A short history of mixing – from mortar and pestle to microns

History doesn’t tell us when the first early human picked up a stick to stir and mix the very first foods based on intentionally combining ingredients. But we do know that food mixing has the longest history of any form of mixing – and it begins with early humans over 30,000 years ago.

As a species, there is evidence that we first began combining ingredients for our own consumption as early as 32,000 years ago. Researchers have found primitive grinding tools in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic showing us that early humans were grinding cattails, fern roots and the cracked kernels of wild grasses with water in crude mortars and pestles to make pastes, similar to porridge or polenta. This paste was eaten as is, or when toasted to crustiness on a hot stone, became the first bread.

A blue bowl and spoons illustration

Some of the earliest mixing devices didn’t involve utensils at all. Instead they consisted of containers made from an animal stomach or leather pouch – and a shaking/mixing motion to create some of our oldest processed foods – yoghurt and butter from goat and sheep milk. Research supposes that the process was discovered by accident over 8,500 years ago, when animal milk stored in pouches was mixed and partially fermented by the movement and warmth of being carried along with our nomadic ancestors as they travelled.

Soon we humans also began using presses, vats and crude spoons of wood or bone to mix and ferment grains and fruit to create beer and wine. In Asia, we began to use ceramic pots in which to stir and cook fish soup. In the Americas, we used shaking containers filled with ground cocoa beans and water to create a foamy drink. And in northern Europe, both the Sami and the Vikings used bunches of birch twigs to whisk ingredients together.

But while human civilization became more advanced and complex as the years passed, mixing techniques stayed mainly the same for millennia. It was not until a rush of innovation in the 19th century that we saw the birth of our modern mixing technology.

Beginning in 1856 the hand cranked egg-beater revolutionized mixing and made egg-based emulsions such as mayonnaise easier to achieve. This seemingly simple device has over 1,000 different patents. Then in 1885 the first patents for electric mixers were granted – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Innovation in industrial mixing has continued to accelerate since then. Today, we depend on more and more technically advanced mixing technology developing towards eliminating air and achieving smaller droplet size – as small as one micron – for greater food and beverage quality and stability, as well as greater efficiency and the flexibility to mix a wider range of products in a single piece of equipment.

Ruler showing size of micron


Read more about today’s advanced mixing technology to find out why it is important to keep air out of our food products and how it’s done.

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