The Many Ways of Food Preservation & Processing

By Ahsan, Sohail | Economic Review, August 1995 | Go to article overview

The Many Ways of Food Preservation & Processing


Ahsan, Sohail, Economic Review


Since the beginning of time, people have looked for ways to preserve food. They have looked for ways to store food for the long winter. They have looked for ways to save food gathered in times of plenty so that it could be used when food was scarce.

Of course, we have no records of how or when the first discoveries about food preservation were made. Perhaps hungry hunters ate berries that had dried on a bush or dried-up grapes f rom a grapevine. They liked the taste of the berries and took some home. Later, people learned how to dry the fresh berries and grapes by spreading them in the sun. People noticed that some foods could be dried over a fire and that the smoke preserved the foods. By chance people may have left some foods in a cool part of a cave or out in the snow. They saw that these cold or frozen foods lasted longer than fresh foods. They discovered that the salt found neat salt springs or along the seashore kept food from spoiling. Cooking also provided away of preserving foods for a short time. In these ways, people learned how to protect foods against the effects of time.

Later, people learned to tame animals rather than to hunt wild game. They learned to grow crops rather than to search for wild plants. They gave up their wandering life and built homes. They learned to make cheese and butter from the milk of their herbs and to make wine from the grapes they grow. They found that when wine soured, it became vine gat, which could be used to preserve some foods. They found that spices improved the taste of food. New ways of preserving food were added to their store of knowledge. But people still could not plan for the time when a crop might fail.

What Makes

Food Spoil?

Food can spoil, or decay, for several reasons. Much decay is caused by molds, which attack many kinds of food. Molds look like fuzzy growths on the surface of the food. They may be blue, green, brown, or black. You may have seen mold on fruit or bread.

Bacteria are tiny one-celled living organisms. They are too small to be seen without a microscope, but they also spoil many foods.

A third cause of spoilage is the action of enzymes. Enzymes are chemicals formed in living cells to help the cells carry on their life processes. Some enzymes continue their work after the cell is dead and destroy it, thus causing spoilage.

Some food-processing methods kill bacteria and molds, or at least keep them from growing. Other processes use certain bacteria or molds to preserve foods and give them special flavours. Have you even eaten Roquefort cheese or blue cheese? They are made with one of these molds. The taste of pickles and olives may depend on the growth of particular bacteria. Fruit juice maybe fermented by yeast to produce wine, which in turn may be changed into vinegar by certain bacteria.

Fresh foods will not keep one without spoiling. Foods must also be treated so they can be transported from the places where they are grown. Many processes have been developed to treat raw foods so that they may be preserved, or kept from spoilage or injury. These processes are canning, freezing, drying, pickling, spicing, sweetening, salting, smoking and preserving with chemicals.

Canning

The answers to the search for a better way to preserve foods grew out of the needs of an army at war. Toward the end of the 18th century, French soldiers suffered from a lack of food. Napoleon Bonaparte was greatly concerned with the health of his army and navy. The problem was not too little food, but that the food spoiled while d was being shipped and stored. Everywhere there was disease caused by spoiled food. In 1795 the French Government offered a prize of 12,000 francs to anyone who could find away to preserve food better.

Nicholas Appert (1750-1841), a French candymaker and chef, had long struggled with the problem of food spoilage. For years he had experimented in a simple kitchen with only a few tools. …

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