Top ways to preserve food naturally
The ultimate guide for the top ways to preserve food naturally at home, bringing you common methods & examples of food preservation and the definition and principles of how to preserve food naturally.
I have a personal commitment and journey to discovering different and exciting ways to making good food last so much longer so preserving is at the heart of this blog. Multiple methods exist in the world, many you will be familiar yet some which are less common. However in this article, I share my insights and as much information as possible on the best ways to preserve food naturally at home.
Definition of food preservation
To really define the preservation of food, it is to extend the shelf life of the product whilst maintaining the quality and hygiene level. To do this, process the food in a certain way to prevent growth of microorganisms such as yeasts and bacteria. This is a very simplified explanation, there is a lot of science behind it so here is a really useful source to find out more.
To preserved foods, many old methods are in practice still, yet as technology advances, modern industrial techniques have developed. In this post, we are looking at the modern most common methods which enable us to preserve foods from home.
Principles of preserving food
The key of food preservation slow down or prevent any spoilage agents, to minimise bacteria whilst keeping quality – texture, taste, appearance (colour). Key reasons why we preserve food is to save money and reduce kitchen waste.
The primary methods of food preservation can be reached by the following;
- Change in temperature – increase or decrease
- Dehydration – removing moisture or air
- Adding preservative – concentration of salt, sugar or acid
A successful preservation of foods, usually combined the above methods with one another. For example, to preserve fruits we can turn them into jam by boiling (increasing temperature & reduce moisture content) which kills any bacteria, then adding sugar (a preservative) which prevents re-growth of bacteria, and finally sealing in airtight jar to prevent re-contamination.
Top ways to preserve food naturally
1. Dehydrating (drying)
Dehydrating food is a method of food preservation that removes enough moisture from the food so bacteria, yeast and molds cannot grow yet the quality of the food is still retained. To safely achieve drying foods, they require low humidity, low heat and air circulation. The ways to drying foods is using a dehydrator machine, air drying (sun drying), oven drying or drying in the microwave. We have more information on the process of how to naturally air dry and dry foods in the oven/microwave here.
Dehydrator’s are designed to safely dry products and with an optimal level of air ventilation and heat foods can be dried in a uniformed manner. To use the air or oven to dry your foods is probably the simplest methods at home. There is a wide variety of products which are excellent when dehydrated; mushrooms, chillies, tomatoes, herbs and citrus fruits. We have a great article with the best tips and guide on drying foods here, so check it out! Try to dry out rose petals for potpourri.
This method includes cooking the food, then sealing it in a sterilized container then finished by boiling the container as an additional sterilizing step to destroy any remaining bacteria. Open the container and the food is exposed for bacteria to begin to grow. This is also why we use multiple preserving methods, for example once the container is open, it must be stored in the fridge to remain at low temperature.
There are two home canning methods used; pressure canning and water bath canning. Depending on the type of food, the level of protection against bacteria will vary.
Guide to Water Bath Canning
Water bath canning is done through a lower-temperature process. It will work for foods which have a natural high level of preserving agents such as acidity or sugars. Examples are; fruits, jellies, chutneys, pickles, relishes, condiments and tomatoes, all can be canned through a water bath.
How to achieve water bath canning
You will need a sterilized jar with a sterilized lid and a fitting shrink band (see tips here). Check the lids and jars to make sure they aren’t broken or cracked. You will also need a water bath canner (there is some pretty sophisticated ones you can buy but you can also use a large deep sauce pan with a lid – it just needs to fit the jar immersed in water). Fill the bath half full of water and add in your empty jars (ensure they are immersed at least 2 inches), heat the water to around 80°C. Once reached a simmer, carefully pull out your jar (you can buy specialist products here however you can also use a tea towel of oven mittens, just be very careful!).
Fill your jars with your product, following the recipe instructions and removing trapped air. Be sure to leave space between the product and the rim of the jar and clean away any residue. Place the band and the lid correctly and tightly to seal the jar. Complete this for all the jars you are canning. Keep the water at a simmer is then place the jars in the canning bath with the lid on. Follow the recipe instructions for the time required in the canning bath.
Once finished remove the lid and turn off the heat, I like to leave them for 10 minutes to sit in the water to begin to adjust to the temperature. Then carefully remove from the bath and leave them to sit on a towel for the next 12 to 24 hours to slowly acclimatize. You can check if they worked properly by touching the centre of the lid, if it doesn’t pop then it has properly sealed, store in cool dry place to last 18 months. If any lids do pop, unfortunately it hasn’t worked so just refrigerate those jars and eat them first.
Guide to Pressure Canning
Pressure canning reaches temperatures of 120°C which destroys microorganisms effectively. For foods which are low in preservatives such as acid, sugar or salt, this method is common. Furthermore, it is common to can meats and vegetables using a pressure canner.
Pressure canning requires specialist equipment of a pressure canner. Follow carefully the manufacturer’s instructions on how to use the equipment, as the instructions change depending on the brand. Essentially you will add water to the basin of the pressure canner, then place your filled jars into the machine and follow the instructions from your recipe and the canner to determine the time and the pressure. Once done, turn off the heat and leave the jars in the canner for 10 minutes for the depressurizing to occur and the temperature to slowly adjust. Be very careful to follow instructions. See below some extra reading and useful sources:-
Freezing method of preserving food is probably the easiest most common practice, by lowering the temperature causes any microbes to go dormant preventing any growth of microorganisms. To freeze foods, it can extend their shelf life and last an additional 3 to 12 months. I would try to use everything by 10 months at most as they start to lose quality over time and may show signs of freezer burn. For more information, tips and best practices on freezing fruits & vegetables, read our article here.
As well as fruits and vegetables, many other foods can be frozen;
- bread (in breadcrumbs, loaves or rolls)
- cooked pastas
- cooked rice
- eggs (cracked into a container – this is useful you’re recipe uses egg yolks not the whites, instead of waste, you can freeze the whites or vice versa)
- meat (raw & cooked)
I often cook meals in batch and divide into containers to freeze, this is a huge time saver! See below some key resources:-
Linked to freezing, Chilling is another method of food preservation. The process of lowering food temperature in the refrigerator slows down the growth and reproduction of microorganisms which helps prevent spoilage. The introduction of commercial fridges was a huge improvement for society, particularly in warmer climates, to be able to safely store fresh foods for a longer period of time. Nowadays we regularly chill foods as a part of daily food routines.
You can cure foods with a series of different methods. It is one of the oldest preservation methods, mainly through salting the food in attempt to remove moisture and reduces available water for bacteria to grow. We can dry or smoke cured foods as a final preservation step. It is also possible to wet-cure foods in a brine, where the food is soaked in salty water. Fish and meats are commonly preserved by a this method. Foods like bacon, salami other charcuterie meats become cured using salt or with the addition of potassium and sodium nitrate. To smoke a fish, place it in a brine mixture to absorb the salt, then hang ready for smoking.
There is a wealth of information on how to cure certain foods, it usually involves combining sugar and salt with your chosen flavourings, and fully covering the meat or fish and leaving to cure. Time is an important factor in successful curing. Here are some of my favourite recipes for curing:-
Pickling is a method of storing food in an antimicrobial and edible liquid to preserve. There is actually two categories in which foods are pickled; chemical and fermentation pickling. I have added a separate heading on fermenting below as it is such an interesting method of it’s own! Chemical pickling is where the food is placed in the liquid which restrains or kills the bacteria, it will them need to be heated or boiled so the food is fully steeped in the pickling agent. The liquid agents for chemical pickling include brine (made with high salt content), vinegar, alcohol or oil. Most common chemical pickling foods include onions (see our delicious pickled onion recipe here!), cucumbers, eggs, beetroot or a mix of vegetables like piccalilli. In fermentation pickling, the foods produce organic acids to act as preserving agents, continue reading more on this below. See some useful recipes below:-
Fermentation is a very common method of preserving foods to last for months. This process is where the cells within the product use sugar for energy without oxygen, this produces chemical changes in the organic substance. In beer and wine, the yeast converts the sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. For cheese, the fermentation process takes the sugars from the milk to produce lactic acid which curdles the milk and the ripens into mature cheese. There are so many recipes of fermented foods you can easily make at home. Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kombucha, Sourdough bread and even yogurt. One of my favourite easy ferments; garlic in honey, if you are new to fermenting this is a great to give it a go! See below some useful sources and my favourite recipes:-
Boiling foods at high temperatures is also a useful method of preserving. We use this method with milk named pasteurisation. The milk is heated to high temperature for a short period and then quickly cooled. By doing this, any harmful bacteria’s are killed off. In the home, we commonly use boiling when making fruit preserves like jams. See our recipe for sweet chilli sauce and cranberry sauce where the ingredients are brought to a boil. A you may notice, many recipes of food preservation are used in conjunction with another. For example the above recipes also all use Sugaring as part of the process where the ingredients are submerged with sugar to act as a preserving agent.
I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful, I would love to hear your thoughts or if you want any further information. Just leave a comment below!
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