertzberg, Ruth; Greene, Janet; Vaughan, Beatrice (2010-05-25). Putting Food By: Fifth Edition (p. 98). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. ↩
Furman, Bess. Community Food Preservation Centers. Bureau of Home Economics, USDA. Misc. Pub 472. October 1941. Page 62. ↩