It never fails. The moment I find the perfect holiday recipe—that one thing I just have to make—I head to the store only to discover the one essential ingredient in it is totally out of season! What is even worse are the prices I confront when deciding whether or not to buy it (if I can even find it, that is). Since this year is no exception to my "essential non-seasonal" produce search, I've started researching other options to get the same fresh taste without paying full fresh prices.

How “fresh” is your fresh produce—really?

Depending on what it is, your fresh produce may have been cold stored for up to 12 months before it finally sees the inside of your grocery store. Apples are a particular culprit, since they have a relatively long shelf life in comparison with other more perishable produce (see Food Renegade for more). Tomatoes, potatoes and carrots are also typically harvested and packed into storage up to 12 months before showing up on grocery store shelves (see The Guardian for more). The odd truth in all this is that sometimes fresh-frozen produce is actually fresher than the fresh produce you might decide to pay a premium for out of season!

6 Tips to save more on non-seasonal produce 

1. Buy organic frozen

Here, regardless of what type of produce you are after, buying organic frozen is definitely the next best thing to fresh. Even conventional frozen is usually okay as long as you wash the produce very well (rinsing it well before using it is the best way).

2. Visit a farmers market

Since I live in a warmer climate, farmers markets continue in my city all year long. This means there’s always someone selling something exotic without making a big splash about it. If I go, I might just find that out-of-season ingredient I'm craving…and it’s likely to be organic and fairly priced, too.

3. Grow your own

In the same way that farmers markets can be a good way to nab out-of-season produce without emptying your savings account, if you have a little space and time to do some planting, you can grow the out-of-season produce yourself.

  • Seeds of Change: Awesome cheap organic seeds
  • What to do: Depending on what you want to grow, a little corner of your bathroom (humid heat) or pantry (cool and dry) will do perfectly for one or two small plants—and you're only out a bit of space and the cost of a few seeds and some dirt!

4. Order your produce wholesale online

A newer way to order fresh produce out of season comes thanks to specialty chefs (you know, the ones who must have that-thing-they-need now). But you don't have to be a commercial chef to use these online stores, price compare, and snag the things you need.

  • Farmers Web: Just create your free account and shop!
  • Organic Kitchen: Find a list of cyber-markets offering fresh organic produce year-round.

5. Check the local Asian/ethnic markets

Some fresh produce will be "off season" in some areas year-round. But you can often find those items at local Asian/ethnic markets—and for cheaper than what you would pay in your local grocery store. To sweeten the deal, sometimes you can also haggle for prices!

6. Buy fresh in season and freeze

So long as you have the space, it just makes sense to buy the produce you know you will want to eat out of season. Then you can freeze it, make it into jams, dry it or can it and congratulate yourself on the money you’re saving when everyone else is buying their produce at full price out of season.