FOOD PROCESSING AND FOOD REFINING
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© August 2015, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
This is a very large subject, about which entire books are written. Throughout time, mankind has eaten most food fresh. Crops were picked and eaten, or animals were butchered and eaten quickly before the food spoiled.
However, eating food fresh is not always possible, for example during the winter when the crops did not grow. Animal foods also were often harvested in one season and needed to be preserved so they could be eaten later in the year. As a result, people learned how to alter most foods to preserve them and at times, to alter their flavor or texture for various reasons such as to make them tastier. These methods are called food processing or food refining.
Some food processing methods are fabulous, and allow us to have certain foods all year round. Others are not nearly as nutritious or safe, and should be avoided. The rest of this article discusses different methods of food processing and refining.
MAJOR TYPES OF FOOD PROCESSING
There are hundreds of ways to process food to make it taste better, to preserve it, or for other reasons. Here are some of the most important ways that are used today.
Freezing. This is one of the very best methods of preserving food. It is a modern processing method used only in the last 75 years or so when electric freezers became available. It preserves many nutrients, requires no chemical additives, and is a simple and good method to preserve food.
Drying. This is one of the most ancient methods of preserving some meats, and some fruits and vegetables. Foods were generally dried in the sun, though today often they are dried in large ovens. This is another excellent method of food preservation. Most nutrients are preserved, the food is made more yang which is good today, it requires no chemical additives, and food without moisture keeps much longer.
Freeze drying. This is a modern scientific combination of the two methods above. It is done with special machines that can extract the moisture in the food as it is being cooled at the same time. It is a more costly method, but it preserves even more nutrients in most cases than either freezing or drying. It is used mainly in supplement manufacture and other pharmaceutical applications because of its cost. However, some camping and trail foods are made this way as well.
Vacuum packing. In this method of food preservation, often dried food is placed in plastic bags and then all the air is extracted. This will make the food last longer and does not seriously affect the nutrition of the food. While perhaps a little more costly, this is a very good method of food preservation. It is used in camping foods and in outer space missions and other places.
Packaging in a gas other than air. This is a relatively modern method of food preservation. The most common application is to pack cereal grains or other dried food in a 5-gallon bucket or other sealed container. The air is removed and replaced with nitrogen gas, or some other gas that does not support bacterial or fungal growth as much. This can preserve food for 10 or more years by inhibiting the growth of mold or bacteria.
However, it is best to eat foods as fresh as possible. While this method is okay for long-term emergency food storage, perhaps, it is usually not needed if food is dried and packaged correctly, and the nitrogen may affect the food quality to some degree.
Fermenting. In this method of food processing, a yeast or ferment is added to a liquid mixture of milk, or hops or some other food and the yeast is allowed to grow. It has the effect of converting the sugar to other compounds.
This is another ancient food preservation method. For example, grape juice was made into wine. Hops was made into beer. Milk is fermented to make yogurt or kefir. Cabbage is fermented to make saurcraut.
Fermenting does more than preserve some foods. It actually adds some nutrients while it destroys the sugars and perhaps other nutrients. The yeasts used produce B vitamins, for example, in some cases. The ferment used to make yogurt is one that is beneficial for the human digestive tract.
Fermenting is a good method, but it is much more yin in Chinese medical terms, so we donŐt recommend fermented foods much today. We feel that other methods such as those above are better.
Smoking. This is another ancient method in which fish, meats and perhaps other foods are basically dried in a smoke house. This is an enclosed shelter in which the smoke is allowed to penetrate the food. This adds flavor to the food while the hot, dry air dries out the food to help preserve it. This method is okay, but the smoke tends to add toxic components to the food to some degree.
Pickling. Pickling is the process whereby food such as cucumbers are soaked in a salt solution, perhaps with vinegar, and often with other added chemicals and ferments or yeasts, for up to a month or longer. It is another ancient method. As a result, the food is broken down to some degree and the taste is altered. It also preserves the cucumbers, herring or other food.
This method is not as recommended because it is very yin and usually has a number of chemicals added to the food.
Salting. Salt is an excellent food preservative because it pulls the moisture out of the food so that bacteria will not grow as readily. In fact, it can kill some microorganisms on contact. Salting is another much older method of food preservation. It is not used much today because salted fish, for example, can cause stomach cancer due to the irritating nature of the salted food.
Canning. Canning is another ancient way to prepare and preserve many foods. While the commercial canning industry is only about 150 years old, people filled jars with food to can them for thousands of years. Generally, the idea was to fill a glass or clay jar with food and attach a lid securely to the top so that the container was airtight. Then the food is cooked to kill all the bacteria in the food. Because no air can enter the container or jar, no new bacteria can get inside to spoil the food. It will thus keep for months or even years.
Canning is a valid method of food preservation and preparation. Food can be tasty and nutritious. However, it is not as good as freezing and drying of food, so we recommend canned food less often. An exception is sardines. These cannot be bought fresh because they spoil so quickly. Sardines are actually a wonderful food product rich in omega-3 fatty acids, RNA and DNA, which are nucleic acids, they have bones which are edible and the spinal cord is very edible as well. They are best prepared by immediately being placed in a metal can with olive oil or even just spring water, and then they are cooked in the can. In this way, they will last several years and most of the nutrients are preserved.
Another food that is not bad in canned form is dried beans. These are sold everywhere and save a lot of preparation time. Be sure that the beans have not been laced with sugar and other chemical additives, which are not necessary with canning but are added for flavoring.
Preserving with sugar or honey. Sugar and honey can preserve some foods by an osmotic process that kills most germs on contact. In fact, placing sugar in a wound can often kill the germs in the wound much better than antibiotics, according to some sources.
Fruits and even some vegetables are often preserved with sugar or honey. They are made into jams, jellies, and ŇpreservesÓ by mashing them and then adding sugar or honey to preserve them. Sometimes the food is cooked, but it need not be cooked always.
The trouble with using sugar or honey to preserve foods is it is very yin and sweet. Today this often upset body chemistry and favors the overgrowth of yeast organisms in the body. For these reasons, we strongly discourage the use of jams, jellies and other foods prepared with sugar or honey.
Refining away parts of the food that spoil. To preserve wheat, for instance, the germ and bran are often removed, leaving the familiar white flour product. This is mostly starch and most bugs and animals will not eat it, so it keeps much longer than whole wheat which bugs will eat.
Sugar cane is often refined by separating it into sugar and molasses. The sugar has very little nutrition, and keeps well. The molasses has most of the minerals, especially iron, which feeds bacteria and does not keep well.
Rice is often processed to remove the outer hull or part and the rice bran. Once again, this is the most nutritious part and the part that spoils the easiest. That which remains is called white rice, a far inferior product that keeps well because bugs donŐt generally like to eat it.
Unfortunately, these methods of refining cereal grains remove the best part of the grain that contains the most vitamins and minerals and other beneficial substances. As a result, people who live on white flour, white rice and white sugar quickly become extremely depleted in minerals and vitamins, many of which are needed just to digest the cereal. This, sadly, is the condition of most of mankind today who has been raised on these foods and does not realize how nutritionally deficient they are.
For this reason, we do not recommend eating any refined cereals such as white flour, white rice or white sugar of any kind any time. White basmati rice is a little better, but not too much.
Modern chemical preservatives. Many chemicals can be added to foods to preserve the food colors, flavors, or to inhibit mold and bacteria growth. Some are anti-oxidants such as vitamin C or vitamin E. These are fine and can help keep foods fresh and safe for months.
Most, however, are artificial chemicals that are somewhat toxic. They are numerous and a few well-known ones are BHA, BHT, sodium benzoate, nitrites, nitrates, sulfites to preserve color, EDTA and other chelators to preserve food color, and several hundred others.
Many of these chemicals are irritating to the digestive tract and may be toxic for humans in other ways. Therefore, we discourage the addition of any of these artificial chemicals to the food supply.