Thousands of years ago, ice and snow were the main cold sources used to cool drinking water. If you stayed in a region with freezing temperatures, you could store food for long periods of time, similar to how we use a freezer today. In areas where people had access to snow, they would simply leave containers outside to cool overnight. Cold drinks were very fashionable in the 1600s in parts of Europe. Drinks were cooled by rotating bottles of water in a saltpeter solution. In this solution, a chemical reaction occurs in which the heat is removed from the water. By the 17th century, they already discovered that this reaction could be used to make frozen drinks, which became extremely popular in France.
Drying and Smoking
Microorganisms need moisture to survive. So early on it was discovered that if you remove this water, fresh meat and vegetables will stay fresher for longer. Studies show that people have been drying (and sometimes smoking) meat for thousands of years. They also discovered that fire smoke would cause the meat to dry out faster, and had an additional antibacterial effect on the meat.
Another ingenious way of preserving food, fermentation has been around for thousands of years. Like many great inventions, it was probably discovered by accident. In grape juice left out for too long, microorganisms converted sugars into alcohol, and wine was created! Fermentation is not only used to preserve food, but it also makes it more nutritious. This is because the microorganisms responsible for fermentation, produce compounds that are beneficial for your health. Even today, nutritionists are telling us to eat more kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt.
This method was discovered when ancient cultures realized that fruits mixed with honey and stored in jars, stayed edible for a long time. Later the Romans modified this method by cooking the fruit and honey together, making what we call a jam (or jelly) today. In European countries that had more access to sugar than honey, sugar was substituted to make jam, but it had the same outcome. Fruits could therefore be stored for longer. This was especially useful in the colder European climates, where there wasn’t enough sunlight to dry fruits.
These are just a few of the many methods used to preserve food without refrigeration. Because of these ancient food preservation discoveries, we can enjoy a great variety of foods today. By inventing these methods out of necessity, we now have access to jams (jellies), yogurt, cheese, and even beer! All because our forefathers were innovative in preserving food for longer!