Were Flash-Frozen Vegetables Invented or Discovered?
Frozen vegetables as good as fresh
The flash-freeze method
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As a naturalist, Birdseye knew enough biology to recognize that the freezing occurred so quickly that water inside the individual cells did not have time to separate and form individual crystals of ice. Instead, the cells were frozen as-is, or flash-frozen. When the meat was thawed out, it was not mushy and watery with melting ice crystals. The individual cells were intact and the food retained its original flavor and texture.
Eventually posted back to the lower 48, Birdseye attempted to replicate the Eskimo method. With a bucket of salt water, ice and a fan, he was eventually able to flash-freeze not only meat, but also vegetables. The vegetables did not develop ice crystals either, but retained most of their original pre-freeze turgidity. We now know that flash-frozen fruits and vegetables also retain more vitamins.
Birdseye was far more than an enterprising naturalist. He was also an entrepreneurial inventor and industrial engineer. He devised a method of packaging his foodstuffs in waxed cardboard boxes and speeding the process by freezing under high pressure. His assembly line and other inventions were patented and, in 1929, sold for $22 million. In 1930, the first commercially available flash-frozen foods were marketed to the public.
It started with ice fishing
Fresh out of college, Clarence Birdseye went to work for the government as a naturalist and was assigned to Alaska. He had some experience as a taxidermist and liked to cook, both of which skills likely contributed to his observations. Birdseye the taxidermist took note of a peculiar method in use by locals to preserve fish and meat. Birdseye the chef appreciated the fact that caught fish could keep for months and still taste as if it were fresh.
Biography published in 2012. Available in Kindle, paperback, hardcover or audio.
The Eskimos preserved fish immediately after being caught and filleted—or other meat while still quite fresh. They immersed the dressed meat in seawater, which has a freezing point below that of fresh water. It was then exposed to a fierce wind while being splashed with water so as to draw the “warmth” out through evaporation. With the aid of additional ice chunks, the provisions froze solid very quickly.
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