www.blog.fooducate.com - August 20th, 2012
The term “processed food” has gotten a bad rap in the last few years. We are told to buy unprocessed foods because they contain less chemicals, because they are natural and healthy for us. At worst a food product should be minimally processed.
But what exactly is processed food? And is a processed food bad for you by default?
What you need to know:
Food processing is a set of methods and techniques used to transform raw food ingredients into consumable food. Food processing can be as simple as cutting up some vegetables to prepare a salad, or as complex as manufacturing a Twinkie in multiple processing facility.
From the early days of food processing, the primary goal was to extend the life of a foodstuff, by acting as a preservative. This helped balance humans’ need to eat daily with nature’s trend to provide crops only during certain times of the year. To this day, extending shelf life is one of the most important reasons food manufacturers add so many weird sounding ingredients to products.
One of the first forms of food processing, dating back to BC, was the salting of meats as a means of preservation. Sugar was introduced much later as a preservative for fruit, and thus the jam was born. Keeping food cold, either underground, or by using ice, was an effective, if primitive method of preservation until the ascent of ice boxes and recently electrical refrigeration.
In the early 19th century, a new technology was introduced to vacuum bottles of food for French troops. It would lead to the use of tin cans a decade later and thus the canning industry was born.
Pasteurization, another French invention from the mid 19th century, greatly improved the safety of milk and milk products, as well as increasing their shelf life. (We won’t get into the raw milk debate in this post).