Food Security: Why Food Preservation Is An Essential Skill

Food security means different things to different people. For some of us, being food secure means having a few months’ supplies of food in the pantry ready for whatever might happen (such as a job loss or a global shortage), and for others, it means learning how to cook and preserve food for our family’s future.

In this post, we’re going to look at a hybrid model of food security with food preservation and explore why being able to preserve food is an essential skill for these troubled times we find ourselves in.

Why Is Food Preservation An Essential Skill?

To get to the heart of the matter, food preservation is an essential skill to learn because it will allow you to build your pantry with high quality, nutritious and tasty food that will last longer than fresh food. This allows you to shop less (saving you money) and to waste less food than you may have otherwise done.

You can also easily integrate food preservation into other types of food preparation, such as adding dehydrated greens to your regular food and drink (think green smoothies) for an added boost of nutrition.

Finally, a great part of the history and culture of our world involves food preservation. From ancient civilizations that dried or salted their food for storage to the Native Americans who used smokehouses for preserving meat and fish over winter.

Being able to preserve your food will allow you to explore new tastes and discover new foods that you would never have sampled otherwise.

Food Preservation Methods

Food preservation is a big topic, but very broadly the most popular methods of home preservation include canning, dehydrating, making preserves (jams, jellies, pickles, and chutneys), fermenting and freezing.

Except for canning, the above methods of food preservation are all fairly low-cost and can be done at home without a lot of expensive equipment or knowledge.

Here’s a quick overview of the at-home food preservation methods most commonly used,

Canning

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Canning is a method of preserving food by putting it in an airtight, waterless sealed container and sealing the jar with a lid. Canned foods do not require using any additional ingredients or seasonings.

Examples of foods preserved in sealed jars include jam, jelly, condensed soup in a jar, tomatoes, fruit preserves in a jar, pickles in a jar and salsa. For more advanced canning fans, it is possible to can meat for long-term food storage too.

Drying/Dehydrating

Drying is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. It is done by removing the moisture from food. When you dehydrate food, the food is gently heated to remove the moisture.

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There are different levels of dehydration depending on the use you have for your food. For a powder, for example, onion powder, all moisture needs to be removed before the food is ground into a powder. For fruit leather, the fruit doesn’t need quite as much dehydration.

Dehydrated foods are usually more healthy than canned foods since canning adds salt and sugar to improve flavour. Dehydrated foods are usually more nutritious too since they contain all of their vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that leech out into the water when fresh fruits or vegetables are boiled or cooked for preservation.

Jams, Jellies, and Chutneys

Jams, jellies and chutneys are all made from a base of fruit or fruit juice that has been cooked until it softens and concentrates into a thick sauce. Some of the most popular preserves include apple butter, raspberry jam, peach jam, apricot jam, cherry jam and raspberry jam.

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Preserves are very sweet, they are heated to a high temperature for short periods with sugar (usually 50/50 sugar to fruit for jams) and added pectin to allow the preserve to set.

Chutneys are slightly different but still follow the same guidelines. The ingredients must be heated to a thick sauce before being transferred to hot sterilised jars for preservation.

A chutney is traditionally a flavoured or fruit/vegetable-based sauce and contains vinegar and spice. This can be used as an ingredient to dishes (for example, adding mango chutney to curry dishes) or as an addition to a dish, such as using caramelised red onion chutney with cheese.

Pickles

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Making pickles is a very simple process. It is done by slicing a known quantity of vegetables (cucumbers and onions are most popular) and placing them in a jar with a solution of water, salt and sugar or vinegar. The jars are sealed and left to sit for a period of time (usually for between 3-10 days).

Depending on the food, pickles can last for months if not years before they are opened.

In England, pickled onions and pickled hard-boiled eggs are very popular and can be found as popular bar snacks in village pubs.

Almost any vegetable can be pickled, but some pickle better than others. Pickles are generally fairly safe to make and eat, but caution must be taken around homemade pickles.

Fermenting

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Fermentation is a popular choice of food preservation because it is very easy to do and adds good bacteria to your diet. Fermenting is possibly one of the oldest forms of food preservation and can be used to preserve a huge array of food, as well as to create alcoholic drinks such as beers, wines, and ciders which all rely on the fermentation process.

Fermentation can also be used to preserve dairy products such as yoghurt, buttermilk, cheese and butter.

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Fermented vegetables/meats which include sauerkraut and kimchi can be aged for 5 to 7 days before they’re consumed, but it is possible to age these foods to such an extent that they’re edible (and good!) for many months.

Fermenting foods into alcohol takes a little more work (and a high level of cleanliness) but the results can be great! Home preservers can easily create very drinkable wines, beers, and ciders out of fruit and vegetable scraps in as little as two weeks.

Freezing

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Freezing is an incredibly easy method of food preservation and probably the one method that practically everyone does without considering it as “food preservation”.

Freezing is the process of placing freshly picked or harvested produce in a freezer or cooler to freeze them. Freezing can be done on the farm, at home, or in a commercial freezer.

Freezing preserves food by drastically reducing the spoiling time, but freezing food doesn’t work overly well for very long-term storage. Freezing can help to preserve some foods that are highly perishable for up to 3-6 months, but it really can’t be done for more than this.

Learning To Preserve Food

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If you are interested in learning more about preserving food at home, there are lots of free resources available online which are worth checking out.

Start with the basic and easy preservation methods, like freezing and dehydrating, and work your way up to the more complicated methods such as making preserves.

Project Gutenberg hosts a lot of out-of-copyright books on preserving food and medicine, while the National Center for Home Food Preservation is a wealth of resources.

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