There was a time when most food had to be consumed as soon as it was picked or cooked. But today, the advent of food preservation has eliminated the whole notion of perishables.
A food preservative is as a natural or a synthetic substance that is added to food products to increase its longevity and protect it from decomposition and degeneration by micro organisms.
In today’s world of fast forward, food preservation is a concept that saves a lot of time and hassles for the new age nuclear families. Benefits of food preservation:
- Storing – The first and foremost advantage of using a food preservative is that the food can be stored for a long time and the perishable factor is removed, thus allowing us to widen the range of choices for our diet regardless of seasons.
- Transporting – Preserving food allows shipping and transfers of food products across long distances to places where there is shortage.
- Cost effectiveness – Food preservation increases the shelf life of the food product, hence reducing the production cost.
The process of food preservation consists of a lot of different methods and any one or combination of these processes can be used. The traditional way of preserving food was either dehydrating or freezing the food. Some of the other historic methods were burying the food in the ground or putting food into an earthen jar and covering it with a layer of fat, mainly meat. But these methods only preserved food temporarily.
The most common method used nowadays is adding food preservatives. A food preservative can be broadly classified into two categories:
- Natural ~ natural substances like salt, sugar and vinegar have been used as traditional preservatives for a long time, they not only preserve the food but also enhance the taste
- Synthetic ~ some of the commonly used preservatives are calcium propionate, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, sulfites and formaldehyde, these agents basically mitigate the oxidation of food particles and also prevent growth of micro organisms
Although the preservation of food has a lot of benefits, there are some doubts over the health effects of consuming too many synthetic food preservatives. Some of the problems related to preservation are:
- pre-existing respiratory problems ~ aggravation causing risk of fits & attacks
- coloring agents in a food preservative may increase the tendency of offensive & violent behavior
- several studies have reported increase in academic performance & decrease in disciplinary issues after removal of artificial preservatives from the diet
Looking back, natural food preservation has been around for a very long time. Our ancestors have been using food preservatives for centuries, although the use was not widespread and limited to a very few food products.