Fruits and vegetables require proper handling, preparation and storage in order to take full advantage of their many nutrients.

Rinsing all produce in potable water is the first important step. “Even fruits and vegetables with skins, like bananas or oranges, should be washed in order to remove any bacteria, pesticides or insects,” says Ellen Muehlhoff, a senior nutrition officer in FAO’s Food and Nutrition Division. Soaking fruits and vegetables, however, is never a good idea. “Water can dissolve a number of key nutrients, like vitamin C,” says Muehlhoff.

Cooking, on the other hand, can help break down plant cell walls and make certain nutrients more available. “Steaming is actually one of the best ways to prepare fruits and vegetables, since vitamins don’t come into direct contact with the water,” says Muehlhoff.

Cutting produce into large pieces (or cooking them whole) can also reduce the loss of nutrients by limiting the surface area. “As a rule, try to minimize the time, temperature and amount of water used when cooking fruits and vegetables,” she says.

Since the majority of fruits and vegetables have short growing seasons, processing and preserving techniques can be used to make produce last longer. FAO recommends employing small-scale processing methods such as drying, chemical preservation and heat processing shortly after fruits and vegetables have been harvested.

There are any number of traditional processed fruit and vegetable products that are made in homes around the globe. In Asia, for instance, fruit leathers, fruit pastes, pickles and chutneys are quite common, and in Africa and Latin America, there are a wide range of dried chips, dried and powdered leaves, fruit beers and other fermented fruit and vegetable products.

The Information Network on Post-harvest Operations (INPhO) Web site features a cookbook with almost 800 recipes for the traditional preparation of a range of local products from around the world.

October 2003


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