Food preservation is proving popular lately, especially because everyone is at home trying to store food appropriately and not lose time or money. Nevertheless, food preservation isn’t a game, and so there are some things you should consider before you begin, particularly in terms of safety and methods.
So, What is Food Preservation
Let’s start from the beginning. What is food preservation? Food preservation refers to several different methods used to keep food from spoiling.
Spoiling can occur because of many factors, including contamination by microorganisms, insects, or natural degradation.
The art of preserving food has been around for years, and you may have some preserves at home right now, such as pickles or olives in brine.
Now, you are probably wondering why people preserve food, as you can just go to the grocery store and save the trouble.
There are many reasons why you should preserve food, and we’ll cover some of them in this article.
Food Preservation Through History
Since the beginning of civilization, food has always been a major factor for human beings. How to grow it and preserve it during harsh winters and droughts was a means of survival.
First came drying, as the sun and wind naturally dried foods. Some cultures used fire to create enough heat to dry foods, sometimes even smoking them.
Then came freezing, and people discovered that in harsh winters, food lasted longer if left outside, or in cellars through colder periods.
Fermenting was first used to make beer and other alcoholic beverages, but it soon created other more nutritious foods with more minerals and vitamins.
Once alcohol became a common beverage, people used it to pickle food items. The containers used had to be glass, as the vinegar would dissolve anything else.
As early as the 1800’s, dehydration became a means to save meat. Soon, people added salt—along with nitrites—as a way to make meat appear more red and appealing.
In the 1920s, when scientists discovered the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, they realized that nitrites could inhibit the microorganism.
From very early on, fruits were kept in honey, which made them last longer. Once people found sugar cane, they used it for preserves, by heating it, along with the fruit.
Finally, the canning practice we use today evolved, with Napoleon responsible for willing people to discover the effect of heating-sealed glass bottles in the 1790s.
It wasn’t until the 1920s that the temperature of canning became evident as a means for destroying the Clostridium botulinum bacterium.
Food preservation has and will continue to be essential in our lives. So, why not learn a bit more about some of the methods you can use at home.
These are the 6 methods you can do at home for food preservation
Method #1: Drying/Dehydrating
As you just read, food drying is one of the oldest methods for food preservation, and there are many ways to do this at home.
You can use commercial dehydrators, solar dehydrators, baking sheets in the oven, and air-drying. You can air-dry many foods, including fruits and vegetables, and meats to create jerky.
Drying with an oven is a good reliable method, but it may take a long time. The best way is to place food on trays, wire racks, or oven racks, and then set the temperature to the lowest possible.
You will probably need to turn the food often, every 20-30 minutes for fruit and vegetables, and every few hours for meats.
Another easy way to dry your food is to air-dry it, particularly when the temperatures are above 85 degrees F.
You can set a rack outside, with some aluminum foil beneath to reflect the heat, but make sure that air circulates under the food as well.
Method #2: Canning
This method is a fan favorite, and it creates tasty foods that last up to a year. There are two methods to use: water bath and pressure canning.
The first one is ideal for high-acid foods, such as jelly, jam, salsa, and pickled foods. To can these, you will need a large kettle with a lid or a stockpot.
Your glass jar sits on a canning rack and is covered with at least 2 inches of water. This way, the can remains sanitized and hot while you ladle in the preserve.
As for the second one, pressure canning requires a temperature of at least 240°F, and it can be used to preserve meat, salsa, vegetable, chili, and seafood.
This method requires a pressure canner, which uses high-pressure steam, but it can be extremely dangerous if not used correctly, as the steam can burn quickly.
Method #3: Freezing
This method may be the easiest on this list, and the one you use the most. It requires little equipment, as most foods are frozen in the freezer at home.
Nevertheless, keep in mind that most vegetables need blanching before being frozen.
To blanch vegetables, first begin to cook them in boiling water for 3 minutes, then immerse them in cold water to prevent the cooking process from continuing.
Fruits, on the other hand, can be frozen as they are, thanks to the sugars in them. The fructose in fruit prevents discoloration and extends storage life.
To prevent ice crystals from forming, it’s best to place vegetables and fruits in sealed bags, which can also extend their storage cycle.
As for meats, storing them in the freezer is a common way to keep them safe. Make sure you also place them in a sealed freezer-safe bag.
Method #4: Fermentation
This process allows for low acid foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to become high acid and last longer. As with canning, it requires a water bath or pressure canning.
To preserve food, there needs to be a starter, usually salt, whey, or a starter culture.
Water, as clean as possible, is added to prepare the brine or starter culture. The vegetables or fruits are added to the brine, which is then measured.
The process of placing the food to the jar is either through the running water bath or in a pressure canner.
Once in the jar, the food is moved to cold storage. During this time, the fermentation process continues and finishes.
Method #5: Smoking
This is a very common method of preserving food, usually done in a grill or a smoker.
To use a grill, a pan with water has to be placed in between the burning wood. The meat is then placed over the pan, so it can receive the smoke and steam.
Some people add flavor to the meat by using different wood chips, including hickory, apple, or maple.
Remember though, that smoked meat will only last 4 days in the refrigerator, but can be kept for a couple of months in the freezer.
Method #6: Salting
This is a popular method that only requires you to salt food about an inch thick. It removes water from the food and stops bacterial growth.
Once salted, place your food somewhere to hang, or add an acid, like lemon juice, and pickle it.
Time to Start Preserving Your Food!
As you can see, preserving food is an art form, evolved over centuries, which is still a popular practice today.
Use these methods at home to keep food tasty and edible for many months.
Make sure you are careful in each step, as it can be essential to keep bacteria and microbes away.
The safest way to ensure food is safe and preserved correctly is to use the canning and pickling methods.