The ability to preserve food from one harvest to another has been vital to the development of civilization and has played a very important role in discovery and survival. Methods of food preservation, in one form or another, have been employed for thousands of years and are usually defined as a procedure that delays spoilage and makes food items available for consumption at a later date. Often the food item can be eaten without further preparation as, for example, when the inhabitants of the hot dry desert areas used to bury dates, figs, and grapes in the hot dry sands to dehydrate them. With partial removal of water, the sugar content of the fruit was high enough to prevent the growth of microorganisms, and the fruit would keep for long periods of time. The fruit could be consumed at a later date without the need for further processing. A number of other technologies were also developed to accomplish this. These include simple dehydration, chemical preservation, pickling, fermentation, canning, freezing, and, more recently, a number of more-sophisticated approaches such as irradiation, hypobaric applications, pulsed light, and so on. All of these were concerned with processing food in a manner that would make it edible at a later date. But with the increasing importance of food fabrication, another concept emerged. Food commodities were essential as ingredients in many formulated foods, and a need arose to have food ingredients available in a "biologically stable form" for future formulation. With the limited harvesting schedules available for many fruits and vegetables, it was economically prohibitive to install sufficient formulation equipment to make all the desired product at time of harvest. The manufactures wanted stable ingredients such that they could run their formulation lines on a year-round basis. The following passages describe some food commodities available in biologically active form that are not usually consumed in that form.
Nature has provided many foods in a biologically stable form. The most obvious example is cereal grains. It is no surprise that cereal grains became the main source of food for humans from the dawn of civilization. Cereal grains, when properly matured, dried, and stored under good conditions, will last almost forever. They are subject to loss from insects, birds, and animals but seldom from microorganisms. Cereal grains are the ideal biologically stable food, but they do require processing such as grinding, soaking, and cooking prior to consumption. Many vegetables are normally biologically stable. Root crops such as potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, and beets can be stored throughout the winter season. The early settlers in New England depended on storage of root crops in "root cellars," which were simply excavations in the side of a hill, to store root vegetables and cabbage over the winter. The natural humidity of the earthen surroundings in the cave provided sufficient moisture to prevent dehydration and also sufficient insulation to maintain a cool storage temperature without freezing. The availability of these vegetables in the winter months led to the development of the well-known "New England boiled dinner" (1), which was composed of potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, turnips, parsnips, and chunks of meat, usually corned beef, but sometimes salt pork or codfish. Very few fruits are biologically stable, with the possible exception of the banana. Bananas are the world's largest fresh fruit crop. Its popularity, aside from its delicious flavor, may be partially due to the fact that it requires a three-week ripening period after harvesting, which was long enough to allow bananas to be shipped by boat from the tropical producing areas to nearly all parts of the world. The central Asian nomads had their own biologically stable food. They simply opened a vein in their horse's neck and drank the blood (2). In the following examples, biologically stable foods will be confined to those that are processed to form an intermediate commodity that is not normally consumed as such and requires further processing into a consumer item.
Was this article helpful?