Food Processing Throughout History
Preserving and processing food for consumption has been a driving force behind human technological development for thousands of years. According to encyclopedia.com, food preservation is defined as “protecting food from deterioration and decay so that it will be available for future consumption.” (Pelzer) The advent of food processing was an important and necessary step towards the advancement of the human race. Without the ability to control the shelf life of our food, mankind might never have left Africa, or achieved very much at all. Preserving food was amongst the first ways that humans learned to control their natural world, and has allowed our race to thrive throughout the ages.
Before the advent of agriculture man had to rely solely upon the land for sustenance, a lifestyle which was not entirely conducive to survival. About 10,000 years ago prehistoric man had their first brush with food preservation. (Pelzer) Some early humans began to sequester nuts and seeds away for use during the winter. They had discovered that by utilizing the bitter cold of the winter they could slow the spoilage of their excess foods. (Food Preservation) It was not long after that humans began to experiment with preserving other foods using the cold. Early Pre-Colombian natives in Bolivia and Peru stored and preserved potatoes in the icy upper reaches of the Andes Mountains. (Food Preservation) Several ancient societies discovered that not only did cold preserve plants, but it could also be used to keep meat from spoiling. Early Koreans and Japanese began dry freezing their excess fish in chilly high altitude regions. (Food Preservation) Another way that early humans utilized their natural environment to preserve foods is by drying them in the sun. (Food Preservation) Stone Age man had discovered how to dry meats, a process which would help them one day colonize the world. Dry meat and fish lasted longer than their fresh counterparts because the drying process removed most, if not all of, the water present in the food. Without water in the meat microbes could not break down the food, which would cause it to spoil. (Food Preservation) The last major innovation in food preservation which occurred prior to the advent of agriculture is the use of fire as a cooking agent. Cooking food, particularly meat, made it safer to eat and easier to digest because harmful microbes and enzymes were killed off. (Food Preservation) Yet another food preserving advancement brought about by fire was a process called smoking. This process had many of the same benefits as cooking the meat, it killed off harmful microbes within the food, and made digestion easier. (Food Preservation) Smoking meat and fish also greatly extended their shelf life, although not as much as drying.
With the development of agriculture and animal domestication, humans found themselves with a rather large surplus of food. Instead of disposing of the excess harvest people developed new ways of preserving their bounty. Native Americans developed ways of drying beans and grains so that they could store them for winter use. (Pelzer) In ancient Egypt, the preservation of grains took on a much more massive and impressive scale. At the time, Egypt was one of the largest kingdoms in the world, supporting a massive population. In order to supply the population with food, massive amounts of grains were grown. The Egyptian agricultural system was wholly reliant on the yearly flooding of the Nile. Usually, the Egyptians had a large surplus of grain after every harvest. Instead of disposing of it or selling it, the Egyptian rulers stored the excess grain in huge silos that were sealed off after the grains were dried. (The Food Timeline) In such a silo large amounts of grain could be kept in storage for years if necessary. (The Food Timeline) This large scale food preservation...