That depends, said Jessica Piper, analytics specialist in consumer affairs for Jarden Home Brands, which markets the popular Ball brand home canning products.
One thing to consider: "Not everything can be frozen, and not everything can be canned," Piper said.
Another issue is personal preference. Freezing and canning produce different textures and flavors, she says. "Depending on your palate, some people may prefer the texture of frozen vegetables instead of canned ones and vice versa."
Still another factor is how you intend to use the food you're putting up. For example, you should ask yourself how long you intend to store the food. Canned soup, for instance, will stay shelf-stable for up to one year in your pantry versus six months in your freezer, Piper said.
And there’s the issue of time, perhaps the most important factor for people with busy lifestyles. Freezing is convenient for everyone and requires little time on the front end. But, advised Piper, you have to consider the thawing time on the back end. (And Lloyd Alter raises a question we don't address here that's worth a read: Which method has the smaller footprint?)
If you’re looking for help to decide the best way to preserve the bounty from your backyard garden, you’re in luck. Several sources offer an excellent guide to freezing and canning. One is the 37th edition of the "Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving," just published this summer. Another is the website of the National Center for Home Food Preservation, hosted by the University of Georgia.
When people think of Ball jars, they might think they can be used only for canning. But that’s a misconception, said Piper. The company offers jars for both freezing and canning. If you're looking to reuse some jars at home, the differences apply to all types of containers.
It’s easy to tell the difference between a canning jar that’s safe for freezing from one that is not, Piper said. “When looking at a jar,” she explained, “it’s important to look at the area where you screw the band on at the neck. If the jar has a neck and shoulders, like a human, then that jar is not freezer-safe. If the jar tapers from the neck, then this jar is indeed safe for freezing."
When you buy a new case of jars, there will be a blue note on the packaging if the jars are freezer-safe.
While the "Ball Blue Book" is largely about canning, there’s an entire section devoted to freezing that will help gardeners. In addition to a step-by-step guide to freezing, which includes advice on prepping, blanching and packaging, the section includes descriptions of how to blanch and freeze a wide range of specific vegetables, including such summertime favorites as lima and snap beans, carrots, peppers, squash, tomatoes and even herbs and mushrooms. The section includes recipes for mixing herbs such as basil, dill and lemon balm with butter to make and freeze flavored butter.
The book is available online and can be found at select grocery, hardware and mass retailers nationwide. The company also offers more information about its canning products and safe home freezing and canning practices online.
If you need some extra help
Another source of information for deciding whether to freeze or can food from your garden is the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). The purpose of the center, which the National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the USDA established in 2002, is to represent the USDA and cooperative extension centers at land grant universities by addressing food safety concerns for those who practice and teach home food preservation and processing methods, said Elizabeth Andress, NCHFP project director. The center does that by providing current research-based recommendations for most methods of home food preservation, including freezing, canning, drying, fermenting and pickling.
The center offers information through an easy-to-navigate website. A menu on the left side of the homepage titled "How do I?" takes visitors to information on canning, freezing and other methods of food preservation.
If you want to find out how to freeze green beans, for example, simply click on “Freeze” under “How do I?” That takes you to a list of all the foods for which the site has information about freezing. Next, click on "Beans: Green, Snap, or Wax." That step opens up easy-to-follow directions for freezing green, snap or wax beans and gives the source of the information.
Information about canning specific fruits or vegetables can be obtained in the same way. Just click on "Can" under "How do I?" This navigational thread also provides information about using water canners and pressure canners.
The center also offers free lesson plans for teaching students in the fourth through 12th grades on how to preserve food at home. That information is available at a link called "Put It Up!" The plans are ideal for after-school group leaders, summer camp instructors, parents, 4-H agents, extension educators, farm-to-school programmers and classroom teachers. The center developed the curriculum for national use and tested it in Georgia and South Carolina.