15 Cool Facts About Frozen Food

iStock.com/hutchyb
iStock.com/hutchyb

Frozen foods are easy to take for granted—all that clever packaging, all those choices, all that ice cream—simply because their very existence hinges on simplicity, convenience, and ease. But frozen foods have a complicated backstory, a long scientific evolution, and a debate over pizza origins that could make your head spin. In honor of National Frozen Food Day, which takes place on March 6, let's dig into the history.

1. They don't require any added preservatives.

Frozen foods do not require any added preservatives to keep them safe and consumable, because microbes—the kind that make you sick—cannot grow on any food that is at a temperature less than 0°F. The microbes don't die at that temperature, but they stop multiplying. Be careful when you unfreeze food; microbes will instantly start growing as they do on unfrozen food, so it’s best to handle thawing food as you would fresh food.

2. It's a myth that freezing food depletes it of nutrients.

Despite some old wives’ tales, freezing food does not remove any nutrients. Freeze away!

3. Freezer burn is normal.

You don’t need to be afraid of freezer burn or color changes in your properly frozen food. Freezer burn is just the result of air hitting frozen food and allowing the ice to sublimate; other color changes can be blamed on long freezing times or poor packaging. It might look gross, but if your frozen food has maintained a proper temperature, it’s fine to eat. (Still, give it a sniff before chowing down.)

4. Over time, freezing food can diminish its quality.

Freezing food typically keeps items edible indefinitely, although taste and quality may diminish over time. Some items that stay tasty even after long freezes include uncooked game, poultry, and meat, which are still good even after up to a year in the freezer.

5. Frozen foods hit the industrial market in the 1800s.


iStock

Even though freezing food was used as a storage technique in cold weather climates for many years, it’s believed it was first applied to industrial food sales sometime in the 1800s, when a wily Russian company froze a small quantity of duck and geese and shipped them to London. By 1899, the Baerselman Bros. company adapted frozen storage for their own Russia-to-England food shipping business, though they initially only operated during cold weather months.

6. Carl Paul Gottfried Linde is the unofficial godfather of frozen food.

Carl Paul Gottfried Linde, an engineer, scientist, and professor at the Technical University of Munich, is basically the father of frozen food. Sort of. He helped pioneer industrial cooling, through what’s commonly known as the Hampson-Linde cycle, and used his findings to plan an ice and refrigeration machine back in the 19th century.

7. Guinness played a part in the history of frozen food.

Linde’s desire to build such machines was only furthered in 1892, when the Guinness Brewery requested that Linde create a carbon dioxide liquefaction plant for them, pushing him still further into the arena of low temperature refrigeration and the liquefaction of air. Thanks, beer!

8. Clarence Birdseye revolutionized the industry.

Ever wonder about the namesake of Birds Eye Frozen Foods? It came straight from the company’s founder, Clarence Birdseye, who introduced the concept of flash freezing to the world.

9. Birdseye's "a-ha" moment came to him in the Arctic.

Frozen food pioneer Clarence Birdseye in a portrait from the 1950s
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Birdseye developed his technique after seeing food freezing in action in the Arctic, and noting how much better frozen fish tasted if it had been frozen immediately after been caught—like a flash!—versus food that was frozen on a delay.

10. Birdseye is also partly to thank for the freezers that line grocery store aisles.

Not only did Birdseye help pioneer flash freezing as a frozen food standard, he also helped develop in-store freezer cases and refrigerated boxcars that allowed his frozen foods (and, yes, others) to travel near and far.

11. America's first commercial frozen food line went on sale in 1930.

Birdseye’s food was so prevalent that it was actually the first frozen food sold commercially in the United States. On March 6, 1930, Birds Eye frozen foods were put on sale at Davidson’s Market in Springfield, Massachusetts, the first product of its kind.

12. The TV dinner was not the first frozen meal.

The first “complete” frozen meal was not actually the beloved TV dinner—it was airplane food! In 1945, Maxson Food Systems, Inc. starting making their so-called “Strato-Plates,” meals that were created specifically for consumption on airplanes (both by military and civilian passengers). Each frozen meal included a meat, a vegetable, and a potato, and was meant to be reheated for in-air chowing.

13. It was Swanson's who coined the term TV dinner.

Maxson closed up shop before their Strato-Plates could be sold on the ground, but other companies picked up the slack, including One-Eyed Eskimo, Quaker State Food, and Swanson’s, which is widely hailed as the true creator of TV dinners: they coined the name and were the most well-known maker of tasty compartmentalized meals in the 1950s.

14. A corporate executive's heart attack inspired the "healthy" frozen meal trend.

Conagra Foods introduced its Healthy Choice line of frozen food back in 1989, after the corporation was inspired to pursue healthy frozen picks after its chairman, Charles Harper, suffered a heart attack due to his bad eating habits. 

15. Who invented the frozen pizza? It's complicated.

Whole pepperoni pizza on wood cutting board
iStock.com/dbvirago

There’s long been a debate over which company first introduced the frozen pizza to the grocery store market, with both Totino’s and Tombstone vying for the title. A more likely candidate? The Celentano brothers, who owned their own Italian specialty store in New Jersey in the 1950s, are believed to have marketed the first frozen pizza in 1957.

This article originally appeared in 2016.

Graham Crackers Were Invented to Combat the Evils of Coffee, Alcohol, and Masturbation

tatniz/iStock via Getty Images
tatniz/iStock via Getty Images

Long before they were used to make s’mores or the tasty crust of a Key lime pie, graham crackers served a more puritanical purpose in 19th-century America. The cookies were invented by Sylvester Graham, an American Presbyterian minister whose views on food, sex, alcohol, and nutrition would seem a bit extreme to today's cracker-snackers. Much like the mayor in the movie Chocolat, Graham and his thousands of followers—dubbed Grahamites—believed it was sinful to eat decadent foods. To combat this moral decay, Graham started a diet regimen of his own.

Graham ran health retreats in the 1830s that promoted a bland diet that banned sugar and meat. According to Refinery29, Graham's views ultimately inspired veganism in America as well as the “first anti-sugar crusade.” He condemned alcohol, tobacco, spices, seasoning, butter, and "tortured" refined flour. Caffeine was also a no-no. In fact, Graham believed that coffee and tea were just as bad as tobacco, opium, or alcohol because they created a “demand for stimulation.” However, the worst vice, in Graham's opinion, was overeating. “A drunkard sometimes reaches old age; a glutton never,” he once wrote.

Graham’s austere philosophy was informed by the underlying belief that eating habits affect people’s behaviors, and vice versa. He thought certain foods were "overstimulating" and led to impure thoughts and passions, including masturbation—or “self-pollution,” as he called it—which he believed to be an epidemic that caused both blindness and insanity.

Illustration of Sylvester Graham
Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Graham's views directly influenced Victorian-era corn flake inventor John Harvey Kellogg, who was born a year after Graham died. Like his predecessor, Kellogg also believed that meat and some flavorful foods led to sexual impulses, so he advocated for the consumption of plain foods, like cereals and nuts, instead. (Unsurprisingly, the original recipes for both corn flakes and graham crackers were free of sinful sugar.)

In one lecture, Graham told young men they could stop their minds from wandering to forbidden places if they avoided “undue excitement of the brain and stomach and intestines.” This meant swearing off improper foods and substances like tobacco, caffeine, pepper, ginger, mustard, horseradish, and peppermint. Even milk was banned because it was “too exciting and too oppressive.”

So what could Graham's followers eat? The core component of Graham’s diet was bread made of coarsely ground wheat or rye, unlike the refined white flour loaves that were sold in bakeries at that time. From this same flour emerged Graham's crackers and muffins, both of which were common breakfast foods. John Harvey Kellogg was known to have eaten the crackers and apples for breakfast, and one of his first attempts at making cereal involved soaking twice-baked cracker bits in milk overnight.

Slices of rye bread, a jug of milk, apples and ears of corn on sackcloth, wooden table
SomeMeans/iStock via Getty Images

However, Kellogg was one of the few remaining fans of Graham’s diet, which began to fall out of favor in the 1840s. At Ohio’s Oberlin College, a Grahamite was hired in 1840 to strictly enforce the school’s meal plans. One professor was fired for bringing a pepper shaker to the dining hall, and the hunger-stricken students organized a protest the following year, arguing that the Graham diet was “inadequate to the demands of the human system as at present developed.” Ultimately, the Grahamite and his tyrannical nutrition plan were kicked out.

Much like Kellogg’s corn flakes, someone else stepped in and corrupted Graham’s crackers, molding them into the edible form we now know—and, yes, love—today. In Graham’s case, it was the National Biscuit Company, which eventually became Nabisco; the company started manufacturing graham crackers in the 1880s. But Graham would likely be rolling in his grave if he knew they contained sugar and white flour—and that they're often topped with marshmallows and chocolate for a truly decadent treat.

7 Tasty Facts About Tater Tots

bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images
bhofack2, iStock via Getty Images

Whether you associate them with your school cafeteria, your childhood home, or your local dive bar, tater tots are ubiquitous. Creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside, the bite-sized pellets rival French fries for the title of most delicious potato product. But they’re more than just a tasty side dish—they’re also an upcycling success story, a casserole ingredient, and one of the few foods that’s more popular frozen than fresh. Here are some more facts about tater tots you should know.

1. The first Tater Tots were made from French fry scraps.

Brothers F. Nephi Grigg and Golden Grigg founded the Oregon Frozen Foods Company, later known as Ore-Ida, in Ontario, Oregon, in 1952. One of their first items was frozen French fries, and after seeing all the potato scraps they had leftover, they came up with an idea. By chopping up the potato parts, seasoning them, and molding them into pellets, they were able to create a new product. With help from a thesaurus, they landed on the name tater tot and debuted their creation in 1954.

2. Tater Tots are the main ingredient in Hotdish casserole.

Hotdish casserole with tater tots.
ALLEKO, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are typically served as an appetizer or a side dish, but in certain states, they’re part of the main course. Hotdish follows the long Midwestern tradition of tossing whatever’s in the kitchen into a casserole. It’s made by mixing together ground beef and frozen vegetables and topping it with a layer of tater tots before baking the whole dish in the oven. It’s a hearty match for Midwestern winters, plus, it’s a way to sneak more tots into your diet.

3. The name Tater Tot is trademarked.

If the golden nugget of potato-y goodness you’re eating is not Ore-Ida brand, it’s not really a tater tot. The Grigg brothers trademarked the catchy name shortly after developing the product, and Ore-Ida still holds its trademark on tater tots today. This doesn’t stop people using it as a catch-all term for the generic version of the food. Ore-Ida tried to combat this in 2014 by running an ad campaign warning customers not to “be fooled by Imi-taters.”

4. Tater Tots have different names around the world.

The all-American tater tot has spread around the globe, but it’s usually sold under a different name abroad. Tot-lovers in New Zealand and Australia may refer to them as potato gems, potato royals, potato pom-poms, or hash bites. The food is so popular in New Zealand that Pizza Hut launched a pie with a hash bite crust there in 2016. In Canada, they’re called tasti taters or spud puppies, and they’ve been labeled oven crunchies in the UK.

5. Homemade tater tot recipes may not be worth it.

Tater tots on a plate served with ketchup.
MSPhotographic, iStock via Getty Images

Tater tots are the ultimate convenience food—unless you try making them from scratch at home. Recipes online involve peeling and grating pounds of potatoes, frying them once, chilling them overnight, and then shaping them into tots and frying them a second time. Without the streamlined method and equipment of a factory, the process can take 12 hours. Even fine restaurants that feature tater tots on their menus often prefer the taste (and convenience) of the frozen stuff.

6. Idaho praised Napoleon Dynamite for featuring Tater Tots.

Napoleon Dynamite takes place in Idaho, and one of the ways the 2004 film pays tribute to the state is by prominently featuring the tot. The State of Idaho passed a resolution in 2005 commending the makers of the film, specifically thanking them for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.”

7. The birthplace of the Tater Tot is hosting a Tater Tot festival.

Nearly 70 years after tater tots were invented there, Ontario, Oregon, is honoring its patron potato product by dedicating an entire festival to it in August 2020. The Tater Tot Festival will feature games, food vendors, and a Ferris wheel, plus special events like a tater tot-eating contest and a tater tot-themed play. The fair will end with the crowning of the tater tot festival king and queen.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER