Food processing has been around since the time of the cavemen when our ancestors foraged for food and used techniques to prolong its shelf life. To illustrate, meat and berries were left to dry in the sun, so they won’t spoil easily and can be enjoyed for a longer period of time. Food processing is a set of methodologies and techniques that convert and transform raw agricultural products into food for consumption.
Types of Food Processing
There are two types of food processing known as primary and secondary processing. Primary processing is the transformation of raw materials into food commodities. For instance, rice grains produced by farm work in Western Australia are milled to take out the exterior husk; and then these are sold in bags in the grocery stores. Secondary processing entails the conversion of ingredients into edible products, either by mechanical or chemical means.
These methods are commonly used for commercial purposes because they provide huge profit margins for food manufacturers. However, food processing can also be done in the comforts of your own home kitchen because the process saves you money and is very easy to do. In fact, you’re most likely doing some form of food processing already, such as chopping, mixing, and cooking, so adding a few extra-steps would not be burdensome. Here are seven procedures which you can easily do at home:
Freezing is by far the most underrated but most popular food processing technique that anyone can do in their homes. This preserves food by dropping its temperature which impedes the growth of microorganisms. Just about anything can be frozen from fruits, veggies, meat, and even cooked food. The key is packaging them well without air, so ice crystals will not develop.
As an example, fruits such as strawberries or blueberries freeze well. Just put them on a tray with enough space within each piece, so they won’t clump together, and place in the freezer. Once frozen, put them in storage bags to be used for later consumption. Meats can be vacuum packed to prevent freezer burns. Put the meat in a ziplock bag, submerge it in water being careful not to let it in the bag, push out all the air, and then seal it. Freezing decelerates the breakdown of food by turning its residual moisture into ice.
This is an easy method that needs jars, rims, and lids to preserve various types of food like: whole fruits, jams, jellies, pie fillings, chutneys, sauces, salsa, tomatoes, and the like. All it takes is filling the jars with hot food, sealing them with a lid and rim, and then submerging these jars in a pot of boiling water that is set to 180 degrees Celsius. The rapid boiling water kills any bacteria, allowing you to enjoy your food longer.
This involves extracting moisture from food, thereby inhibiting the growth of microorganisms. This is one of the oldest methods of food processing that was utilized even by the prehistoric people. Fishermen in the remote islands, without access to electricity and chemicals, rely heavily on this process. They salt their catch and leave the fish to dry in the sun. One such example is the delicacy called bacalao or salted dried cod fish, which is popular in Puerto Rico, Spain, and the Philippines.
Nowadays, there are dehydrating machines available in the market to make the process easier for your homes. If you don’t have this fancy contraption, then your microwave and oven can also work, but you have to research how long the food can stay inside because the drying period varies depending on the item. There are many other products, which can be dehydrated such as: meat like beef jerky, appales, bananas, blueberries, zucchini, and the like.
This is a process that uses an acid to lengthen the lifespan of the food. Pickling with vinegar has been around for centuries because it is the simplest way to process and preserve food. The reason it is effective is the high PH balance or acidity level, which deters the growth of bacteria. In fact, many pickled food items can last for years without any refrigeration. A perfect example of this would be the ever popular pickles, which this process is named after. Good pickling vinegars are distilled white vinegar, malt vinegar, and apple cider vinegar. Foods to pickle are: radishes, cucumbers, carrots, red onions, asparagus, jalapeno, green beans, and the like.
Fermentation is an amazing natural metabolic process using microbes, which helps make food more long-lasting, digestible, nutritious, and flavorful. There are 3 types of fermentation:
- Lactic acid: This is when yeasts and bacteria converts sugars and starches into lactic acid. Examples are kimchi, yoghurt, sourdough bread, and sauerkraut.
- Ethyl alcohol: The pyruvate molecules in starches or sugar are broken down by yeast into alcohol and carbon dioxide molecules. This produces products like wine and beer
- Acetic acid: This is the fermentation of starches or sugars from grains or fruits into sour tasting vinegar and condiments. To illustrate apple cider vinegar is converted from apple cider juice.
All three processes may have differing components but one thing is the same, these cultured or fermented food items are broken down by microbes. Items like yogurt, kimchi, and sourdough bread can be easily processed in your own kitchen without a need for any special contraptions.
A method developed by Louis Pasteur, this process involves applying mild heat, usually 100 degrees Celsius, to kill pathogens and extend shelf life. Products like milk, fruit juice, and cheeses go through this, so the risk of spoilage will be minimized. Only heat is applied and no other ingredient making the food items enduring the process totally safe. Unfiltered raw items can contain harmful bacteria, which have the potential of causing food borne illness when ingested. Apart from preservation, this pasteurizing method is a part of the food safety system to safeguard the health of consumers. It can be easily done at home on your stove with basic pots and pans.
This is a chemical process that makes two or more immiscible ingredients combine into a permanently mixed solution. A perfect example of these two immiscible ingredients is water and oil. Emulsification is achieved by adding an ingredient which stabilizes the mixture. This ingredient is called an emulsifier. In most commercial processes, this emulsifier is a product called lecithin.
In your own kitchen, you can easily make your own emulsion out of egg yolk, oil, and lemon. Combine them all together through vigorous mixing. The finished product is an emulsion called mayonnaise. And here’s the thing: fresh homemade mayo is so much better tasting than the store bought, commercial kind; and it is cheaper too. The latter is one of the main purposes of processing any type of food product in your home.
Aside from being cheaper, processing your own food guarantees that the items you will eat are safer and healthier because you know without an iota of doubt that the handling procedures in your own kitchen are hygienic.