Food pests

Houseguests who nobody wants
The favoured haunts of food pests
are cereal products. more...

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For hundreds of years we have been preserving food to make it last longer. Different methods of preservation alter the structure and content of food in different ways. On the one hand these changes are desirable in order to make the food last, but on the other hand the associated loss of aroma and nutrients in the form of vitamins is unwanted, although unavoidable. The benefits of a long shelf life have to be weighed against the benefits of retaining the food’s nutrients. Here are some ways of preserving food:

 

Drying and desiccating: When food is dried, the moisture is removed from it in a way that does not impair the product’s quality. Bacteria which cause the food to decay and mould fungi need water to survive, so this effectively kills them off. Due to their high water content, fruit and vegetables shrink considerably when dried. If stored correctly, desiccated goods will keep for up to a year. In addition, drying intensifies the aroma of most foods, so fruit tastes sweeter, mushrooms and some herbs more flavoursome. Some vitamins are lost during drying, but minerals are retained. Dried food takes up less space in the pantry and is ready to use at any time. Herbs and mushrooms can even be dried well enough outside on hot summer days, but the heat of the sun alone is not sufficient when it comes to drying fruit and vegetables. These foods must be dried in an oven or a desiccating machine, where the drying temperature is between 50 and 70°C. The long drying time (10 to 35 hours) means that, if you want to dry large quantities of food or to carry out the process on a regular basis, it is advisable to purchase an appropriate machine, since drying in a conventional oven consumes enormous amounts of energy.

 

Lactic acid pickling: Preserving food by means of lactic acid fermentation is a practice that goes right back to the Ancient Romans. It can be used to make vegetables last for a long period of time, whilst also preserving essential micro-nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and trace elements. This method inhibits practically all spoilage microbe activity or even kills them off completely. The process of fermentation also creates vitamin B12; this is an important agent in the formation of blood and is not present in fresh vegetables. Types of vegetable that are suitable for lactic acid fermentation include cauliflower, white cabbage, Savoy cabbage, green beans, broccoli, cucumber, squash, kohlrabi, leek and carrot. Lactic acid fermentation also plays an essential role when baking sourdough bread or maturing raw sausage products such as salami.

 

Vacuum packing or shrink wrapping: A relatively new method of preservation is shrink wrapping or vacuum packing using a sealing machine. Fruit, vegetables, sausages, meat and baked goods can be stored for four to six weeks at a temperature of below 10°C, preferably in the fridge. Vacuum packing is simply a method of making food last in the short term, but it does have the advantage of extending the life of delicate foods such as fatty meat, raspberries or tomatoes, which are not suitable for freezing. With a little practice, it is easy to get the hang of shrink wrapping. You put the food you want to store in a suitable film bag and insert the edge of the film into the entry slot on the machine. The machine sucks the air out of the bag and seals the film at the same time, thus creating a vacuum. Although this method of preservation is simple to master, it does require that you buy a special sealing machine.

 

Preservation methods go hand in hand with the different types of stock-keeping. They are divided into physical methods (drying, bottling/canning, sterilising/pasteurising, vacuum packing, freezing, chilling, laying in sand, irradiation) and chemical methods such as curing, smoking, pickling (using vinegar, oil, fat, lactic acid, lime water), salting, pressing, fermenting and adding sugar.

Of course, not all of these methods are suitable for a domestic setting. Some of them are now primarily used on an industrial scale and are more a part of our cultural past than anything else, as there is simply no need to preserve food in such ways any longer. Nowadays, other methods, such as freezing meat instead of smoking it, are more practical and make more sense from a nutritional point of view.

However, different preservation methods do lend food different tastes and aromas, enabling you to bring variety into meals that consist of exactly the same foods.