Food preservation is one of the pillars of a homesteading lifestyle. Being able to preserve food safely makes it possible to stock up and create a personal safety net to counter variability in the food chain. We all know that preserving food is a good idea, but we may not be sure of the reasons why so much emphasis is placed on this ancient practice.
Preserving food extends its shelf life and prevents wastage. Preserving also ensures that a greater variety of food is available throughout the year. Produce can be purchased in season and preserved, which saves money. Preserved food is easier to transport and requires less storage space.
Anyone interested in a self-sufficient and sustainable lifestyle almost automatically begins by preserving food. This response may seem ingrained, but there are several practical reasons why preserving food makes sense.
9 Reasons For Preserving Food
Preserving food is nothing new. Humans have been finding ways to extend the shelf life of food since the start of recorded history. Even some animals, like red squirrels and honeybees, have developed techniques to ensure that the food they store lasts and remains safe to eat for as long as possible.
The most commonly used techniques to preserve food include canning, drying, curing using salt, sugaring, freezing, pickling, and fermentation. These preservation methods change the food’s form to render it shelf stable for longer.
Preserving food requires planning and a conscious effort to ensure that the food remains flavorful and safe to eat. Although preserving food may be second nature to many homesteaders, let’s unravel some of the reasons why this practice is so essential when striving for greater self-sufficiency.
Preserving Food Extends Its Shelf Life
If left untreated, fresh food, including fruit, vegetables, fish, and meat, has a relatively short shelf life. Microorganisms responsible for decay quickly proliferate, and without any means of preserving items, food quickly becomes unsafe as spoilage sets in.
The aim of preserving fresh food is to slow the process of spoilage so that it remains safe to use for longer. Some methods of food preservation keep food safe for long periods, while simple refrigeration is a short-term solution that may only extend shelf life by a few days.
Food Preservation Reduces Wastage
Without any way of preserving food, many of us would either need to acquire fresh food daily or survive in a state of perpetual feast or famine. At certain times of the year, harvests are bountiful, and using all the fresh food as it becomes available is often impossible.
Whether it is a bountiful summer fruit harvest, or a successful hunt, preserving the food makes it possible to use everything without any waste. Transforming perishable food into shelf-stable products that are safe to eat for months or years extends its usefulness. Since preserving food removes the urgency to use fresh food, every bit can be used and enjoyed.
Preserving Food Provides Greater Food Variety
Most of us love the taste of fresh summer peaches. Unless they are preserved, the sweet, delicious summer goodness would remain a once-a-year treat that would need to be enjoyed fresh.
Preserving food while it is in season and bountiful ensures a greater variety of food is available year-round. Even on the gloomiest winter day, a sweet jar of canned summer peaches on the pantry shelf will be safe to eat even months after the last fresh fruit fell from the tree.
Other seasonal fruits commonly preserved for use throughout the year include tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, berries, and peppers. In addition, dried, canned, or frozen meat from hunting season can be enjoyed throughout the year instead of only being limited to when it is in its raw form.
Preserving Food Can Save Money
Preserving and storing food while it is in season or being sold at a lower cost means it can be available and remains economical during the off-season or when prices rise. Of course, the calculation must consider the additional ingredients and equipment required to process the food.
Generally, buying fresh food while it is readily available and preserving it to use later leads to considerable savings. It is also a thrifty way to ensure you have a steady supply of personal favorites without needing to pay top dollar when prices go up.
Preserving Food Reduces Bulk So More Can Be Stored
Most methods of preserving food compact or shrink raw ingredients. In addition to the practical function of reducing spoilage from exposure to oxygen, reducing bulk while retaining nutrients means that much more food can be stored when preserved compared to its original form.
Even though they are related, preserving and storing food are not the same. Most homesteaders preserve food with the aim of storing it for later use. Preserving food is the process of ensuring that it remains safe and nutritious while it is stored.
Preserving Food Lets You Store It In A Form You Enjoy
Many foods are delicious when fresh, but others benefit from some processing to be more useful in your pantry. Fresh tomatoes are delicious, but having jars of salsa on hand means you will always have convenient toppings for spaghetti, pizza, and artisan bread without having to begin from scratch every time you need some.
Foods can be mixed and preserved using methods that add flavor. Some foods, like hard cheeses, salami, and fermented items, mature during the preservation process and develop specific sought-after taste profiles.
Preserving Food Makes Food Storage Possible
Food storage is a stepping stone to living a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Instead of being completely dependent on the local grocer to have a constant supply of what you need, mindfully storing food provides a buffer against possible emergencies, food shortages, or catastrophic weather conditions.
Preserving food is the practice of processing food so that it can be safely stored. It would be impossible to store a basket of fresh strawberries for more than a few days, but freeze-dried strawberries can last in storage for years.
Preserving Perishable Food Makes It Easier To Transport
A convenient spinoff of preserving food is that it is easier to transport and can be enjoyed far from where it was produced. While raw food is in its fresh perishable form, it is vulnerable to contamination and spoilage and has a short shelf life.
Preserving food not only makes it shelf stable for storage, but many items like pickles, canned vegetables, preserves, and dried food can also be safely transported. This is particularly useful for camping trips or extended fishing adventures when refrigeration may be unavailable.
Preserving Food Gives You Control Over What Your Eat
By preserving your own food, you can take complete control of what your family eats. Commercially preserved goods may contain any number of chemical preservatives or high levels of sodium. Although convenient, studying labels to find out what is in your food is time-consuming.
Knowing what is in your food is especially important in families where individuals may have food allergies or conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. By preserving your own food, you can always have a jar of healthy food available that you can serve with confidence. In addition, you can tailor-make preserved food according to specific tastes.
Is Preserved Food Good For Health?
It is a common misperception that food loses nutrients and becomes less healthy during the preservation process. While it is true that some commonly used preservation additives like salt and sugar may affect some recipes, there is little evidence to suggest that the goodness of the original food being preserved is minimized.
During any cooking process, nutrients are lost, even while cooking fresh vegetables in a saucepan on the stove. The cooking process degrades some vitamins like A, C, and B; however, it has been found that some vegetables actually become healthier after they are processed.
Tomatoes are a case in point. While raw tomatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C, the heat from cooking increases the overall antioxidant activity in the fruit. Heating and canning these super cancer-fighting ingredients unlock their superpowers, making them a great addition to any diet.
According to Healthline, the overall nutrient levels of canned foods are no better or worse than the fresh or frozen versions. The preservation process does not make food unhealthy, but consumers should be aware of other additives that may have been added during production.
Of course, it is impossible to deny that many preserved foods contain less desirable ingredients like sugar and salt. The beauty of preserving food at home rather than relying on commercial products is that you can know precisely what is in your food, and since you will be using glass jars, your canned goods are 100% BPA-free.
Preserving food is an excellent way to prevent spoilage and wastage and can save you money. Besides the practical reasons for preserving food, many homesteaders simply enjoy processing their own food as it gives them greater control over how they nourish their bodies. Seasonal food can be on the menu throughout the year and can be stored for later use in forms you enjoy.