From air-drying to canned preserves, all the details about the history of preserves.
With this article, TERRA Food-Tech® we aim to explain how it was possible to ensure that perishable foods could be made safe for consumption for varying lengths of time.
Furthermore, we will also share with you the origin of canning and autoclaving, which are essential for the commercialization of these types of food. Before the discovery of the negative impact that microorganisms play into altering food, it was not known that pasteurization and sterilization could eliminate them. It is truly amazing, isn’t it?
Origin of canning
It is well established that humans have always been concerned with preserving food. As early as the prehistoric period, outdoor drying was used to preserve meat from hunted animals, as well as plants and roots that were collected. In ancient times, the first techniques of salting and smoking were developed by the Egyptians. Subsequently, it was discovered that ingredients such as honey, sugar, vinegar, fat, or oil helped to keep food in good condition, leading to the creation of jams, pickled foods, or condiments.
Invention of canning
The first steps were taken in 1679 with the steam digester developed by the French physicist Denis Papin, which was designed to extract fats from bones in a high-pressure steam environment. The truth is that we must go back to the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century to speak about the development of food preservation with absolute certainty.
It all started when Napoleon Bonaparte offered a great prize to the person who could find a way to preserve food for a long period of time so that the food carried by the French army would not end up rotting and/or making the soldiers sick.
The winner of this prize was Nicolas Appert, a French master confectioner and cook, who in 1809 presented his invention of placing food in glass bottles covered with cork stoppers, fastened with wire and sealed with sealing wax and then placing said bottles in boiling water for a period of time.
Years later, Philippe de Girand, a French engineer, invented tinplate containers to preserve food. However, it was the Englishman Peter Durand who filed the first patent for this new material in 1810.
The following year, the engineer Bryan Donkin bought that patent and inaugurated the first canning factory in England. And, at the same time, the first factory of this type was also founded in the United States.
Evolution of canning
In 1860, it was discovered that water could be brought to a boil at 115°C in an open bath, thanks to Isaac Solomon who added calcium chloride (CaCl2) to the cooking water. This increase in temperature caused several containers to break due to the high internal pressure.
But, two years later, Louis Pasteur, a French scientist, improved Nicolas Appert’s invention, known as “Appertization”, giving rise to Pasteurization, which is the thermal treatment carried out at temperatures equal to or lower than 100ºC.
With this discovery, basic food products such as milk could begin to be transported over long distances without being affected by decomposition. This improved the quality of life for people as it reduced food poisoning caused by pathogens.
And in 1875 A.K. Shriver developed the first autoclave, which was hermetically sealed during thermal treatment and allowed for the pressure and temperature of the water to be raised and even regulated.
Additionally, William Lyman Underwood, the director of the canning company William Underwood Co. in Massachusetts, sought the assistance of Samuel Cate Prescott from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1895 with the aim of reducing or eliminating the unpleasant odor in their canned clam products.
After extensive research, they discovered that millions of bacteria were thriving on these bivalve mollusks, despite the thermal treatments used. Their daily experiments showed that these spores were capable of surviving even 24 hours of continuous boiling water. Determined to attack the spores from all angles, they tracked the source of infection to the estuary areas. After several tests, they found that the application of pressurized steam at 120°C killed bacteria within 10 minutes.
Twenty-four years later, José Álix Martínez, from Zaragoza, patented the pressure cooker. This was a clear improvement over its predecessors, both Denis Papin’s steam digester and other large, ground-fixed North American patents from the early 20th century.
However, in 1920 Bigelow proposed a new way of calculating the lethality provided by the temperature reached by the food during the whole sterilization process, based on the data and the graph of the heat penetration curve inside the food. This invention was key in determining the necessary times and temperatures to eradicate the proliferation of potential microorganisms in packaged products.
And in the middle of the same century, advances in the food industry allowed the development of additives that did not add nutritional value to the food but increased its shelf life by reducing the rate of deterioration. In addition, preservatives appeared, with currently over 5,000 registered substances.
It is also noteworthy that at the end of the century, the food industry decided to investigate new packaging to distribute canned foods. It was then that the tetra-brik appeared and the use of less polluting and biodegradable plastic polymers was also boosted.
History of canning in chronological order
To give you a clearer understanding of the entire evolution, we have included a timeline of the most relevant dates and information in the history of canning:
The current state of canned foods.
At present, the food industry continues to investigate and work on new possibilities for preservation. The sector dedicated to this purpose has progressed to unsuspected limits. Today, not only large companies have access to this type of business. Now small producers, chefs and cooks can dedicate themselves to the production of gourmet preserves and/or prepared meals, thanks to professional sterilizers, such as TERRA Food-Tech® autoclaves.
If you are professionally engaged in the commercialization of gourmet preserves and prepared dishes, you will know the importance of all these advances in ensuring the safety of your products and prolonging their shelf life.
And, if you are considering making your own preserves, TERRA Food-Tech® would like to offer you all our support and expertise. “Therefore, in addition to providing useful information and practical tips for making preserves, we offer our technical service and food advisory, we explain the experience of other entrepreneurs like you, and we want to help you by giving you a guide that will be extremely useful with the 5 steps to create your own preserves business.