20 All-Time Greatest Food Inventions

Electrolux Refrigerator Ad, 1931 

 

 

What's the greatest thing since sliced bread?
The Royal Society— the UK's national academy of science whose Fellows include Prince Charles, Stephen Hawking, and more than 80 Nobel laureates—betters that by 20.

The Royal Society Fellows challenged themselves to answer the question What are the most important inventions and innovations in culinary history?
They looked at discoveries and developments that changed the way we eat, but to make the list, an invention also needed to change the way we live.

Based on contributions to accessibility, productivity, aesthetics, and health, these are the Royal Society's picks for the top 20 innovations in the history of food and drink, from the dawn of time to the present:

  1.  Refrigeration
  2.  Pasteurization/sterilization
  3.  Canning
  4.  The oven
  5.  Irrigation
  6.  Threshing machine/combine harvester
  7.  Baking
  8.  Selective breeding/strains
  9.  Grinding/milling
  10.  The plow
  11.  Fermentation
  12.  The fishing net
  13.  Crop rotation
  14.  The pot
  15.  The knife
  16.  Eating utensils
  17.  The cork
  18.  The barrel
  19.  The microwave oven
  20.  Frying

I do hate to quibble, especially with the eminent scientists and technologists of the Royal Society Fellows, but clearly there are more Nobel laureates than cooks in that group. The microwave oven? The cork?

Personally, I can't imagine life without my immersion blender, although I do recognize that it's not exactly a building block of civilization. But even using the standards of the Royal Society, based on the criteria of accessibility, productivity, aesthetics, and health, I would juggle the list to make room for the thermometer, recipe standardization, the advent of restaurants, and maybe coffee brewing.

Think about the ways in which the personal computer and the internet have transformed modern cooking and eating in just the last decade. Only time will tell which of our modern innovations will really matter in the larger scheme of things, and which will be relegated to cluttering the kitchen cabinets of culinary history.

 

Gigabiting: where food meets culture and technology.

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