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Does freezing diminish the quality of food?

The answer is an undeniable yes. When the frozen food thaws, some of its stored water seeps out of its cells, and consequently the cells lose their plumpness and the food its firmness. The water loss is caused by the creation of ice crystals and the loss of osmotic capability.

Osmosis, in simple terms, is the natural passing of liquid through a semipermeable membrane (in this case, the cell wall) to equalize the concentration of liquid on both sides of the membrane. Since the dissolved solids inside the cell make the water in the cell more concentrated than that on the outside, water will flow into the cell, swelling it in the process. The swelling increases the pressure of one cell against the other, and thereby the food's rigidity. Freezing, however, diminishes the osmotic capability of the cells, and thus their capacity to absorb and retain water.

Ice crystals, the second major cause of flabbiness, form inside and around the cells when the food is frozen. These crystals take up more space than the original water, and the expansion bursts many of the cell walls and pushes some of the cells apart, giving the seeping liquid an easy escape route.

Another drawback to freezing most foods is that when liquid flows out of the raptured cell walls, it carries with it some of the food's original flavor and nutrients. Still another negative feature is that most frozen foods, if stored long enough, will pick up foreign odors from the freezer.

Some vegetables survive the freezing ordeal better than meat, seafood, and fruit. Peas, spinach, and lima beans are among the vegetables that suffer the least deterioration (though, to be sure, some damage occurs). Vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli are poor freezers because the process ruins their desirable texture.

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