Seasonal produce is at its peak in flavor, even if it’s in the middle of winter. Many winter-season vegetables taste better after a frost. This is because as temperatures drop, the cold causes the plants to break down energy stores into sugar, leading to a sweeter, tastier flavor.
With that in mind, the seven foods that follow taste best in the winter, making them ideal to add to your seasonal shopping list.
One cup of kale contains just around 30 calories but will provide you with seven times the daily recommended amount of vitamin K1, twice the amount of vitamin A and a day’s worth of vitamin C, plus antioxidants, minerals, and much more.
This leafy green also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent arthritis, heart disease, and autoimmune diseases – plant-based omega-3 fats for building cell membranes, cancer-fighting sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, and an impressive number of beneficial flavonoids.
Kale has a 3:1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio – an exceptionally high amount of protein for any vegetable, and one reason why it has recently been acclaimed as the “new beef.”
Surprisingly, like meat, kale contains all nine essential amino acids needed to form the proteins within your body: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine – plus, nine other non-essential ones for a total of 18.
Kale’s sometimes-bitter flavor becomes sweeter in winter and, impressively, kale can survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F.
2. Brussels Sprouts
Like kale, Brussels sprouts become sweeter in winter, so if you think you don’t like them, try them again now. One cup of cooked Brussels sprouts contains just 56 calories but is packed with more than 240 percent of the recommended daily amount (RDA) for vitamin K1, and nearly 130 percent of the RDA for vitamin C.
Plus, Brussels sprouts are a good source of fiber, manganese, potassium, choline, and B vitamins. They even contain protein. But not only do Brussels sprouts contain well-known antioxidants like vitamin C…
They also contain others that are much less known – but equally as important, like kaempferol, isorhamnetin, caffeic, and ferulic acids, and the relatively rare sulfur-containing compound called D3T (3H-1,2-dithiole-3-thione).
This means that when you eat Brussels sprouts, you’re helping your body to ward off chronic oxidative stress, which is a risk factor for many types of cancer and other chronic diseases.
You can steam Brussels sprouts and toss them with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, or butter. You can roast them and quarter them, then toss them like a salad with onions, feta cheese, and balsamic vinegar.
If your Brussels sprouts become overly “smelly,” mushy, or turn a muted green, they’re probably overcooked. Ideally, they should be bright green with a slightly crisp texture and pleasant, nutty/sweet flavor, even after they’re cooked.
Kohlrabi is German for “cabbage turnip,” which is actually a spot-on way to describe this vegetable’s flavor. This is a great plant to add to your winter garden, as it thrives in cool weather. When planted several weeks before a frost, you can expect a harvest in just a few weeks.
This root vegetable is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, along with such nutrition superstars as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts.
Glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing compounds found in kohlrabi, appear to have anti-cancer, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic, and antibacterial benefits.
Kohlrabi can be cooked as you would carrots or turnips, but it can also be eaten raw (and this may be the best way of all). Kantha Shelke, a food scientist at Corvus Blue LLC and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), told TIME:
“Kohlrabi’s chemopreventive effects makes it particularly healthy … Kohlrabi contains isothiocyanates which are effective against cancer. The chemopreventive compounds are more bioavailable from fresh–about three times as much as from cooked–kohlrabi.
The higher bioavailability is associated with a higher chemopreventive activity, which might be the reason why raw kohlrabi is preferentially consumed by health-conscious people.”
4. Mustard Greens
Mustard greens have a peppery flavor that’s better after a frost, and they make a perfect warming food on a cold winter day. Notably, they are a phenomenal source of vitamin K1 (providing 922 percent of the recommended daily value in just one cup) and vitamin A (96 percent of the recommended daily value).
Mustard greens are another standout member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, with research showing they rank second only to Brussels sprouts in terms of the cancer-fighting glucosinolates they contain.
If you’re trying to balance out your cholesterol levels, mustard greens may help, as they bind to bile acids in your digestive tract. According to the George Mateljan Foundation:
“When bile acid binding takes place, it is easier for the bile acids to be excreted from the body. Since bile acids are made from cholesterol, the net impact of this bile acid binding is a lowering of the body’s cholesterol level. It’s worth noting that steamed mustard greens (and all steamed forms of the cruciferous vegetables) show much greater bile acid binding ability than raw mustard greens.”
Parsnips are root vegetables that resemble carrots but are whitish in color and have a sweet, nutty flavor. Their flavor is best after a hard frost. Parsnips are rich in nutrients like fiber, folate, potassium, and vitamin C. Eating foods rich in potassium is important because this nutrient helps offset the hypertensive effects of sodium. An imbalance in your sodium-potassium ratio can lead to high blood pressure and may also contribute to a number of other diseases, including heart disease and stroke.
6. Collard Greens
Collard greens outshined even mustard greens in their ability to bind to bile acids in your digestive tract, which may help support healthy cholesterol levels. Plus, like mustard greens, they’re rich in vitamins K1 and A, along with cancer-fighting glucosinolates that support healthy detoxification and fight inflammation. Collard greens also contain a wealth of antioxidants, including not only vitamins C and A but also vitamin E, caffeic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol. This will help your body to ward of chronic oxidative stress, which may contribute to chronic disease and premature aging. Like the other winter vegetables mentioned, collard greens become sweeter after a frost.
Some types of cabbage can be grown in temperatures as low as 26 degrees F. What is cabbage good for? Cabbage contains powerful antioxidants like vitamins A and C and phytonutrients such as thiocyanates, lutein, zeaxanthin, isothiocyanates, and sulforaphane, which stimulate detoxifying enzymes and may protect against breast, colon and prostate cancers. Cabbage also contains a wealth of anti-inflammatory nutrients to help keep inflammation in check.
Among them are anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol that’s particularly plentiful in red cabbage, although all types of cabbage contain anti-inflammatory polyphenols. Cabbage also contains healthy amounts of B vitamins, including folate (which is better than the synthetic form known as folic acid found in many supplements), vitamin B6, vitamin B1, and vitamin B5. B vitamins are not only important for energy, they may also slow brain shrinkage by as much as seven-fold in brain regions specifically known to be most impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.