Preserving food comes from times where gathering food was not always guaranteed. There were times when food was difficult to catch or gather, or when the environmental conditions made collecting food difficult. Over the generations we humans have developed many different ways of preserving food to allow ourselves to move around the world, and most importantly to survive. In this article we will have a look at the history of food preservation and which methods may be used today.
Food preservation's main aim is to keep the food in a state so that it can be safely consumed. The methods tend to do this by preventing deterioration of the food by micro bacteria and other organisms. In modern times food preservation is used to prevent wastage, increasing the efficiency of the food manufacturing system.
Age-old methods of preservation
Keeping the food in a cold climate
In cold climates, especially those that are freezing, food can be easily stored. When our ancestors stored food they made it efficient by cutting the food into small strips and storing it close to their shelters. This allowed them to keep food in an edible state for long periods of time. We do this today with modern freezers and fridges, which work by cooling the environment, preventing the growth of bacteria and other pathogens.
Salting the food
In many parts of the world, the temperatures would not remain low enough for food to be kept edible by keeping it cold. Therefore using salt on the food, especially things like meats, was a very good method of preserving food. The salt prevented the growth of pathogens by drawing out moisture and altering the conditions so that the pathogens could not grow.
Salt could be made by boiling seawater until the water evaporates and salt is left. By cutting meat into usable pieces, rubbing with salt and then allowing them to hang, the meat could be salted and would stay edible for many weeks or months. If there was a container available; a strong salt solution could be made and the food could be kept in the salty solution (brine) for much longer than it would naturally stay fresh.
Drying the food
Drying the food is very like salting it, but obviously without salt. By drying the food and removing most of the moisture the growth of bacteria and other pathogens will be slowed. Traditionally meat was dried in the sun and wind or over a fire. It is said that this process also concentrates the nutritional value as well as preserving it. Dried meat is defined as only containing around 5% of its original moisture content. Drying meats may take several weeks and so it is often done inside such as on meat hooks in special salting rooms.
Many of these methods of food preservation are still used today but they are now normally used to add flavour rather than for purely food preservation. Salted foods, especially hams, are delicacies in many parts of the world as are several different types of dried foods.
What is your favourite method of preserving fresh food? Do you still use any age-old methods of food preservation? Do you use these age-old methods to add flavour to your food? Please feel free to write a comment below.