As long ago as 12,000 B.C., ancient peoples living in the Middle East were preserving food. It’s a practice that has shown up in almost every culture throughout our history.
It’s not hard to figure out why. Food begins to rot from the moment it’s harvested. If we hadn’t discovered ways to keep it edible longer, it would’ve been impossible to survive.
Techniques for preserving food have changed over the centuries, but the importance and the benefits of it are still the same. From making jam to preserving meat, read our guide for the top three tips on preserving food.
- Food Preservation Technique Is Key
While it might seem like some preserved foods are easier to simply pick up at the store, preserving food can also be done at home. It’s all about choosing the right technique for the item you want to preserve.
The choice can make a big difference. Some foods just don’t match well with some preservation methods. But given that there are so many different techniques, you’re sure to find one that works for you and your pantry.
This is the technique of preserving food that you’re probably most familiar with. It’s the most common these days, given that nearly everyone has a freezer. If not two!
Freezing is easy and versatile and can be as simple as tossing in that container of berries when it’s just on the edge of going bad. It works for many different foods, though, from meat to dairy to fruits and vegetables.
Some foods that freeze well are:
- Fruits such as berries, stone fruits, and bananas
- Substantial vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and carrots
- All varieties of winter squash
- Chopped herbs
- Proteins such as red meat, poultry, seafood, and tofu
- Dairy and eggs
Dehydrating is one of the oldest and one of the easiest ways of preserving food. Thousands of years ago, people were using the sun to dry their food. Now, you can use the best dehydrator for jerky to dry your meats, fruits, and herbs right in your own kitchen.
It definitely beats having your oven on for hours or letting your food sit outside in the sun.
It’s as easy as setting the right temperature and the right time. Otherwise, dehydrating is a completely hands-off method of preserving food. It’s a great way to turn vegetables into crunchy snacking chips or fruits into sweet, chewy leathers. It’s also a good technique for preserving meat.
There are a couple of different canning methods, including water bath canning and pressure canning.
Water bath canning tends to be more accessible to the average home cook since it doesn’t require major equipment. It’s mostly used for acidic foods. If you’ve got a large stockpot and a canning rack, you’re able to water bath can. This is a great method for making jams, jellies, salsas, canned fruit, and homemade pie fillings.
Pressure canning can come with a bit of apprehension, but when you know what you’re doing, you’re much less likely to accidentally cause an explosion with your pressure canner. This can be a good method to have in your back pocket because there are some foods that wouldn’t be safe to can using a water bath due to their acidity.
- Meat and poultry
- Root vegetables
- Winter squashes
- Sauces that include a variety of meat and/or vegetable ingredients
Fermentation is a method of preserving food that relies on bacteria growth. Some worry that this bacteria makes the food go bad, but it actually is what helps keep the food fresh and, in some cases, increases flavor.
The bacteria produce lactic acid, which is actually one of many natural preservatives for food. Fermentation is what brings us everything from beer to yogurt to sauerkraut. Fermented foods are also full of probiotics, which are great for our digestive systems.
This is a great at-home method for preserving food because it doesn’t require much equipment. All you need are some jars, some cheesecloth, and some way to keep the food beneath the liquid in the jars.
- Keep Everything Clean When Preserving Food
No matter what method of food preservation you choose, it’s important to make sure everything is clean when you get started. Make sure that not only the food you’ll be preserving is clean, but that everything else is too. That means your prep space, as well as your tools and equipment.
If you’re preserving several different types of food, be aware of preventing cross-contamination. If you’re working with both produce and meat products, this is especially important to prevent any food-borne illnesses.
Cleaning and peeling your fruits and vegetables is an important preparation step. This way, you remove as much dirt and bacteria as possible, and decrease the risks of spoiling.
- Mind the Temperature
Because preserving food is all about keeping it fresh and edible, it’s crucial to be aware of the temperature. This counts for both the preservation process and storage.
Jars get quite hot while canning, and it’s important to let them cool completely and leave them alone for 12 to 24 hours. This will help ensure that the jars have been sealed properly.
When it comes to freezing and other storage, obviously temperature is vital. A packed freezer will stay cold longer if the power goes out. In general, the temperature should always be set to zero degrees Celsius.
Canned goods should be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight.
Preserving Food Like a Kitchen Pro
Now with these techniques and these tips about food preservation, you’re all set for making jam and preserving meat like a professional. You’ll be canning and stocking your pantry in no time.
Preserving food is just one way to get the most out of your kitchen. Check out some of our other Tips blog posts to learn even more tricks you can start implementing at home.