10 Ways Of Preserving Food To Save Money
In this article we look at the 10 different ways of preserving food to help reduce waste and save money. We are seeing food preservation make a real comeback with everyone spending more time at home.
Do you remember when pantries were stocked with homemade goodies like jams, pickles and cured bacon? Home food preservation began because it was essential for survival, but that is definitely not the case today!
We rely heavily on chemicals and artificial additives to preserve food for our convenience. However, knowing the negative effects chemical preservatives have on our health we are looking at ways to live cleaner.
Wanting to get back to clean living has inspired many to relearn the old ways of preserving food at home. The good news for us all is that there are now many machines that can at least partly automate these processes.
When you are just starting out and learning the techniques of home food preservation it can seem a little daunting. After all, there are so many ways of preserving food that even choosing the best technique for a particular food group can make your head hurt.
Therefore, we have come up with a detailed guide to show you all the different ways of preserving food at home.
What is Food Preservation?
Food preservation is used to slow down or stop processes that cause food to spoil. This will happen if food is exposed to bacteria or other micro-organisms, in high humidity and even just over time.
Subsequently, the way that food preservation works is to alter these processes or avoid them altogether.
Preserving should retain the foods flavor, texture and nutritional value and prevent any food-borne or air-borne contamination.
These Ways Of Preserving Food Will:
1. Increase self-sufficiency:
Preserving any excess harvest from your gardens and local markets can keep you self-sufficient during lean times. If you don’t have a lot of space, team up with neighbours to create a common garden.
Growing your own fruit and vegetables is cost effective and preserving stops wastage of food.
2. Enjoy chemical-free food:
When you practice home food preservation you are aware of exactly what is going into the final product.
This means you can avoid consuming harmful chemical additives and preservatives.
Enjoy safe, healthy and nutritious seasonal varieties of your favorite produce all year long.
3. Reduce your environmental footprint:
Store-bought food and non-degradable plastic packaging go hand in hand. As you become more self-sufficient you will certainly be using less of these.
With less trips to the supermarket you save money by not buying un-necessary items and also on packaging. Think of all the landfill space you will be saving.
In short, if you’re looking to live more sustainably then home food preservation is a great way to do it.
4. Support your local community:
You will be supporting local businesses and nearby farmers by buying their seasonal produce. Shopping local not only helps the community, you build relationships and know exactly where your food has come from.
To summarize the above, you can lead a healthier more self-sufficient lifestyle if you invest time to preserve your own food.
How Does Food Preservation Work?
Food spoils due to a combination of factors such as:
- Growth and activity of microorganisms like bacteria, yeast, funghi and mold.
- Chemical reactions causing oxidation of fats making food become rancid.
- Weather conditions of temperature, moisture and light which may increase microbial growth.
Here Are 10 Different Ways Of Preserving Food
You now understand what preserving food is and why you should look to do some food preservation at home.
Let’s explore the many different ways of preserving food to see which will best suit your needs.
1. Home Canning For Food Preservation
Introduced in the 1800’s by the French cook Nicholas Appert, the canning method preserves food through a combination of
- Packing: Food is packed into special canning jars.
- Heating: Jars are heated to a high temperature to destroy microorganisms and render enzymes inactive. Air within the jar is pushed out.
- Sealing: As the jar cools a vacuum is formed inside sealing the jar and preserving its contents.
Using this way of preserving food your products will usually have a shelf-life of at least a year.
There are two different types of canning methods and which one you use will depend on the type of food you are preserving.
Water Bath Canning
In this method food is cooked at low temperatures for a long time. It is ideal for preserving high acidic foods (with a pH of 4.5 or lower) such as fruits, pickled vegetables, salsas, jams and jellies.
Do not use this technique to preserve meat, poultry, fish or low acidic vegetables.
To preserve using the water bath canning method you will need:
- A large stockpot.
- A canning rack which is placed inside the pot to keep the jars from touching the bottom.
- Mason jars and seals.
- Canning tools including a ladle, jar lifter, tongs and a funnel.
For easier food preservation use a water bath canner which has a built-in canning rack.
Pressure canning is suited for preserving low acidic foods. These include root vegetables, winter squash, legumes, meat, poultry and seafood.
A specialized canner is required and preserves food at high temperature (240 degree Fahrenheit) and pressure.
When using a pressure canner for food preservation, make sure you follow all instructions carefully. If this method is not carried our properly there can be a risk of botulism poisoning.
Tips for Canning Food At Home
- Use fresh produce and avoid any that are bruised or overripe.
- When filling jars leave a little space between the food and the rim as it helps with sealing.
- As you remove the jars from the canner check for a popping sound indicating that the jar is properly sealed
- Once jars have cooled check the seal by pressing the center of the lid. If it pops up and down the jar has not properly sealed and will need to be re-processed.
2. Dehydrators Are Easy Ways Of Preserving Food
The dehydrating method of food preservation is easiest using a special home food dehydrator. This process uses a steady airflow and low heat to draw out water from the produce.
With no water left it creates an unfavorable environment for microbial growth.
Drying food is one of the simplest ways of preserving food and there is no risk of developing food poisoning. You can dehydrate fruits and vegetables, spices, meat and fish.
- Solar dehydrators – a mini tabletop greenhouse powered by solar energy.
- Electric dehydrators – use fans and heating elements to efficiently dehydrate food. Some have temperature gauges and adjustment dials to speed up or slow down drying time depending on the type of produce.
Food is sliced and placed on racks, mesh screens or strung on lines then put out in the sun to dry.
This technique can be used anywhere with a temperature of above 86 degrees Fahrenheit and under 60% humidity.
Remember to put a cover on to deter flies and other insects.
Hang Drying or Air Drying
Done in the shade and best for drying herbs and other vegetables that require protection from the sun.
Place prepared food on baking sheets and use your own oven to slowly dry it out.
Oven drying requires a temperature of around 140 degrees Fahrenheit so make sure that your oven can go that low. You don’t want to end up cooking your food!
This way of preserving food is not very efficient and prolonged use of the oven can make your house very hot. So remember to open your doors and windows.
Using this method of food preservation you store dried food in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.
Tips for Dehydrating
- Ensure you use the right temperatures. Too low will not dehydrate the food properly and you will see mold after some time. Too high a temperature can cause “case-hardening” when the exterior of food hardens quickly and prevents proper internal drying.
- Ensure that food is at least 95 percent dehydrated before storing.
- Increase efficiency by warming the dehydrator in advance. Slice produce to the same size and thickness and dehydrating items with the same drying temperature and times.
- Avoid dehydrating items with high fat content like dairy, avocados and fatty cuts of meat.
3. Smoking Is An Ancient Method Of Food Preservation
Smoking can be used for cooking, preserving and to enhance the flavor meat, poultry and seafood.
It preserves food through use of:
- Heat – which lowers the moisture content in food.
- Smoke – which uses formaldehyde and alcohols with preservative properties.
Historically, the smoking process used wood from fruit trees (cherry or peach) and hardwoods (hickory, oak or maple.) Sometimes charcoal was used in smokehouses to prolong shelf life and infuse flavor.
In modern times we have electrical smokers that have completely automated the process of food smoking. They heat quickly to between 100 – 275 degrees Fahrenheit with insulated walls, a thermostat, timer and automatic shut-off feature.
There are two types of smoking techniques for food preservation.
Food is first salted, cured or fermented and then exposed to smoke for days or even weeks.
In cold smoking the meat is placed on racks in an enclosed box or chamber. Smoke is generated in a separate chamber and piped to the smoking box so that it is cool.
This ensures that smoke penetrates deep into the food without cooking it. Due care needs to be taken as conditions in the smoking box are often perfect for bacterial growth.
Often used for salami, smoked salmon, sausage, cheese and bacon.
Very different from cold smoking with regard to:
- Food placement – placed closer to the fire.
- Temperature – a higher temperature of 126 – 176 degrees Fahrenheit which cooks the food.
- Smoking time -much shorter.
4. Vacuum Sealing Is Quick And Simple
Use these machines to store meat, poultry and cheese for up to 6 months in the fridge or years in the freezer.
- Preserves food by creating an anaerobic environment to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.
- Protects food from freezer-burn which occurs due to food being dehydrated by coming into contact with cold air.
Food preserved by vacuum sealers will:
- Have a longer shelf-life. Up to 5 times more than storing in usual plastic bags. 2 – 5 years if frozen food is vacuum sealed. 1 – 2 weeks for fresh produce in the refrigerator as compared to 1-3 days.
- Taste better as all the juices and flavor are locked in by the sealing.
- Keep food safer and fresher as it prevents bacteria from causing food spoilage.
- Prevent oxidation of fats causing meat to go rancid.
- Slow down discoloration and development of bad odors.
5. Curing Is A Complex Way Of Preserving Food
Curing is a rather complex process. Mainly used for meat and fish this method uses either salt, sugar and nitrate or nitrite mixture, or a combination of these.
It may also include smoking to enhance the flavor of the food. When cured in a brine solution it is known as brining, wet-curing or pickling.
Curing allows food to be stored by creating a highly acidic environment.
This creates a chemical reaction called osmosis (water is drawn out from cells) which in turn destroys micro-organisms.
Salting is predominantly used to preserve meats: ham, bacon, salami, jerky and fish as well as herbs and citrus fruits.
Sugar helps to preserve jams and jellies.
6. Cool/Root Cellaring Preserves Shelf-Life
Storing food in cellars has been done since man began growing his own food. Even hunter-gatherers needed cool places to prolong the life of produce they had accummulated.
The simplest way of preserving food requires only a cold, dark space like a root cellar, cold pantry or icebox.
The low temperatures of root cellars preserve shelf-life by slowing down microbial activity.
Items such as root vegetables, cabbages, garlic, onions, apples, and salted or cured raw meat are commonly stored using this method.
7. Freezing Is Food Preservation Used In Every Home
We are all familiar with and use this technique in our homes to keep food longer. By creating low temperatures this method of food preservation helps slow down enzyme and microbial activity.
Prevent freezer-burns and increase shelf-life by vacuum sealing them before storage.
8. Freeze-Drying As A Way Of Preserving Food
Also known as lyophilization or cryodessication. Freeze-drying is a process of dehydrating frozen food under a vacuum. The moisture within the food converts directly into vapor via sublimation.
One of the more interesting ways of preserving food, it can be conducted in:
- Freezers, although it may take several weeks.
- Dry ice.
- Modern freeze-dryer units which are faster acting.
In freeze-drying the food maintains its original shape and size and undergoes very little cell rupturing. Re-hydrated quality is out-standing.
It can be used to preserve fruits and vegetables, meats and coffee.
9. Fermentation Creates Healthy And Tasty Produce
This technique has given us the many “live-culture foods” including yogurt, cheese, sourdough bread, kimchi and sauerkraut.
Let us also not forget it is essential for our much-loved wine, beer and other alcoholic beverages.
Fermentation is a natural chemical process and one of the fun ways of preserving food at home. Microorganisms (bacteria and yeast) convert carbohydrates (sugars and starch) in food to organic acids or alcohol.
Using anaerobic conditions the fermentation process is beneficial as it:
- Prolongs food life by creating lactic acid which acts as a preservative. This chemical is formed as a by-product of fermentation.
- Increases shelf life of low acidic foods by converting them into high acidic foods.
- Changes the texture and flavor of foods making them more nutritious, tasty and easier to digest.
- Is full of healthy probiotics to build good gut bacteria and improve our immunity and health.
10. Infusing For Food Preservation
Infusing has been around since the dark ages and has now become very chic!
An early food preservation method to store fruits and vegetables in alcohol or vinegar the process has had a recent increase in popularity.
Top chefs and bartenders have jumped on board and are creating their own unique infusions.
An infusion is the result of, and the process of, immersing food into a solvent such as water, vinegar, oil, alcohol, honey or glycerine.
After soaking for quite a long period of time the flavor and nutrients of the food transfer into the solution. This also works in reverse with the food taking in some of the solution.
Historically both the food product and the solution were consumed but these days it is more just the solution.
After infusion, the food product is removed and the solution or extract is used for cooking or medicinal purposes.
It must be emphasized that unlike other ways of preserving food, with infusion it is the properties that are being absorbed and preserved in the solvent.
Infusing solutions are commonly:
- Alcohol: Best suited to making extracts and for preserving high acidic fruits. It inhibits microbial growth by drawing out water from the produce. Take care to immerse only a small amount of the fruit in the alcohol.
- Vinegar: A preservative for vegetables and select fruits such as tomatoes in a highly acidic environment.
- Olive oil: A natural preservative creating a seal to slow oxidation of food. It is ideal for preserving vegetables, fish and dry herbs.
You can use this guide to help you navigate the world of food preservation. Take some time to enjoy learning and practicing the different ways of preserving food right in your own homes.