Preserving is possibly one of the most far-reaching foodie topics out there. You may think you don’t know about preserving food but the more you think about it the more you realise it’s all around you.
Preserving, in it’s simplest terms, is removing the substance from food that allows it to decay. So when you think about it, that can include heat, moisture, access to oxygen and killing the existing microbes within the food.
The thing about these different food preservation methods is that they have been around for yonks. They are literally ancient! Some of them date back as far as 12,000BC because when your fancy new stone cave doesn’t have a fridge/freezer you have to think outside the cool box so to speak…
Drying or dehydrating is one of the oldest ways to preserve food. These days we can dry foods out very quickly by popping them in a warm oven. But back in the day, people would use the heat of the sun. In fact, this is still how ingredients like coffee beans are prepared today. Other popular dried foods include Parma Ham, Beef Jerky and a whole host of other dried meats, fish and fruit.
A lot of people think that the process of cooling food first came around with the invention of the refrigerator but actually some of the first people to preserve food by cooling were the ancient Roman and Chinese empires. Early civilisations would use deep pits of ice and snow to store their food at harvest time to take them all the way through to the following spring. These days, we can just chuck our leftover lasagne in the freezer but the basics of freezing food are the same. The win for home freezing comes when you think further in advance. If you’ve got trees which have ripe fruit now, you can use that fruit to make a whole host of sauces and puddings then when Autumn and Winter come along you’ve got beautiful home grown desserts and couils ready and waiting.
These days we most often see salting as a way to preserve fish. Salt cod and other varieties are very common in the Mediterranean and Scandinavia. The fish is gutted and stretched onto wooden racks which are placed in the sun or a heated room to dry out. It is the addition of a large quantity of salt at this point that separates this process from simply drying the fish. Before the fish is eaten it is rehydrated and the salt is removed by soaking the fish in water for 1 to 3 days.
In the UK when you think of pickles you will most likely think of your pickled onions or pickled veg on your cheese board. When it comes to Asian cuisine, they definitely do it better! Without the process of pickling, we would never have our beloved kimchi. (Look out next week for a whole article on Kimchi by yours truly). The process of pickling generally includes submerging the ingredient in vinegar or something similar. Because you pickle at such a low pH the majority of the bacteria is killed which means food that would normally degrade in days can last for months. In more fun pickling facts, after the death of Lord Nelson, his body was preserved in a barrel of Brandy to keep things fresh for the journey home. It works on so many levels.
There are so many other ways to preserve food that we haven’t had a chance to mention. If you would like to see more articles like this, let us know on Twitter!
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