Whether you’re trying to preserve the shelf life of your limited food supplies or store your favorite dish all year round, food preservation ensures perishable goods can be consumed safely over extended periods of time.
Sun drying is one of the oldest forms of food preservation but times have changed and so have our methods. Keep reading to discover some of the most common methods for preserving food and the impact these methods can have on our society in the future.
Dehydration is all about removing water or moisture. The benefit of this process is that it prevents bacteria and other microorganisms from growing, slowing down decay. It is generally used for foods such as fruits and vegetables.
Previously we relied on the sun as a heat source, contending with unpredictable results but today there are electric dehydrators that can accurately and efficiently regulate both time and temperature for more standard results.
Dehydrated foods can stay fresh for anywhere between 5 and 10 years. It also laid the foundation for multiple other methods of preserving food for many years.
Canning is a two-step process. First, you store the food in an airtight container, then you create a vacuum seal by heating it up and allowing the container to cool on its own. The benefit of this process is that it prevents air from entering the sealed container, suffocating and killing bacteria. It is generally used for foods such as fruits and pickles.
Previously we relied on a simple water bath to preserve less acidic foods but today, vegetables and meat can be canned by using a special pressure cooker. Canning can keep food fresh for anywhere between 1 and 5 years.
Freezing slows the growth of bacteria and the oxidation process by lowering the temperature of your food. Previously people would immerse their food in mixtures composed of salted ice or brine.
We have since innovated. Refrigerators are where most homes store their food supplies such as fruit and meat. Commercially this has helped companies needing to move large shipments. They even preserve seasonal fruit within frozen syrup and package it for worldwide consumption all year round.
Frozen food can maintain its quality anywhere from 3 months to a full year.
Wine, cheese, and yogurt are all made possible by the process of fermentation. Fermentation is the process of turning carbohydrates into alcohol or similar acids. It is these acids that preserve the life of the food.
This type of preservation is beneficial because it offers many health benefits including the infusion of vital proteins into the diet. Foods such as beans, grains, and vegetables can all be fermented.
Fermented foods can be consumed for up to 4 months and as long as 12 months after preservation.
Salt curing is mostly used with meat. It helps to produce the rich pink color we all love and slows down the decay process by reducing the activity of bacteria due to lack of water.
Vegetables and seafood can also be preserved using this method and were the main means of doing so in the past. The benefit of this process is the retention of taste and texture.
Foods being preserved by this method can last up to 3 years.
Freeze drying is a two-step process. You start with a rapid freeze followed by a high vacuum which removes the ice. The beauty of this process is its restorative phase. Due to the speed at which the item was frozen, it is able to retain all essential elements – including nutrition – when added to water. This is something many drying processes lack.
While this process was initially developed for commercial use, there are freeze dryers available to homeowners. There is also no limit to the food items you can pass through this process. Fruits, vegetables, meat – even dairy. Freeze-dried foods can remain edible for up to 25 years.
Root cellars are a type of refrigeration that can be used to preserve organic material for weeks or months. The cold temperatures prevent bacteria from thriving and thus slow down the process of decay.
The biggest benefit of this type of preservation is the ability for mass storage. It is built underground and can facilitate more produce than a modern refrigerator. In addition, the natural insulation of the earth keeps temperature stable allowing food to last up to 6 months.
Pickling is a form of fermentation that is done in a solution of brine or vinegar. Common pickled foods include cucumbers, cabbage, and olives. By creating an acidic environment this process is able to kill bacteria and extend the life of the food.
This process can preserve food for multiple months and reduces waste, however, it does change the flavor permanently. The new tart flavor may be an acquired taste that may not appeal to the palate of the majority.
Smoking is a type of drying making it one of the oldest forms of food preservation. It prevents moisture which creates a difficult environment for bacteria to grow and thrive. The good news is that it not only takes but it gives – in a big way.
A common method used is meats, smoking adds flavor to the food during the drying process. Smoked meats can last up to four days and can be used in combination with other methods such as salting or sugaring.
While alcohol immersion does the same thing as dehydration the process is similar to pickling. This is because moisture is drawn out of foods by submerging them in alcohol. This can be done with fruits, vegetables, and meat.
The benefit of this process is its duration. Once completed an item can be preserved for many years, in some cases, close to indefinitely. It may not be the fanciest method on the list but it is arguably one of the most effective.
What Food Preservation can Mean in the Future
Food preservation has led to many advancements in the industrial market. Advancements that go beyond methods and machinery. Food preservation was an ancient way of survival. The ability to feed inhabitants for the longest time possible.
There is no doubt that development in this art can help point us to a better, more sustainable tomorrow. This seems especially critical when considering the challenges of food shortages and food waste that we face today.