Natural Food Preservation is Possible With This Simple Method
Despite the importance and popularity of buying and eating locally grown foods, most of what we eat travels a long distance before it reaches our dinner plate. Preserving foods to maintain the integrity of freshness is a ritualistic necessity of industrialized foods. If you need to purchase food that’s traveling from miles away, what is the best preservation option to ensure the freshest foods that still adhere their nutrient profiles? Here’s a short history lesson before we delve into this question...
History of Food Preservation
Food preservation in centuries past was a necessity for survival during non-growing seasons. Ancestors across cultures had different ways of preserving food. Most of their preservation methods came from natural resources and processes that developed over time. Drying was a method often used by cultures in warmer climates. Cultures in the Orient and the Middle East dried their fish, wild game, fruits, and veggies in the hot sun. Freezing was also used in applicable geographical areas. Fermentation was accidentally discovered when microorganisms fermented the sugar and starches on food. To this day, the fermentation process remains the most valuable method of preservation. Not only does it preserve, it produces a more nutritious food. Additional methods of ancient preservation include pickling, curing, canning, and jams. (1)
Modern Preservation Methods
In many first world countries, we are no longer preserving our own personal harvest and game for survival during cold seasons. There are homesteading farms that do keep to the old ways of growing and preserving harvests, and homesteading is continually growing in popularity, but it is still only a small comeback so far. In the modern cultural climate, our food is mostly industrialized, manufactured, and increasingly globalized. The typical dinner plate can contain up to five foods that are indigenous to various countries and continents. So it must be preserved to primarily keep it fresh for storage, shipping, and distribution. Additional preservatives are usually added to maintain or create texture, color, and flavor. The preservatives used today are very different than the methods and processes of the past. Chemical food preservatives are the preferred choice to prevent the growth of microorganisms and keep them fresh until opened. Categories of Preservatives Preservatives are divided into two classes that include both natural and chemical preservatives.
- Class I – Natural preservatives
- Class II – Man-made/Synthetic chemical preservatives
- Antioxidants – Prevents oxidation. Examples are BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene, a synthetic chemical), Ascorbic Acid (Partial vitamin C, often lab-manufactured) and Rosemary Essential Oil (Natural).
- Antimicrobial – Prevents the growth of microorganisms. Examples are Rosemary essential oil (natural), Sodium Benzoate and Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA), both synthetic chemical preservatives
- Anti-enzymatic preservatives – Blocks the enzymatic processes that ripen fruit. For example, citric acid is used to prevent the browning of cut apples or potatoes. (2)
Natural Preservation Agents
Undoubtedly, natural preservatives are the best bet when it comes to avoiding the potential health concerns of synthetic chemical preservatives. Salt, vinegar, sugar, alcohol are all natural agents and methods that can be utilized. However, manufacturers of mainstream products typically choose synthetic preservatives for their reliability and inexpensive cost. When it comes to preserving perishables naturally, freeze-drying offers a wholesome option that respects the integrity of nourishing foods.
What is Freeze-Drying?
Freeze-drying, also called lyophilization, creates suspended animation in foods. It is a dehydration process that freezes perishable material and then reduces the surrounding pressure in a vacuum chamber to sublimate the frozen water directly to the gas phase.(3) Freeze-drying occurs in two stages. The first stage is the sublimation stage where the frozen water essentially skips the liquid phase and goes directly to the gas phase. The second stage is the evaporation stage or the desorption (drying) point.
The Advantages of Freeze-Drying
The advantages of freeze-dried foods are many. 98% of the water is removed making shipping inexpensive because of the low weight. Only the liquid is removed keeping all the enzymes in the food intact, in a suspended state. The enzymes are activated when water is returned to the food. Lyophilization also concentrates the material. You’re able to meet daily requirements of fruits and vegetables this way. Because the material is freeze-dried, no synthetic preservatives are needed as yeast and undesirable bacteria cannot survive in this state. Freeze-dried foods can last for years. Depending on the final packaging of freeze-dried material, food can last anywhere from a year to 25 years! The structure, taste, and color of lyophilized foods are essentially unchanged, making it a delicious and healthy alternative to chemically preserved products. It is a wonderful method to preserve high-quality foods that are organically grown in nutrient-rich soil, thus providing a wholesome end product.
The Disadvantages of Freeze-Drying
There are just a few disadvantages to freeze-drying foods. Not all foods can be processed this way. Fruits, veggies, coffee, and juices are some of the better choices. Freeze-drying is also an expensive and time-consuming process. The advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages when it comes to delivering a naturally preserved high-quality end-product. What do you think about lyophilization? Which foods do you prefer to consume freeze-dried?
1 - NCHFP - Historical Origins for Food Preservation
2 – Innovate Us – What Are Food Preservatives?
3 - Wikipedia - Freeze-Drying
Where to find high quality freeze-dried fruit? I highly recommend Healthy Traditions (formerly known as Tropical Traditions) as a long-time customer. Buy raw, freeze-dried fruits here.
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