Food is a basic human need. It is probably the most important thing that man needs for survival. This can be seen even in the young. When young ones are born, they are born ready to feed.
Food gives man the necessary nutrients that he needs for his body systems to function properly. Food provides the body with building blocks and nutrients to maintain a healthy environment within the body. Food is also very important in providing man with energy to move about and go about his daily life. Without food, man will simply die.
Therefore, from the days of the first man, finding food has been high on the priority list for man. Like other animals, man would forage and hunt for food. His initial diet included wild berries, fruits, leaves, shrubs, and tubers. He also hunted animals for meat. Just like animals do, he had to constantly be searching for food to ensure that his appetites and nutritional requirements were met.
Since man is an intelligent creature, he was able to reason that he would be able to survive better if he could store surplus food for times when there was low supply. He might have borrowed this idea from hibernating animals which sometimes store food to help them survive during the winter. Storage of food was a tricky business since the food was apt to go bad if it stayed exposed for a given length of time. This brought about the need for preserving the food.
The first way of preserving food could have been simply drying the food in the sun. Grains such as wheat were probably the first foods that man found ideal for storage. Grains could be collected in bulk during harvest season and by drying them, they could be stored for very long periods without them going bad. The only challenge for the ancestral man was protecting the stored grain from pests and wet conditions. The technique of drying grain before storage is still being used today.
Man had another great delicacy that he wanted to preserve; Meat. Meat is a great source of protein and a captured animal could feed many people for several days. The only problem was that meat tended to go bad very fast. Man had to find a solution for this.
Just like in grains, one of the tricks was in drying the meat. However, meat could not be dried in the same way as grains. This lead to the discovery of salting as a means of food preservation. Salting is still used today as an ideal way of preserving meats. Sugaring was also later used in the same way.
Another method of meat preservation that was discovered was smoking. Smoking involves exposing the food to smoke. This method also dries the food helping it have a longer shelf life.
Other ancient methods of preserving food included dipping the food into honey, especially for fruits. Pickling is another closely related process where food was dipped into alcoholic, acidic, or salty solutions. These solutions inhibit or kill bacteria and other microorganisms in the food.
Freezing is also an ancient way of preserving food that was used in places where ice of very cold water was present. Freezing has been adopted in modern technology where very cold environments can be artificially created using refrigerators. Some other more recent ways of preserving food include canning, pasteurization, high pressure food preservation, artificial food additives, irradiation, and vacuum food preservation.