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A Closer Look at the Thanksgiving Table

American home cooks, both domestic and abroad, are preparing to tackle Thanksgiving dinner this week. While most are familiar with the classic menu of turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, cornbread and pie, many are less familiar with the food ingredients that make some of those Thanksgiving favorites so delicious. Below are just a handful of the food ingredients that are sure to play a critical role in your holiday feast.

Monocalcium Phosphate

Planning to make a batch of cornbread muffins, biscuits, or pumpkin bread for the table? You’ll probably want to add a touch of monocalcium phosphate, better known as baking powder, to the mix. Monocalcium phosphate helps muffins, quick breads, cakes and cookies rise without having to add yeast. In baked goods, monocalcium phosphate reacts with baking soda to produce carbon dioxide, which helps the dough rise.  Peak through your oven window and see carbon dioxide at work, releasing air bubbles in the batter, transforming it into a light, fluffy and delicious treat.

Food Gums

From dinner to dessert, food gums, like guar gum and konjac gum, do some pretty heavy lifting on Thanksgiving. For instance, they serve as emulsifiers in gravies and sauces, ensuring turkey gravy and dressings remain rich and creamy, not separating by the time it hits your potatoes or salad. Food gums also contribute to the rich mouthfeel of dairy-type items like whipped toppings, adding that essential creamy final touch to a slice of pie.

Carrageenan

Pumpkin pie is arguable the most iconic pie associated with the Thanksgiving holiday. However, many people don’t realize we have carrageenan to thank for this classic. The standard recipe relies on evaporated milk made with carrageenan. Carrageenan is a natural, plant-based ingredient derived from red seaweed that is used for its technical contributions to foods and beverages, including improved texture and stabilizing attributes. Evaporated milk made with carrageenan adds a velvety smooth and rich texture to the classic pumpkin pie recipe.

Have more questions about food ingredients? Learn more here.

The Wonderful World of Food Gums

It’s no surprise to see milk on the ingredient list of your favorite ice cream, or olive oil in salad dressing. But if you look further down you may be wondering why different kinds of “gums” are also in these products, and not just the chewing gums at check-out. Food gums such as gum Arabic, carob bean gum and konjac gum have been used for hundreds of years (some date back to ancient Egypt) and come from a variety of different natural sources, including trees, seeds, roots, produce and seaweed. One characteristic most gums have in common is their ability to act as an emulsifier, preventing oil and water mixtures from separating. They also provide stability, thickening properties, texture and in some cases, fiber, to a range of products. Food gums can be divided into a few different categories, based on where they come from. Below are four groups of food gums, and examples of products you may find them in.

1. Tree Saps

Some gums come from tree saps, similar to maple syrup. The most popular tree sap gum is gum Arabic, which is also commonly referred to as acacia gum. This gum comes from the acacia tree, which is native to central Africa. Gum Arabic traces its roots to ancient Egypt, but today is used as an emulsifier, allowing common foods to remain shelf-stable over time, allowing you to store unopened salad dressing in your pantry, or keep granola bars in your hiking bag. Tree sap gums are also used to impart texture and thicken foods and beverages.

2. Seeds

As you may expect, seed gums are harvested from seeds. This category includes guar, fenugreek, tara and carob bean gums. Seed gums are made by soaking the seed, extracting the small internal layer that contains the gum, and grinding it into a fine powder. The most well-known gum from this group is guar gum, which comes from seeds grown in India and Pakistan. Because of guar gum’s unique technical attributes, it keeps frozen dairy products consistent through melting and re-freezing that inevitably occurs from production to the grocery store to your freezer. In addition, guar gum is a helpful tool for farmers, as it thrives in drought conditions and its roots actually release nitrogen back into the soil, improving the soil’s quality and increasing the yield of subsequent crops. This group of gums is best used to stabilize and thicken soups, sauces, beverages and dairy products.

3. Root Extracts

The star of the root extracts category is konjac gum. Konjac grows naturally in Southeast Asia and China and has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes for over 1,500 years. Out of all food gums that can be used in cold liquids, it has the strongest thickening ability, and   like guar gum, konjac gum can be used to improve the stability of ice cream. You may also find konjac gum used in gravy and sauces. Additionally, this gum is used to make konjac noodles, a gluten free pasta popular in select Asian countries.

4. Fermentation

You’ve heard the word “fermentation” when it comes to beer and wine, but not many people realize fermentation technology can be used to create other products, such as food gums. Gums in this group are produced from natural sources, such as bacterial fermentation using carbohydrate and protein. Fermentation gums include   xanthan and gellan gum. Both function to keep products with oils and waters suspended in dressings and sauces. For more information on xanthan gum and how to best bake with it, click here.

Did you know?

Food gums not only originate from land, but also water! Some food gums are produced from seaweed, for example alginate, agar and carrageenan.

How to Shop in Today’s Grocery Store

Have you recently found yourself at a grocery store, staring at a shelf of ten different jars of strawberry jelly or bottles of Italian dressing, only to find several minutes have passed and you’re still no closer to making a decision? According to the Food Marketing Institute, the average number of items carried in a supermarket in 2017 was 30,098. The ability to choose from so many options allows customers the freedom to make purchasing decisions that best fit their priorities, such as price, taste, or sustainability; but it can also make grocery shopping quite overwhelming. With so many choices, how is one supposed to turn a complex environment into a simple one? Consider the following tips for navigating the 21st century grocery store like a pro.

Remove the virtual caution tape from the packaged food aisles.

A frequently heard tip for healthy grocery shopping is to stick to the perimeter of the store. The original rationale behind this advice was that the products located around the outer edges of stores are healthier (think produce, lean meats and fish, etc.). However, this advice is becoming less applicable today, as manufacturers innovate and reformulate packaged goods in response to consumer demand and evolving regulations pushing for improved nutritional profiles and clarity around ingredients used in foods and beverages. Don’t hesitate to enter the packaged food aisles next time. Instead of shopping in a circle, consider making your shopping path “E” or “Z” shaped!

Shop smart, waste less.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally, which amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year. To avoid wasting food and money, understand the various methods used by industry to support food waste reduction efforts. One approach is to mark products with voluntary “Best By,” “Sell By,” and “Use By” dates. Many consumers consider these dates to have the same meaning – okay to eat before the date, not okay to eat after the date. This is false and can lead to wasted food. Learn what each date means here. In addition, click here to learn why certain food additives show up on ingredient lists, and how they are used to help prevent food waste.

Look up, look down, look all around.

For a food or beverage company, getting a product placed at eye level on the shelves of a major grocery store is like running a commercial during the Big Game. It is extremely costly and highly competitive. Knowing this, be sure to scan the top and bottom shelves as well for products that may be slightly less popular, but could possibly be more nutritious, delicious or affordable.

Beware of mobile apps spreading misinformation.

Companies are taking steps to help consumers identify healthier or more nutritious options more easily. These include mobile apps, many of which provide nutrition and safety analyses of products or ingredients. However, some of these apps draw unsubstantiated, radical conclusions of products and ingredients that are not based on credible science and safety studies. For example, some go as far as to claim certain ingredients that are approved as safe to consume are “very dangerous and cause side effects, allergic reactions, or hyperactivity of your child.” It is important to question the quality of the evidence on which app developers are basing these claims, and to note that these apps do not represent actual recommendations by scientific authorities or food safety officials.

If you’re not eating it today or tomorrow, buy it frozen.

Especially in the case of fresh fruits and vegetables, nutrients start to decline immediately after harvesting and continue to do so during storage. For example, a study published in the Journal of Science of Food and Agriculture showed green peas lose up to 51 percent of their vitamin C during the first 24 to 48 hours post-harvest. Fruits and vegetables found in the frozen section of your grocery store are generally picked at peak ripeness when they contain the most nutrients, and there are usually no additional ingredients added to them before freezing.

Grab meat and dairy items last.

Thanks to stabilizing ingredients such as guar gum, your favorite ice cream can withstand the inevitable melting and re-freezing that occurs between the time the ice cream is packaged to the time you scoop it into your bowl at home. However, while additives help maintain the quality and safety of foods and beverages, it’s always a good rule of thumb to hit the packaged foods and produce aisles first. Leaving the highly-perishable items on your list to the end of your shopping trip will minimize the critical time those products spend out of the refrigerator or freezer.

The Ingredient All Gluten-Free Bakers Should Know About

While the gluten-free diet was first introduced in 1941, the prevalence, availability and demand for gluten-free foods has increased tremendously over the past 20 years, with the gluten-free food and beverage industry growing to over $10 billion in 2013. There are now many gluten-free options on restaurant menus and grocery shelves, but it can be difficult to make your own gluten-free baked goods at home. However, thanks to xanthan gum, those looking to eliminate or reduce gluten in their diets can still enjoying homemade breads, cakes and pastries.

But first, what is gluten?

Ever wonder what’s behind that rustic, satisfying crust of artisan breads? Or why pizza can be so chewy? Or how cake batter can transform into a tall, fluffy dessert? The answer to all of these questions is gluten.

A protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley, gluten provides structure and elasticity to finished products. It does so after being activated by the addition of liquid and heat. For instance, when a pizza maker adds water to flour, it triggers changes in the flour’s gluten that creates an elastic dough. Then, when the dough is placed in the hot oven, the gluten acts to trap air bubbles in the crust, creating structure and allowing the crust to rise. As you can imagine, making gluten-free pizza crust isn’t as easy as simply removing gluten from the equation. As with all baked goods, creating gluten-free alternatives involves not only choosing a gluten-free flour, but also ensuring the technical function of gluten is appropriately replicated.

A Natural Replacement  

One common ingredient than can reproduce the elasticity and binding power of gluten is xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a product of fermentation that stabilizes and thickens foods – providing desired texture and even dispersion of flavors. It is made from a microbe found on the leaf surfaces of green vegetables. This microbe is fermented – as we’re used to experiencing with wine and cheese – then dried and ground. While xanthan gum is used widely across the commercial food space for everything from salad dressings to ice cream, it is sold separately in stores and can also be used at home for gluten-free baking and cooking.

Using Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is known for being extremely versatile, and works well in recipes that use highly acidic ingredients (such as buttermilk, lemon juice or cream of tartar) and are exposed to high oven temperatures. When added to a gluten-free recipe, it works to lock in structure and moisture, making sure the final product won’t crumble and fall apart. When combined with leavening agents (such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda), xanthan gum can trap in air, helping gluten-free goods rise while maintaining shape and consistency, just like their gluten-containing counterparts. It is such an effective replacement for gluten, many store-bought gluten-free flour mixes already contain xanthan gum.

The best way to use xanthan gum is to find a flour blend or a recipe that already includes it. However, for those who want to create their own recipe using a gluten-free flour that doesn’t already contain xanthan gum, below are some recommended measurements for using xanthan gum with gluten-free flour.

  • For cookies, start with a ratio of ¼ teaspoon for every cup of flour.
  • For cakes and pancakes, substitute ½ teaspoon per cup of flour.
  • For muffins and quick breads, use ¾ teaspoon per cup of flour.
  • For breads, try 1 to 1 ½ teaspoon per cup of flour.

For gluten-free bakers looking to have their cake and eat it too, xanthan gum is here to help!

Have more questions about xanthan gum? Learn more here.

How to Interpret Headline-Breaking Science

We have all had the experience of standing in the checkout line and glancing at the tabloids advertising fad diets and miracle foods telling readers that if they eat this or that, they will be able to lose 10 pounds in a week. While most of the time it is easy to identify headlines likely that lack much truth and reliability but what about news and headlines regarding scientific studies? Even highly-regarded news and media outlets often promote false or misleading claims about food and health. While doing so may be an advertising tactic, it is also likely an unintended consequence of condensing the highly complicated, ever-changing science of nutrition into a one-size-fits-all assertion.

While it’s easier to trust publications promoting scientific research than the media, both can be sources of inaccurate information and can spread misleading claims. Below are several tactics to employ the next time you come across what might be a major headline-breaking study.

Step 1 – Consider the story covering the study.

Source: Ask yourself where you learned about the study. Was it posted by a friend on social media? Highlighted on the nightly news? Published in a major newspaper? Consider whether or not the study and its findings are being interpreted and promoted to create a catchy tagline that optimizes viewership. Is it too good to be true?  Or maybe it’s the opposite, maybe its generating fear?

Who is the author? Is the article written by a trained scientist a food blogger, or a journalist? Do they have a history of writing balanced, scientifically-sound articles, or have they historically written more emotionally-charged content? Consider both the credentials as well as the potential motives of the author.

What’s the full story? It is impossible to capture all of the findings, strengths, and weaknesses of a study in a single headline, so it’s important to dig for details. In addition to bypassing the headline for the full article, you should also check out any source material to ensure it supports the headline and article. Not all writers are scientists who have the expertise to both adequately evaluate a study, and put the study’s findings into the broader context of related evidence on the topic. Further, whether the writer does so intentionally or not, they may look for parts of studies that best fit within the context of their own story. Make sure to seek out and evaluate the study, not just the writer’s take on it.

Step 2 – Evaluate the study

Consider if the study was peer-reviewed and published in a reputable journal. The peer-review process ensures unbiased experts rate the quality of how the study was organized and raise questions as needed. Further, peer-reviewed studies that are published in a reputable journals and reviews or guidelines published by international health agencies and policy-making bodies are considered to have more reliable findings.

Check the timing. Sometimes stories reference studies that have been published for a year or longer in order to try and raise attention about an issue. Make sure to check the study’s publication date to determine if the findings are current and relevant.

Identify the study type. Studies vary greatly in their quality and design. It is important to remember that association does not equal causation. Some study designs can identify associations between a behavior or an exposure and a health outcome, but can show that is it caused by that behavior or exposure. Further, as with all study types, it is essential to consider confounding variables (i.e. something that wasn’t controlled for by the researcher, but may impact the outcome of the study) and potential sources of bias, which could skew study findings.

Reputable research takes steps to reduce the risk that the researchers’ or participants’ preference or bias, or even chance could affect the study’s results. It is important to be aware of the fact that not all research is created equal, and thus their results are not equal. This guide from FoodInsight may help you navigate the different types of studies and what the implications of the results may be, when the studies are carried out appropriately.

In following these steps to properly evaluate headline-breaking studies, you could be part of the solution to the growing problem of the dissemination of bad science and deceiving headlines. Time to put your white hat (and reading glasses) on.

 

 

 

Bold Food Concepts and Abstract Ingredient Combinations Shine at IFT 2018

Every summer, the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) hosts its annual conference to bring together passionate people working to innovate within the food industry space. The focal point of the multi-day event is food ingredients, and the exciting opportunities to use them ingredients in new products. This year’s conference was held in Chicago from July 15-18, and featured presentations that explored trends in food business and innovation, along with an exhibition hall that featured food and food ingredient companies of all sizes, from startups to large multinationals. As with previous years, a few key trends stood out, ultimately forecasting what’s to come by way of new products headed to store shelves. Below are the top trends to look forward to this coming year:

  1. New Technology, Futuristic Solutions:  While the food industry has been shifting over the past several years towards products that promote wellness and sustainability, IFT2018 highlighted the first ever IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge, a competition that allows emerging food companies and entrepreneurs to pitch new products or processes leveraging modern technology to enhance the global food supply. The finalists chosen to share their innovations represented a diverse set of breakthrough solutions in the ingredient, packaging and sustainable agriculture space. The people’s choice award for Future Food Disruptor of the Year went to a processor of insect ingredients as a more environmentally-sound alternative to livestock production. The company’s protein concentrate may be used for sports nutrition products and certain beverages, while their textured insect protein may be used as a meat replacement for burgers or nuggets, or as an alternative to eggs or butter. However, the judges’ pick for the competition’s grand prize went to a company transforming an otherwise wasted by-product of soy milk production called okara into a gluten-free flour.
  2. Focus on Coffee: Beans have left the cup and are headed for the snack aisle. Producers are using new extraction technologies to bring dynamic coffee flavors to a range of products. A wide variety of confections, from cookies to cakes, featured classic coffee house flavors such as ‘latte,’ ‘espresso,’ and ‘cappuccino.’
  3. Color & Texture: As novelty and variety continues to entice buyers, many brands featured unusual textures and colors in everything from teas to jerky. Products with bright and enticing colors, such as turmeric yellow, abounded and sparkling beverages prevailed. Additionally, new textures such as kelp jerky were featured as consumers seek out “unique textural experiences.”
  4. Florals: Regardless of the season, botanicals are in spring. Companies are adding fresh, bright and seasonal floral flavors to new products. Blooms such as hibiscus, violet, honeysuckle, rose and elderflower were increasingly popular in the exhibition hall, contributing new color, taste and aroma to packaged foods. However; as this trend is still in its infancy, most of these florals are being paired with other more familiar flavors to ease consumers into the trend.
  5. Salt Reduction Strategies: Companies specializing on savory items debuted products that work to deliver great taste while reducing the amount of sodium listed on a label. One booth presented new flavor enhancers that offered prominent umami and kokumi notes, allowing products to use less salt but still deliver satisfying, rich flavors. Hydrocolloids such as carrageenan are also being used to help reduce the salt content of foods such as lunch meats.

Find a full recap of this year’s show at iftevent.org and learn more about many of the food ingredients used in these new products here.

New York Hosts Summer Fancy Foods Show

The Specialty Food Association (SFA) hosted its bi-annual Fancy Food Show in New York City from June 30 to July 2, 2018. The international event included over 2,400 exhibitors at a huge three-story trade show known as a main attraction for retail food distributors and food media editors to come and scout out new food and beverage products their customers and readers will love.  The focus is mainly on new packaged foods hoping to be the next best superfood snack or unique cooking ingredient to gain traction with modern day consumers. While the Fancy Food Show is one of the best opportunities to debut and promote new products, the success of these foods depends mostly on the combinations of food ingredients used to create new and exciting consumer experiences. Below are the top food trends and new products to look forward to this coming year:

1: Functionality: While prepared and packaged foods have always provided convenience, not all are recognized for their positive nutritional qualities. However, health and wellness prevailed at this year’s show. Many products are now balancing flavor and wellness, packing vitamins, protein, probiotics and more into foods and beverages that promise both great taste and good health.

2: Cauliflower: It looks like cauliflower is the new kale. While cauliflower-rice, “steaks” and purees now show up on restaurant menus, cauliflower is continuing to make its way to the packaged food aisle in increasingly creative ways. This year’s show featured cauliflower pretzels, pizza crusts and even a cauliflower-based baking mix.

3: Ice Cream: A whole new class of exciting ice cream flavors debuted at this summer’s show. Standouts included those with unexpected flavors and ingredients such as black sesame, toasted rice and even purred vegetables, such as flavors like vanilla with zucchini, mint chip with spinach, and strawberry with carrot. Most of these products rely on emulsifiers and thickening ingredients, such as cellulose gum and gellan gum, to provide the creaminess and texture that customers love and expect with ice cream.

Find a full recap of this year’s show at specialtyfood.com and learn more about the ingredients that make all of these new products possible here.

Irish Moss: The History of Carrageenan’s Roots

 

If you have ever checked the list of ingredients on your favorite ice cream, yogurt, chocolate milk or frozen pizza, you’ve probably seen carrageenan listed. Whether you have noticed it before or not, carrageenan has been used in packaged foods for over 50 years, and its history in the world’s food supply dates back even further.

Chondrus crispus

Carrageenan is made from a type of red seaweed known as Chondrus crispus.  Archaeologists estimate humans have been harvesting seaweed, like Chondrus crispus, for nearly 14,000 years. Evidence of red seaweed’s medicinal benefits in China can be traced back to 600 BC, and it was originally used as a food source around 400 BC on the British Isles.

Often referred to as Irish moss, the thick seaweed used for carrageenan grows abundantly along the rocky coastline of the Atlantic, including the shores of the British Isles, North America and Europe. This seaweed is especially abundant along Ireland’s rocky coastline, where it has been cultivated for hundreds of years for both its gelling properties in foods as well as purported medicinal purposes. In fact, carrageenan’s name comes from Carrigan Head, a cape near Northern Ireland, the title of which was inspired by the Irish word “carraigín,” which translates to “little rock.” In the 19th century, the Irish believed carrageenan could cure sick calves along with human colds, flu and congestion. First, the seaweed was harvested and laid out to dry. Then it was washed and boiled before being added to flans, tonics and even beer. Used similarly to gelatin, carrageenan became a key ingredient in the classic Irish pudding, Blancmange, a delicately-set cream dessert. Blancmange is still made in Ireland, where whole pieces of dried red seaweed can be purchased in local markets.

The Irish Potato Famine

Carrageenan was also used to combat nutritional deficiencies in the 1800s during the Irish Potato Famine. The red seaweed was added to warmed milk with sugar and spices to create a fortified beverage. This drink is still consumed today in both Ireland and the Caribbean. As Irish immigrants fled famine and came to the United States, the first American seaweed farming production was established off the coast of Massachusetts. However, it wasn’t until World War II, when a similar ingredient called agar was no longer available, that carrageenan soared in popularity in the US food supply.

Carrageenan Today

Since the mid-20th century, carrageenan has and continues to be used in many products such as chocolate milk, ice cream, frozen foods and many organic items. It is now consumed in nearly every region of the world, including the US, Europe, China, Japan and Brazil. For more information on carrageenan, please review our Sources of Food Ingredients or visit Marinalg.org.

 

Changes Headed to a Food Label Near You

In the spring of 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced new changes to the Nutrition Facts Label for packaged foods. The changes were made to allow consumers to make more informed and healthful decisions in their diets.  While you may have already seen this new format on food products, the FDA has extended the compliance deadline to 2020, although manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have until Jan. 1, 2021 to comply.

So, what’s different?

  1. New Look, Bigger Font
    The type size for the total calories, serving size and number of servings has been increased and bolded. Along with making the serving size more visible, the actual size of each serving has been updated to reflect a typical serving size. However, the serving sizes listed on food products are not recommendations from the FDA but rather a measurement which is intended to reflect realistic intake. For example, the serving size for ice cream was previously 1/2 cup, and is now 2/3 cup.
  2.  “Added Sugars” make it to the label
    A line for “Added Sugars” has been added to the label beneath the listing for “Total Sugars” to help consumers understand the amount of sugar that is being added to a product. This means that the number does not include the naturally-occurring sugar found in fruits and vegetables. Naturally-occurring sugars are accounted for in “Total Sugars” on the label. These new designations are meant to help consumer understand the source of sugar.
  3. “Total Fat” to replace “Calories from Total Fat”
    Research has shown the type of fat (e.g., polyunsaturated fat) is more important to consider than the total calories from fat alone. Therefore, FDA has chosen to remove calories from total fat, but will continue to require listing of “Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat” and “Trans Fat.”
  4. The amount of vitamin D and potassium required to be listed
    This change is based on research from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) which shows that Americans do not always get the recommended amounts of vitamin D and potassium. These vitamins will be required to be listed in order to increase visibility of their requirements. Similar information for vitamins A and C may still be included, but their inclusion is now voluntary as deficiencies of these vitamins are rare today.
  5. New footnote on “Percent Daily Value” (% DV)
    The footnote at the bottom of the label has been updated to read as: “The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.” This change has been made to better explain what daily value means.

Facts Up Front

While the above changes will be required and regulated by the FDA, manufacturers can opt to include an additional ‘Facts Up Front’ label on the front of packaging. Introduced by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010, this nutrition labeling system places the amount of calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugars per serving side by side in a simple format on the front display area of a food product. Small packages that cannot fit all four nutrients may display only one icon, for example, calories per serving. If the package size permits, manufactures may also include up to two “nutrients to encourage” if the product has more than 10 percent of the daily value per serving of potassium, fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium or iron. This optional label is designed to act as a convenient tool to help consumers understand the nutrient quality of foods at first-glance.

 

History in the Frozen Food Aisle

Frozen foods have long been a staple in the Western diet, but they have evolved considerably in terms of safety, quality and packaging compared to the first commercially-sold frozen food.

Early Days & Fish Fillets

The founder of frozen food as we know it today (a la a bag of frozen peas in our freezer) was Clarence Birdseye. Birdseye was inspired to formulate a mechanized fast-freezing method after watching Inuit tribes of Labrador, Canada, preserve freshly-caught fish with the wind, ice and cold weather. As the climate in his hometown of Brooklyn didn’t allow for such fast freezing, Birdseye invented the multi-plate freezing method, in which food is pressed between two chilled metal plates. The method then grew to involve two chilled conveyor belts for faster freezing. The first machine was designed to only freeze haddock and “seal in every bit of just-from-the-ocean flavor,” as noted by Birdseye himself (check out a drawing here). After this invention, the foundation had been laid for the entire frozen food industry.

Conveyor Belts to Home Kitchens

Birdseye established the General Seafood Corporation in 1924, offering only frozen fish fillets. As production increased to include meats and produce, Birdseye joined forces with the Postum Company in 1929 to create General Foods Corporation. With this expansion, Birdseye launched a marketing campaign to familiarize Americans with the new frozen food category. However, Birdseye’s frozen food didn’t reach mass popularity until the 1940s, when most American households purchased their first freezer. In addition to updating the frozen boxcar to transport his foods, Birdseye was also involved in developing grocery store freezer display cases, which led to the sale of frozen television dinners and fish sticks.

Did you know? Swanson executives came up with the first frozen dinner trays after a turkey surplus left with them too much turkey after Thanksgiving.

Today, food technologists and scientists continue to improve methods and ingredients for freezing. While Birdseye’s method of flash freezing remains popular, there is also air blasting, spiral belt, and cryogenic freezers to name a few.  Additionally, foods that were hard to freeze  can now be flash frozen with the addition of ingredients, for example, to prevent enzymatic reactions in fresh produce and  preserve texture in frozen desserts. Modern innovations in “smart packaging” also maintain freshness and keep products from thawing (think the plastic film over your favorite frozen mac and cheese).

Considering frozen food? Here are the top 5 reasons to go frozen!

  1. Cut down on meal prep
    Pre-cut frozen vegetables are usually faster and simpler to cook than whole, unwashed produce.
  2. Get more nutrients
    Since frozen foods are packaged at peak freshness, they often contain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts.
  3. Reduce food waste
    Frozen food reduces the amount of food thrown a way due to spoilage.
  4. Easy portion control
    Many frozen foods are sold in single-serve packages which allow for easy for portion control.
  5. Cut food costs
    Frozen produce is typically much less expensive than fresh.

The best way to prevent freezer burn? Make sure your item is in an air-tight container! As something starts to freeze, water evaporates and freezes when it hits the air, creating ice crystals and altering the texture of foods.

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