Food additives can be a controversial topic, and some people claim to want their food “natural” or “like our ancestors ate.” The thing is, people have been using food additives long before they could be ordered from a food additives supplier! Fundamentally, human beings have always been looking for ways to extend the safe lifespan of their foods, and the practice of using additives as preservatives is far older than most people realize.
Food Additives Have Always Been Part of People’s Cuisine
So, when did people start using additives to preserve their food? We don’t even know – the history of additives goes back to the beginnings of recorded history. As far back as 3,000 BCE – the early bronze age – we know that there were trade caravans crisscrossing Asia and the Middle East, delivering spices and preservatives.
At the time, spices were one of the most common ways of preserving food. Indian curries, for example, were developed as a method of food preservation. While the people at that time did not know about disease, the extra-spicy sauces they developed turned out to inhibit the growth of micro-organisms. By accident, they discovered preservatives.
Another common preservation method available – possibly the first-ever method – was smoking. Smoked meat may be as old as fire.
Plus, of course, we can’t forget salt. Salt was and still is the most popular food additive and preservative. In ancient times, though, it wasn’t as common or easily obtained as it is today. Salt could be exceedingly valuable. In many cultures, such as Imperial Rome, salt was even used as payment! The word “salary” actually comes in part from the Latin word “Sal,” for salt, because it was so often used in wages.
Also, the phrase “worth their salt” comes directly from this time that salt was valuable.
Over the years, different cultures continued to experiment with food preservation, and a huge variety of new methods were developed such as pickling with brine, vinegar, or alcohol. People developed and utilized new types of food additives as fast as they could be invented!
Today, we live in a golden age of food preservation. There are more types of safe and tasty food additives available than ever before, and millions can eat every day thanks to those additives.
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