Why does salt preserve food?

CJMY. Camille Gaubert’s column airs daily in the program “C Jamie”, presented by Jamie Gourmaud, Monday through Friday at 5pm on France 5.

The ancestor of the fridge is…salt! From prehistoric times to the 19th century, humans used it using different techniques to protect food from spoilage. But how exactly did he do it?

dry brine

Very quickly, meat, fish, cheese and vegetables go bad. Why ? Because they are colonized by bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms that can cause food poisoning. This is where salt comes in: it dehydrates the food and goes in. And when the salt content exceeds 15%, the microorganisms that can spoil the food cannot grow properly! To achieve this result, there were two main methods available to our ancestors. First, dry brine. It’s just a matter of putting a good layer of salt on the food. According to the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), for example, the Gauls used this technique to export their very famous ham. Dry salt is more practical because emptying its water meal can reduce its weight by up to 25% in six weeks, as well as its volume, which makes it easier to transport.

The technology has been known for thousands of years

Second technique: brining. Food in this case is submerged in brackish water, brine. The Romans specifically used salted water, sometimes with vinegar, to preserve cooked or steamed vegetables. Besides, that’s where the word “salad“was meant to”salty foodThese techniques have been used since prehistoric times. In 2019, researchers in Sudan also found evidence of salted fish use in the Mesolithic, 7,000 years before our era!

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And even before salting, more than 200,000 years ago, our ancestors stored the bones of their prey for up to 9 weeks later to eat the marrow, a study published in 2019 also noted.

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Analyst. Amateur problem solver. Wannabe internet expert. Coffee geek. Tv guru. Award-winning communicator. Food nerd.

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