Traditional Food Processing Principles

What we call food processing can be divided into two basic groups:

  1. Using technologies that are more complex and require advanced skills and knowledge
  2. Home preparation of foods (cooking) and food preservation for household use

The line separating these two groups is quite blurred. In the past, a lot of basic food processing was done at homes. That may be also the case now for those who really want to eat traditionally processed foods. However, such processing usually requires not only knowledge but also special equipment and space. Most people will want to rely on specialized processors for most of the traditional foods. Unfortunately, there are not that many who do it and these are scattered around and not easily accessible. Government food safety regulations may prevent production and sales of many traditional products. Meats and dairy products are most affected but also various fermentations may be difficult to commercialize. The only way to make many traditional food products will be if that is done by consumers' own homes for their own use.

The big difference between the traditional food processing and the industrial food manufacturing is that the former is some way of food preservation and making raw foods edible, more digestible and tastier. Bread and cheese, a wide variety of fermented foods and beverages, traditional meat products, etc. are still basic foods, altered by microbes, heat or smoke. They have few, if any additional ingredients and additives, mostly salt and sometimes spices. The industrial food processing, as a rule, adds to foods many new industrial ingredients. Moreover, it often totally alters basic foods, separates and modifies them into various sub-products. These are later re-assembled in many new combinations with a lot additional ingredients to form completely new products. Michael Pollan rightly calls these "foodstuffs" to differentiate them from foods.

Sustainable food processing means using traditional technologies that don't alter the basic structures of foods but make them edible and better tasting. The main groups of traditional foods that can be sustainably processed are:

  • Breads and all baked products
  • Cheeses and other fermented dairy products
  • Lacto-fermented vegetables and drinks
  • Wines, beers, ciders and other alcoholic beverages
  • Fruit vinegars
  • Dried fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and herbs
  • Pressed seed oils
  • Processed meats, poultry and fish
      • Fresh sausages, raw and cooked
      • Cured and smoked sausages, whole muscle meats, poultry and fish
      • Air dried meats and dried meat snacks
      • Fermented sausages
      • Rendered animal fats
      • Bone and meat stocks

The list can be expanded to include products from various cultures from different parts of the World, if processed foods and processing technologies can help advance our health and make economic sense. The preference will always be given to foods that can be procured locally, sustainably produced at our climatic conditions.

There are three basic requirements for traditional processing of foods:

  • All basic raw foods for processing: meats, poultry, milk, fish, grains, pulses, oil seeds, fruits, berries, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, honey and others are sustainably produced and best if they come from local sources.
  • No industrially refined and industrially made ingredients. This includes some basic and common ingredients we don't often think of as industrial:
      • White sugar
      • White flour
      • Refined salt
      • White vinegar
      • Refined plant oils
  • Processing methods are based on food traditions using equipment that is available today, that can assure hygienic production of foods and is affordable for small processors

Bread. A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. By Jeffrey Hamelman 

The Art of Fermentation. By Sandor Ellix Katz 

Charcuterie. By Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn