By ANNA OSIECKI-DABAL & EVGENYA EPELBAUM
Food Preservation Methods of the Past
Food preservation was and is the key to human race survival. From the time when mankind started walking the earth, food gathering and preservation was a great challenge. Hunting large prey required a lot of effort and energy, people were not able to consume the whole prey and, as a result, preservation became a major challenge. How could they store remains of the precious prey for future consumption? Food preservation allowed ancient men to stay in one place.
One of the methods our ancestors invented was sun drying but leaving fish, meat, fruit and berries for too long exposed to the sun was causing the food to spoil. It is a process of dehydrating foods until there is not enough moisture to support microbial activity.
The cavemen used fire to create heat, which led them to the discovery of smoking the food. This process prevents the growth of the bacteria and improves the flavor of the food.
In cold climates the cave men were able to freeze food and prolong storage time. Freezing is the process of chilling foods to at least 0°F and it can be used with all food.
With the discovery of salt, this ingredient became main natural food preservative that prevented bacteria growth. It is the process of fermenting or pickling depending on the use of the salt concentration.
Pickling is process of soaking food in a solution containing salt, acid or alcohol. It can be used with all foods. Pickling requires using stoneware or glass.
Sugar mix with water started the process called fermentation. It is the process promoting the growth of “good bacteria” to stop the “bad bacteria” that can spoil food. It also can be used on the variety of foods.
Curing is a process similar to pickling and uses salt, acid and /or nitrites. It is used for meats and fish. The modern methods of curing reduce the amount of salt and nitrites, which requires refrigeration.
Jam and Jelly
Preservation with the use of honey or sugar was known to the early cultures. Where there was fruit, there was the honey. The ancient Greece mixed quince with honey, dried it and pack it into the jars. The Romans improved the method by cooking the quince and honey producing more solid texture. In the northern climates where there is not enough of sunlight, people heat the fruit with sugar producing the jams.
Canning is the newest of all preservation methods that was founded in the 18th century. It is a process in which foods are placed in the jars and cans and heated at the specified temperature for a specific length of time and then cooling which forms a vacuum seal.
Food preservation in the past involved a lot of ancient methods, many of which required specific types of storage. Even with advancements, food preservation is still limiting and will only increase the shelf life so much. As such, the general approach to food in the past was “eat to live”. Because many actually depended on their stored food supply, people we conscientious of using everything they had.
Food Preservation Methods of the Present
Refrigeration and freezing are probably the most common methods of general food preservation available today. With refrigeration, the idea is to slow down the growth of bacteria to a crawl so that food can last much longer, for example a week or two instead of a day or two. With freezing, bacterial growth is brought to halt all together. Modern day technologies allow for a lot of specified refrigeration that is easily integrated into your kitchen. Many companies offer refrigeration systems that are customizable to the individualized needs of the household. Furthermore, most modern refrigeration systems have a computer interface built in, with capabilities to have shelving set to different temperatures to accommodate a variety of produce types. Because there are very few households without refrigerators, they come in standard sizes and often integrated into kitchen cabinetry. Often kitchens are designed around elaborate refrigeration systems, with accessories like freezer drawers, under counter refrigeration, and wine storage. Luxury kitchens will often be designed to include many of these luxuries.
Dehydrated food has been elevated in modern day food storage and preparation. In addition to continuing the traditional practice of food dehydration, this method of preservation has also been used to achieve a particular texture in food. Some snacks and meals come preserved in this way due to their long lasting shelf life and unusual texture. In fact, the military uses this method to provide food packets that can be easily stored in a pack and used as a supplement for a full meal. Household equipment can be purchased to speed up the dehydration process making this a very viable method.
Reduced Oxygen Packaging (ROP)
In general the scientists agree that “air is the enemy of food”, so they have been working on the modern solution to this problem using a few techniques:
- Cook-chill is a technique that places hot cooked food in to a plastic bag and force the air out, then closing the product using metal or plastic crimp.
- Vacuum Packaging is a process of removing the air from the package and sealing it. That prevents the gases from entering or escaping. The most common hermetic packages are food in metal or glass jars, however a lot of supermarkets have products that are already cooked, on a plastic trays covered with plastic and they can be microwaved.
- Modified atmosphere packaging ( MAP) is the method that replaces some or all oxygen inside a food package with other gases , ex. nitrogen or carbon dioxide.
- High Pressure Food Processing (HPP) is the method of pasteurizing without the heat. The heat kills bacteria but it also diminishes the nutritional value, taste, texture and appearance of food. The products treated with HPP retain their natural freshness and reduces the need for preservatives and additional chemicals to fight the bacteria that causes the spoilage.
In general, food preservation has become a lot more accessible within an individual household. With modern technology, it appears that the focus has shifted from “eat to live” to “live to eat”. People’s approach to the excessive availability of food can have grave consequences in our future.
Food Preservation Methods of the Future
The problem facing humanity in the future is the ever-expanding world population and inadequate supply of food. Our wasteful practices of the present are likely going to result in a large scale population loss in the future due to lack of food and resources. Because we depend greatly on technology and energy to preserve our food, the loss of these resources could be devastating. Many are trying to solve this problem technologically, with inventions in the works to perfect food preservation to help prevent such an event. Attitudes towards food consumption are likely to come full circle, shifting back from “live to eat” to “eat to live” as a result.
Refrigeration will continue to be an important method of food preservation within a household. Many designs of what the future refrigerator may look like have been proposed. Some believe that the future holds more technology, allowing for hyper customization to the needs of the user. Acado has presented a design that will go so far as to tell you what to have for dinner. A robotic smart-fridge, if you will, can minimize waste, prolong food preservation and even measure nutritional value of food as it relates to the health of each user. It can also help automate the food shopping process by placing an order at the super market or propose dinner menus based on the ingredients found inside. On the other hand, an alternative proposal for a Bio Robot Refrigerator has been proposed by Yuriy Dmitriev that looks quite different from the refrigerator we know today. He proposes a refrigeration system with a bio polymer gel, a substance that suspends and cools food once it is inserted. This fridge is surface mounted, on a wall or even a ceiling, and does not have a motor or many of the components that make modern refrigerators run. This system would be energy efficient , and provide more usable space per square foot. Because almost every household has at least one refrigerator, the energy savings resulting from a switch to this type of refrigeration system could have a significant impact.
Plant Based Preservatives
While synthetic preservatives are plaguing our current food supply, plant based preservatives are being discovered as equally effective methods that are a much healthier alternative. Many oils have shown anti-microbial activity in research. With modern technology, many methods are available to incorporate this method more regularly. Techniques include various steam processes and superficial CO2 extraction. It is very possible that household technology may be integrated to help utilize this method.
New Technologies/ Appliances
With technological advancements and discoveries, it is also very likely that some of our appliances may chance all together, shifting to accomplish a different purpose or for a new purpose all together that we have not yet discovered. One such proposition is the idea of moving the produce out of the refrigerator and into an individualize appliances for the kitchen that would allow much longer preservation and even, in some cases, actually plants growing produce. The Nano Garden is a proposed appliance that would take up space in the kitchen and would allow the owner to grow herbs and some vegetables right there in the kitchen. This would allow for much fresher produce and prolonged shelf life. Most designs for future appliances propose some green element, since statistics predict the great shortage. Also, many storage systems being designed intend to use the winter months to their advantage by being mounted outside. This option reduces energy consumption while providing more space for food storage. Because kitchens are being designed to fit a much smaller footprint in present day, many of these new designs are small and compact.
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