It’s easy to forget that food is seasonal since most staples are always available at the grocery store year-round. And when we do think of “seasonal” foods, the first thing that comes to mind is fresh produce.
Everyone should know that spring and summer bring strawberries, corn, and watermelon while fall and winter bring an abundance of apples, oranges, and squashes.
But there are seasonal foods like eggs, coffee, and cheese that we tend not to think of as seasonal. Surprised? Read on to learn more.
1. Free-Range Eggs
Eggs at the grocery store are always available, and most of them don’t vary much in color or flavor from one season to the next. The differences are most noticeable with eggs from pastured hens.
In early spring, these hens eat young grasses and plants, resulting in beautiful, bright orange yolks that are high in antioxidants, due to the pigments in their diet. As months pass into summer, the hens eat more insects than grass and the color wanes. Eggs from pastured hens have much higher amounts of vitamins A, E, and omega-3s.
In the fall and winter, when both grasses and bugs are scarce, the hens rely more on feed, and their nutrient content drops closer to eggs that are produced by commercial chicken farms.
A little-known fact is that some traditionally seasonal European recipes take into account the unique characteristics of the eggs that are available since they cook and taste different.
2. Free-Range Chicken
The saying “You are what you eat” applies twofold to chickens – what’s good for the egg is good for the chicken, too. Chickens benefit in the same way from the bounty and variety of food in the spring and summer – they’re plumper, more flavorful, and more nutritious.
When it comes to meat, age and exercise mean flavor. Pastured hens who have had two laying seasons are at their prime to become broiler chickens – two year’s worth of exercise makes them more flavorful than the young chickens produced from commercial chicken farms.
Some of the hens’ eggs will also hatch into chicks, laying the groundwork for next year’s group. It’s the circle of life in action, the way nature intended.
Coffee beans hit their season at different times, depending on variety and geographic location. A new batch of coffee is amazingly robust and full of flavor. But, as time passes, the flavors fade, and the coffee loses its unique characteristics, becoming more and more ordinary.
Fortunately, when a coffee season ends in one part of the world, another one is starting, so there’s a fresh, fragrant batch out there to enjoy any time of year.
A general rule is that regions north of the equator come into season in mid-spring and last until early autumn while regions further south produce more from mid-autumn until early spring. Regions close to the equator may have multiple seasons year-round.
Processing, roasting, and shipping the beans all take time, however, so check the packaging to see when they harvested the beans.
Fresh cheese is at its best during the late spring, summer and early autumn months. Why? It has to do when the animals naturally produce milk.
If you’re a fan, you may have found that it’s difficult to find good goat or sheep cheese during the fall and winter. That’s because goats and sheep, unlike cows, don’t breed year-round, so they don’t produce milk over the winter.
Any “fresh” cheese that’s available throughout the winter months gets made with either frozen or powdered milk or curds, which may result in differences in texture and flavor.
You can find fresh cow’s milk cheese year-round, but the flavor of cheese from pastured cows will differ since they’re grazing on fresh grasses and herbs during the summer. In colder months, most animals are eating silage or dried hay and grasses.
Aged cheeses follow the same principle – just subtract the number of weeks or months they were aged to figure out when they sourced the milk. Usually, this means that aged cheese is ideal for winter months when it’s reached maturity, and quality fresh cheese isn’t available.
5. Grass-Fed Beef, Pork, And Lamb
Corn-fed beef isn’t tied to seasons since they’re fed all year long with processed and stored feed. But the quality of grass-fed beef, and pastured pork, lamb, and turkey is heavily dependent on seasons since they feed over the spring and summer to plump up in anticipation of winter. Whenever possible, purchase pastured meat sourced in the late fall and early summer.
Some farms that have strict policies on their grass-fed meats only sell their product between late summer and early fall. But because beef needs aging for several weeks, you can get in-season beef through November.
Getting grass-fed beef in the winter means that you’re getting meat that’s grain-finished. Their feed during this time is lower in fatty acids and precursors for antioxidants such as omega-3s, which is what makes grass-fed beef healthier and worth paying extra for in the first place.
6. Coconut Water
Coconut water is available throughout the year since it ships from below the equator, but it’s at its best in the northern hemisphere from October through December.
Coconuts that are harvested in the low season for their water, before they ripen and age, have more vitamins and antioxidants, and lower amounts of sugar than their older counterparts. That’s because as a coconut starts to ripen, the nutrients are drawn into the coconut meat while additional sugar is produced by the plant and stored as energy for the coconut seed to sprout.
However, coconut water from a ripe coconut has more a robust flavor, so it’s personal preference!