Friday, April 2, 2010

Processed Food: A brief history

Contributed by Andrea Bossenmeyer



Fooducate is a great blog I follow. This morning they shared a brief history of how food became processed. I think it's a great share.



What you need to know:

Food processing is a set of methods and techniques used to transform raw food ingredients into consumable food. Food processing can be as simple as cutting up some vegetables to prepare a salad, or as complex as manufacturing a Twinkie in multiple processing facility.

From the early days of food processing, the primary goal was to extend the life of a foodstuff, by acting as a preservative. This helped balance humans’ need to eat daily with nature’s trend to provide crops only during certain times of the year. To this day, extending shelf life is one of the most important reasons food manufacturers add so many weird sounding ingredients to products.

One of the first forms of food processing, dating back to BC, was the salting of meats as a means of preservation. Sugar was introduced much later as a preservative for fruit, and thus the jam was born. Keeping food cold, either underground, or by using ice, was an effective, if primitive method of preservation until the ascent of ice boxes and recently electrical refrigeration.

In the early 19th century a new technology was introduced to vacuum bottles of food for French troops. It would lead to the use of tin cans a decade later and thus the canning industry was born.

Pasteurization, another French invention from the mid 19th century, greatly improved the safety of milk and milk products, as well as increasing their shelf life. (Let’s not get into the raw milk debate in this post).

It was only in the industrialized 20th century, and more prominently after World War II, that a third and crucial factor became the driving force behind food processing – convenience. With legions of moms joining the work force, there was less time to toil in the kitchen, and a demand for quick, easy to prepare foods skyrocketed.

Additional benefits of food processing include lower prices to consumers due to the economies of scale of mass manufacturing, increased availability of a wide variety of foods, and a consistency in taste, texture, and mouth feel.

With so many advantages to food processing, one may ask why is almost every other American so bearish on processed foods?

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