Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
With all of today’s modern luxuries, it’s hard to imagine how folks fed large families without refrigeration. Meat begins to spoil within hours if not treated. Vegetables and fruits have about 1 week on average before turning to mush.
If you are no stranger to off-the-grid living, you know that there are alternative methods of food preservation. There are root cellars, vacuum-sealing, and preserving with spices. Many spices that are in your cupboard right now can help you preserve fresh foods.
Many cultures across the world have used these same spice-preserving techniques for centuries. If you are just now learning about using spices to make your food storage last longer, then prepare to be amazed.
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Can Any Spices Preserve Foods?
No, you will not preserve food by coating some meat in dried spices from the pantry. Each preserving spice brings something different to the food. It is important to know what each spice does and why. Commonly, spices are used in combination with other ingredients to aid in the preservation process.
Some spices are added to a canning/pickling situation for additional preserving effects. Other spices require their oil extract to preserve meats or fish. You must be strategic in what spices you are using to preserve your foods. Here are the best spices for food storage.
You will commonly find whole peppercorns in store-bought pickling liquids or pickling spice mixes. This is because peppercorns possess preservation properties. They can help your homemade pickles last a bit longer thanks to antifungal, prebiotic, and antimicrobial effects.
Ground peppercorns can also be used as a preservative aid. Add ground pepper into any homemade condiments that are properly canned such as jams, preserves, or whole fruits. It is a natural solution to chemical preservatives you might find in store-bought jarred foods.
Cinnamon oil is a well-known bread preservative. A light coating of cinnamon oil on the outside of wax paper is the best way to store homemade bread for days beyond its typical expiration date. It inhibits mold growth on the outside of the bread without adding tons of offensive flavor.
Cinnamon powder has also been found to inhibit the growth of foodborne pathogens. More and more, food scientists are looking for natural preservatives as an alternative to chemical ones, which may be detrimental to our health.
Often referred to as the “Spice of the Ancients”, cumin has been used for both flavoring and preserving food for centuries. Ancient Egyptians even used it as part of the mummification and embalming process of their dead. They believed a well-preserved body would have a better chance of a peaceful afterlife.
Today, ground cumin would be mixed with salt and pepper to create a flavorful and long-lasting preservative. Cumin adds anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years to your food’s shelf life, depending on how it is utilized. It also adds a nice smoky flavor to your food over time.
In addition to treating digestive problems, ginger has been used as a food preservative dating back to ancient Greece. They loved using ginger as a bread preservative so much that it became a dish that is still loved today: gingerbread! Gingerbread has a much longer shelf life than traditional bread, thanks in part to ginger.
A mixture of ginger, garlic, sodium benzoate, and ascorbic acid was found to be a highly effective preservative at room temperature for up to 5 weeks. This solution was used to preserve the production of cashew milk with success.
Food can be submerged in honey for long-term preservation. The sugar found in honey is highly concentrated so it forces out any yeast or bacteria cells. This prevents them from spreading and spoiling your food.
Honey has been used in preservation since Ancient Egypt. Honey lasts forever without an expiration date, so anything submerged inside should last for years. Gardening seeds can be stored in honey during the winter. Fish, eggs, and meat can also be submerged completely to preserve at low room temperature.
Mustard seed has a natural antimicrobial effect. The essential oils found inside inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold, making them a great ingredient for preserving your food. The byproduct of mustard seed has been found effective as a food preservative in comparison to chemical preservatives.
By utilizing the mustard seed byproduct, you are repurposing something that would otherwise end up in a landfill. You are also using a healthier alternative to factory-made chemicals. Using natural ingredients for preservation is a healthier option for the general public.
Another natural preservative, rosemary oil is one of the most common natural preservatives used in the United Kingdom. Artificial preservatives are no longer the industry standard, as the public wants more transparency about what exactly is in our food. Rosemary oil provides anti-oxidation benefits and manages spoilage on the microbial level.
Before the age of refrigeration, sage was used as a flavor deterrent in “off” meat. Its strong flavors would mask any undesirable flavors, which also allowed families to utilize meat past its prime. Antimicrobial properties in sage also likely helped to preserve fresh meat.
Packaged foods such as liver pate often contain sage oil to preserve freshness and flavor. Use sage oil, dried sage, or fresh sage for its long lastability.
Perhaps the most famous of all, salt is the number one food preservative in human history. Salt can preserve meat, fish, or vegetables. Any savory dish can be preserved using salt, as demonstrated since the beginning of agriculture.
In times without refrigeration, salt allowed for families to enjoy fresh meat or vegetables all winter long. Today, fish and meat are often cured with salt before being aged. Salt-crusted whole fish is a common delicacy that leaves fish moist, tender, and fabulously fresh. Avoid table salt in favor of sea salt or kosher salt, which will act as the perfect preservative.
The process of making jellies and jams was built on the idea of preserving with sugar. Thick jam that is properly canned will last years at room temperature before the seal is broken. Whole fruit pieces are also commonly jarred with a sugar solution for preserving.
Sugar preserves food in the same way that honey does. You can also concentrate the sugars in fruits to act as a natural preservative. This can also help folks avoid too much refined sugar in their homemade jam.
This golden ground spice has recently been found to have preserving qualities, especially in seafood. Seafood companies all over the world are starting to utilize turmeric as a natural preservative. Turmeric is healthier than using chemical preservatives and also adds a lovely hue to your food.
Last but not least, vanilla extract is simple to make and self-preserves, so it can last forever. By using just two ingredients, you can create your own self-contained vanilla extract that only gets more flavorful without ever spoiling.
To an aittight jar, simply add 1 cup vodka to 6-8 split vanilla beans. Allow the beans to sit in the vodka. Over time, you will have the most flavorful vanilla extract for baking with no effort at all. Plus, it is near impossible for this extract to spoil thanks to the antimicrobial properties of the alcohol. Add more vodka and vanilla beans as you run low to replenish your extract.
Common spices that you already have in the cabinet can actually help preserve a lot of your homemade foods for hard times or cold months. We can forego the chemical preservatives and additives by simply looking at the local spice shop or our own backyard. When you need to store foods without refrigeration, just remember that spices can save your food in a pinch!
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