The preservation of food has been essential to human history almost since the beginning of time. Before there were refrigerators and freezers, humans relied on smokehouses and salting to methods to keep meats fresh. Vegetables and other produce underwent drying to be consumed at a later date. Today, modern technology makes it easy for us to keep all kinds of food fresh with minimal effort.
Surprisingly, even with the advances in technology, there are people around the world who still use food preservation methods. Many families are working with limited food budgets so they choose to grow their own produce or purchase food items in bulk. Some people are members if Community Supported Agriculture groups which provide vegetables and fruits to individuals during the growing season. However, in order to fully take advantage of the good resources available today it's important to find ways to store them so that food product isn't wasted.
Why Is Food Preservation Important?
Food preservation is a science. It's essential because it prevents bacteria, fungi, yeast, and another microorganism from growing on our meats and produce. The growth of these bacteria is what causes spoilage. When bacteria break down in meats it results in a foul-smelling odor. Also, the breakdown of fats in butter and milk can cause it to go rancid.
Food begins to deteriorate or spoil as soon as it is harvested or slaughtered. Yet, preservation is what slows down the process and keeps it fresh for as long as possible or until it is consumed.
The food we purchase in food markets has undergone a presentation process. Packaged, refrigerated and frozen food products, that you purchase in grocery stores is being preserved. There are many benefits of preserving our own food which include:
-Making our favorite seasonal foods available throughout the entire year
-Decrease the wastage of excess food
-Since preserved food has already been partially processed the amount of preparation time is drastically reduced.
-Adds variation to one’s diet
-Helps increases food supply since food isn’t being wasted or thrown away
Ten Ways You Can Preserve Food At Home
There are various techniques that can be used to preserve fruits, vegetables, and meats. You don't have to be an expert to preserve your own food supply in your home. Some common food storage methods that were once common are no longer recommended due to health concerns. That's why it's important to use a variety of food preservation methods so you can determine what works best for you. In fact, each method of preservation can give food a different texture and flavor.
Cool and Room Temperature Preservation Options
Perhaps the easiest food preservation method is storing food items in a cool or room temperature room or area. This is the easiest preservation option because it requires very minimal processing. This can be in an unheated pantry or porch.
A root cellar is a popular method for preserving foods. Root cellars are typically located underground in a basement or crawl space. Cellaring is any type of food storing method that involves controlling light, temperature, and humidity. The good thing about cellaring is that it doesn’t matter what type of climate you live in you can use cellaring to some degree. Food products that can be stored in a root cellar, pantry or other room temperature storage space are:
Unlike a cellar, a cold room is a warm and dry basement. A cold room should be insulated with adjustable vents. The floor should be a porous material such as cement, dirt, and shelving that’s built away from the wall. Before storing any type of product in a cold room or cellar you should always choose products that are firm, mature and unblemished.
Canning is a traditional food preservation method that was developed in 1775 as a way to store and preserve food for the Napoleon army. Canning seals out all types of bacteria leaving your fruits, vegetables, and meats in the same condition as they were put you put them inside. Most types of fruits and vegetables can be preserved through canning.
The key to properly canning food is to use canning supplies that have been thoroughly sterilized. Unsafe canning practices can result in botulism poisoning. There are two types of canning methods you can use which include:
Water bath canning
Water Bath Canning
Only foods high in acid can be safely preserved safely through water bath canning. High acid foods like fruit preserves like; jams, fruit in syrup and pickles. While water canning kits can be purchased from a hardware store you may have all the supplies you need in your kitchen. The basic supplies required to begin this process are:
Lids and rings
Food items you want to can
During the water bathing method, canned food is placed into boiled water and cooked for a specific amount of time. It’s important to note, that the jar needs to be covered in hot water to be effective. If you have an especially deep pot the jar can be completely immersed.
Pressure canning can be intimidating for inexperienced canners since it’s more technical in nature. This method of preservation is best for foods that are low in acids such as some vegetables, poultry, and seafood. Food items that are low in acid have a pH value higher than 4.6. During pressure canning, jars of food are set in approximately three inches of water in a pressure cooker. A pressure cooking is necessary because the jars have to be boiled at least 240 degrees Fahrenheit for a certain amount of time.
This canning method uses considerably less water than water canning since the goal is to simply trap steam into the jar or container. Some of the advantages of pressure canning are that you maintain the flavor of the food ingredients inside and you can just store them on the shelf without any type of special arrangement. The shelf life of canned food can range from one to five years and sometimes longer depending upon the food item and how it was effectively canned.
Food preservation by dehydrating also known as drying is the oldest way of storing food for optimal freshness. In order to preserve foods using this method must be stored in airtight packaging or sealed jar. Dehydrating food involves removing all the water or moisture from a food product. This method can be used for fruits, vegetables, and meats. It shrinks foods making it lighter and smaller. This is why dried snacks are attractive to hikers and bicyclists. You can store small dried food in a custom stand up pouches. Custom stand up pouches are ideal for dried fruits, nuts, and candy. These pouches are durable and equipped with a zipper enclosure that can be easily closed and opened.
As previously mentioned, food becomes foiled due to the growth of microorganisms or bacteria that are a result of an enzymatic reaction. Yeast, mold, and bacteria need moisture to develop and cause rotting. However, when all the moisture is removed from the food content you can delay spoilage because moisture is reduced and enzymatic reaction is drastically slowed down.
In order to dry food at home, you’ll need to use a combination of heat, dry air, and air movement. Heat is used to fully drive out moisture. When using heat, you’ll want to be careful not use excessive heat, so that you don't begin to actually cook the food. The dry air will absorb the moisture that you’ve released and air movement carries the moisture away.
Food can be dried using three main ways:
Food dehydrators - You can use a food dehydrator to quickly dry fruits, vegetables, and meats.
Sun- It’s safe to dry foods in sunlight. This method requires temperatures of at least eighty-five degrees or high and low humidity. You’ll also have to lay your foods out to dry in an insect controlled area.
Oven- Drying foods in the oven is relatively easy. You’ll have to cut your fruits, vegetables or meat into slices and put them in the oven on the lowest setting.
For the longest shelf life, dried foods should be stored in a cool and dry location.
Salting is similar to dehydration method. The primary difference is that salt instead of heat is used to dry out meats and fish. Fungi, bacteria and other pathogenic organisms can't survive in a heavily salted environment. In addition, salting eradicates all moisture from food. The salting of food products can allow it to last for several months to a couple of years.
Salting protein can give it a leather-like texture. When meats are heavily salted you they don't require freezing or refrigeration to stay fresh.
These days freezing are the most common way to preserve foods. This method doesn't require specialized equipment because most homes are equipped with a freezer.
While freezing can change the texture of some fruits and vegetables it works fairly well for poultry and meats. Experts recommend blanching vegetables prior to freezing to cease enzyme action.
Dry freezing includes a mixture of drying and freezing. It has become popular in recent years. Dry freezing involves using a home drying freezer. The great thing about this tool is that it gives you the opportunity to preserve items that don't normally store well such as; dairy products and fully prepared meals (leftovers). You can also preserve meats, vegetables, and fruit through dry freezing.
In the freeze-drying process the food material is frozen and then the food is placed in a vacuum heater on a low setting and all the water is removed.
Fermentation has been used for thousands of years for food preservation. In fact, it’s one of the earliest forms of preservation and was used for several centuries by our ancestors. This method is least common compared to canning and drying. It's different from most food preservation methods because in this process microorganisms are desirable. Fermentation controls the spoilage of food by encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria.
Fermentation is the process of converting carbohydrates and sugars into alcohol or organic acids that help maintain the quality of food. There are two types of fermentation process which are: alcoholic fermentation and lactic fermentation.
Alcohol fermentation also commonly referred to as ethanol fermentation is a biological process that uses yeast cells to break down sugar and turn it into carbon dioxide. This process is best for conserving sugar substrate products like fruits, fruit and vegetable juices.
On the other hand, lactic fermentation is the conversion of lactose to lactic acid. During this metabolic process, glucose and six carbon sugars are transformed into cellular energy otherwise known as a lactic acid solution.
There are several health benefits contributed to consuming fermented food. Researchers believe that bacteria present in these preserved food products can promote a healthier digestive system since when consumed the GI tract is lined with healthy food-related bacteria. Also, fermentation can increase the nutritional value that a particular food has to offer. In some cases, fermentation has been known to produce vitamin B.
Similar to sugar and salt, alcohol immersion draws out moisture in food products making it an ideal method for food preservation. Alcohol immersion also promotes the growth of microbes which also helps keep foods fresh. The conservation of food using this process is easy and you can use your preferred hard liquor. When preserving food using this method you’ll want to be sure to use enough alcohol to completely cover the food item. A common mistake people make is not using an adequate amount of alcohol on the food that they are trying to preserve. This method is best for extracting flavor from foods and conserving foods that are high in acid such as fruit. While alcohol can be effective at eliminating moisture this method does have a limit to how much water it can remove from a food item.
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