Let’s focus on eating more seasonally this winter – it’s better for us and the environment. Here’s what to look out for in winter.
Until quite recently, eating seasonally was a given. It has only been in the last 50 to 100 years that we have had the luxury of eating tomatoes in winter and carrots in summer. It may require a little more creativity in the kitchen, but the benefits of eating in season are immense. Seasonal fruit and vegetables boast superior flavour and freshness, greater nutrient density, and has a lower carbon footprint than produce purchased out of season.
A sustainable and nutritious choice
There are a few factors at play that collectively make eating in season a more sustainable choice. Firstly, seasonal produce does not need to be stored for months before being sold, therefore uses less energy to keep fresh. Secondly, when food is grown at the ideal time of year, it requires far less help to grow, because it has nature on its side. This also means that less pesticides are used, which is a huge positive for the environment. Rain and irrigation wash pesticides off produce, causing them to leach into our waterways and subsequently into our oceans, causing environmental catastrophes for natural ecosystems. Finally, food miles are naturally reduced when we eat seasonally because seasonal produce is, by definition, local.
The added bonus is that seasonal produce is also higher in nutrients than its long-life counterparts because vitamins can break down over time. For produce to be available out of season, it needs to sit in fridges for weeks or even months, and during this time nutrients can be lost. This is because vitamins can become unstable when exposed to heat, light, and even oxygen. Water-soluble vitamins are most sensitive, and these are the ones most prevalent in fruits and vegetables.
WINTERY PLANT FAMILIES
Generally speaking, plant families thrive at the same time of year. For example, all brassicas are winter crops whereas nearly all solanaceae (or nightshades) are summer crops.
As the winter season takes hold, the plant families that will thrive are brassicas, alliums and umbellifers (more about these shortly). There are always a few exceptions though. One rebel is the potato, which is a nightshade and surprisingly related to tomatoes and chillies, which thrive in summer. Another outlier is peas, who belong to the legume family that mostly grow in summer. Potatoes and peas, however, love winter!
Let’s look at the winter-loving plant families and the produce that will be coming into season now:
• Onions (red, brown, and spring)
All these plant families prefer to grow in winter for one common reason – when it is too hot, they become stressed, and rush to reproduce as quickly as possible. To do this, they send up a seed head without developing properly first. The brassicas enjoy the added benefit of not being exposed to cabbage moths, who need the summer warmth to hatch out of their cocoons.
When it comes to winter fruit, it’s the citrus family who shine brightest. Oranges, mandarins, and lemons are at their peak in the colder months. This is perfect timing for supporting our immune systems with vitamin C when we need it the most – a timely gift from nature indeed.
The veggies don’t let us down here either. According to Dr Michael Greger, brassicas are some of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet and, conveniently, they lend themselves to soups and roasting. When it’s cold outside, it’s these kinds of warming and hearty foods that we tend to crave. Of the alliums, garlic is known as the ultimate immune boosting veg; however, the entire onion family offer this benefit.
Eating in season may mean we have fewer fruits and vegetables to choose from, but this is a great opportunity to try new recipes and expand your culinary repertoire! Head to your local farmers’ market or grocer and look for the fresh and colourful winter fruit and vegetables we’ve talked about here. Embrace the winter season and the produce it has to offer by cooking up some delicious, hearty seasonal meals.
Two winter recipes I love are my warming potato top creamy veg pies and my luxurious (but deceptively simple) lemon tart. Give them a go – you (and your family or guests) won’t be disappointed!