Tetra Pak pioneered the development of aseptic packaging in the 1960s. It was described by The Institute of Food Technologists as ‘the greatest food innovation of the twentieth century’. Although this specific technique is a relatively modern invention, the idea of preserving food to prevent spoilage, to get through periods of scarcity, or to facilitate transport, is thousands of years old.
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The quest to preserve food has also led to the discovery of exciting flavours, adding new dimensions to the world’s cuisines. Here we look at some of the traditional ways in which people around the world historically, and still today, protect what’s good.
Dehydration is one of the oldest preservation methods, used since prehistoric times. By evaporating moisture, dehydration inhibits the growth of microorganisms that need water to thrive. North American Indians, for example, used the sun’s rays to dry slices of meat, the Chinese dried eggs and the Japanese dried fish and rice.
Long before the modern food industry brought powdered milk to the masses, Genghis Khan and his invading hordes carried dehydrated milk on their journeys. The Mongols are credited with developing a method of boiling, skimming, and drying milk liquids in the sun to extend the shelf life and the portability of this highly nutritious substance.
Salting foods was another popular preservation method. Increasing the salinity of organic matter prevents pathogens from growing, ensuring that it is free of contaminants as well as imparting a deliciously savoury tang.
Salt-pickled foods are believed to have originated in India and the Orient, after which they were introduced to the Western world through trade routes. Indian pickles, called achaar, are commonly made from mango and lime, but can also be made from exotic ingredients such as rose petals, jackfruit, lotus stem, and purple yam. The Chinese pickled everything - vegetables, meat, fruit, and nuts - and in fact, some foods, such as plums, were only consumed after being pickled.
Russia’s proximity to Asia, coupled with a relatively short growing season and harsh winters, bred a passion for pickling - or solenie (sol is the Russian word for salt). Peasants had to find a way to make cabbage, mushrooms and cucumbers last the winter, and pickling them in a salt solution was the answer.
One of the most versatile methods of preserving food is also one of the most counterintuitive. Fermentation - a process in which food is allowed to “go bad” under controlled conditions - originated in the Neolithic age, and can be used to prolong the lifespan of meat, dairy, grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit.
Some of the world’s most popular foods are created this way, including yoghurt, cheese, chocolate, bread, coffee, soy sauce, tempeh (or natto), ketchup, and miso. Fermented foods and beverages can make up as much of 40% of a person’s overall diet, depending on their culture.
The accidental discovery of yoghurt dates back to the third millennium BC. Goat herders discovered that milk transported in sheepskin bags turned into a tart, creamy solid: the bacteria in the animal skin set off the fermentation process. The word “yoghurt” actually derives from an ancient Turkish word meaning curdled or coagulated.
By creating an aseptic environment where harmful bacteria are eliminated, Tetra Pak has created a processing and packaging standard that keeps food fresh, tasty, appealing and nutritious for up to a year without the need for preservatives or refrigeration.
This technology already makes a huge difference to the everyday lives of consumers, regardless of their income, who might not otherwise have access to milk or other dairy products. It also helps organisations deliver food cost effectively during a natural disaster such as an earthquake, flood, or drought — with no refrigeration required.
The aseptic approach is as good for the planet as it is for consumers, since it reduces food waste and eliminates the energy required to control temperatures during transportation and storage. These cost and environmental efficiencies help producers reduce their carbon footprint while becoming increasingly competitive.
Today, approximately two-thirds of Tetra Pak® packages sold worldwide are aseptic, and the demand is set to grow as new consumers acquire the means to purchase packaged goods for the first time.
Article from Tetra Pak Magazine No 104 - Deeper in the pyramid (pdf)