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.


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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.

Why Do Fruitcakes Last So Long?

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iStock

Fruitcake is a shelf-stable food unlike any other. One Ohio family has kept the same fruitcake uneaten (except for periodic taste tests) since it was baked in 1878. In Antarctica, a century-old fruitcake discovered in artifacts left by explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s 1910 expedition remains “almost edible,” according to the researchers who found it. So what is it that makes fruitcake so freakishly hardy?

It comes down to the ingredients. Fruitcake is notoriously dense. Unlike almost any other cake, it’s packed chock-full of already-preserved foods, like dried and candied nuts and fruit. All those dry ingredients don’t give microorganisms enough moisture to reproduce, as Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist at North Carolina State University, explained in 2014. That keeps bacteria from developing on the cake.

Oh, and the booze helps. A good fruitcake involves plenty of alcohol to help it stay shelf-stable for years on end. Immediately after a fruitcake cools, most bakers will wrap it in a cheesecloth soaked in liquor and store it in an airtight container. This keeps mold and yeast from developing on the surface. It also keeps the cake deliciously moist.

In fact, fruitcakes aren’t just capable of surviving unspoiled for months on end; some people contend they’re better that way. Fruitcake fans swear by the aging process, letting their cakes sit for months or even years at a stretch. Like what happens to a wine with age, this allows the tannins in the fruit to mellow, according to the Wisconsin bakery Swiss Colony, which has been selling fruitcakes since the 1960s. As it ages, it becomes even more flavorful, bringing out complex notes that a young fruitcake (or wine) lacks.

If you want your fruitcake to age gracefully, you’ll have to give it a little more hooch every once in a while. If you’re keeping it on the counter in advance of a holiday feast a few weeks away, the King Arthur Flour Company recommends unwrapping it and brushing it with whatever alcohol you’ve chosen (brandy and rum are popular choices) every few days. This is called “feeding” the cake, and should happen every week or so.

The aging process is built into our traditions around fruitcakes. In Great Britain, one wedding tradition calls for the bride and groom to save the top tier of a three-tier fruitcake to eat until the christening of the couple’s first child—presumably at least a year later, if not more.

Though true fruitcake aficionados argue over exactly how long you should be marinating your fruitcake in the fridge, The Spruce says that “it's generally recommended that soaked fruitcake should be consumed within two years.” Which isn't to say that the cake couldn’t last longer, as our century-old Antarctic fruitcake proves. Honestly, it would probably taste OK if you let it sit in brandy for a few days.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Each State’s Favorite Christmas Candy

CandyStore.com
CandyStore.com

Halloween might be the unrivaled champion of candy-related holidays, but that doesn’t mean Christmas hasn’t carved out a large, chocolate Santa-shaped niche for itself in the sweets marketplace. And, of course, we can’t forget about candy canes, peppermint bark, and the red-and-green version of virtually every other kind of candy.

To find out which candies merrymakers are filling their bowls and stomachs with this holiday season, CandyStore.com analyzed survey responses from more than 32,000 consumers across the nation and compiled their top responses into one mouthwatering map.

As it turns out, 13 states—from California all the way to New Jersey—are reaching for mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups over any other holiday candy. Something about that shimmery tinfoil really does make you feel like you’re unwrapping a tiny, tasty gift.

CandyStore.com Top Christmas Candy by State

Source: CandyStore.com

And, if you hoped everyone would kiss candy corn goodbye until next October, we have some bad news: “reindeer” corn, with red, white, and green stripes, is the top choice in a staggering eight states, all of which are in the eastern half of the country. Tied with reindeer corn was peppermint bark, which, given how much white chocolate it contains, is also a pretty polarizing choice.

Candy canes and Hershey’s Kisses clinched third place with a respectable six states apiece, but other Christmas classics didn’t perform nearly as well—chocolate Santas and M&M’s came out on top in only two states each.

After that, there were some rather unconventional competitors, including Starburst, Arkansas’s favorite holiday candy; and Pez, which somehow won the hearts of residents of both Louisiana and New Mexico. 

And, unless you’re time-traveling from the 18th century, you’re probably not surprised that sugarplums didn’t make the map at all—find out what they actually are (hint: not plums!) here. You can also search the full list of state favorite candies below.

Source: CandyStore.com

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