Principles of food storage in Ancient Egypt

The food preservation process is a system used to preserve a quantity of food for a future date and time. Some form of food preservation has always been employed in almost every culture and nation in the world since the earliest times. In general, we find several methods used such as canning, cold storage, drying, fermentation, freezing, pickling, salting or smoking depending on where the crop resides. Some areas are mixed with certain types of conservation, while others are more suitable for alternative methods.

Early conservation-related ideas focused on preserving food in a way that likely mimicked the exact method used by nature and duplicated how it was naturally complicit. The original practices took full advantage of cold storage, drying, freezing, fermenting, or drying. These were natural processes that often occurred in common fruits. Records from Ancient Egypt have revealed its use of salt curing, smoking, pickling, drying, or fermentation as the popular methods used in those days. Food drying methods have been claimed to be one of the world’s oldest means of preserving food with dating instructions from tombs discovered in China more than 2000 years ago. These Chinese instructions describe the various processes involved in salting, drying, and pickling bamboo shoots. Many 16th century records indicate that European Mayan conquerors used a method of smoking foods to preserve peppers. Methods such as sun drying, smoking or salting have been used on most perishable products, including many species of fish.

Salt has been traditionally used for the preservation of meat and fish since ancient times. Various cultures would obtain their supply of salt directly from deposits of land or sea water that had dried up. Salt has traditionally been used to create various brines or has been used in the drying processes of fish in particular.

The ancient Egyptians used a method known as “banking” to preserve much of their perishable food. The process consisted of digging a hole in the ground and then lining it with wood, leaves, or possibly straw to make a kind of barrier between the food and the ground. The caves represented the most natural form of “bank” and were used whenever they were available to preserve food. Food would be successfully stored in containers made of skins, reed baskets or various ceramic containers and then placed in caves or holes dug in the ground. Liquids naturally required a much more diverse approach and their container types were completely different.

Pests such as insects, damage caused by moisture or weather, mold or fungus often reduce the quality of stored food and these obstacles should be considered when planning future food storage. If you stop for a moment and think carefully about how these early civilizations stored their food, perhaps we too, as survivors, could create a similar storage to serve the same purposes.

Copyright @ 2010 Joseph Parish