Last week the U.K's national academy of science, the Royal Society, named the top 20 innovations in the history of food and drink.
The list includes modern inventions like the refrigerator and combine harvester, which beat out ancient ones like fish nets and frying. The items were chosen by a panel of distinguished Royal Society fellows, then whittled down from 100 to 20 by votes from Society fellows and food and drink industry experts. All were judged on four criteria: accessibility, productivity, aesthetics and health.
Society fellow Sir Peter Williams explained the significance of the list on the Royal Society web site:
“Royal Society Fellows have played vital roles in improving people’s lives for 350 years and science has a major role to play in meeting the global challenges of the 21st century. We thought it appropriate to look at how that innovation has shaped what we eat and drink. The poll reveals the huge role science and innovation have played in improving our health and our lives. This is something to which the scientific community continues to add.”
Scroll through the below gallery to see how your favorite food innovations measured up.
The practice of frying food in oil or fat is thought to have been <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=zSBY86k2st4C&pg=PT72&lpg=PT72&dq=2500+BC+frying&source=bl&ots=pvhHsp7n-M&sig=pAaISLY0-qhpP_i35hdpDiaiwZk&hl=en&sa=X&ei=YK5TUNjVE-fj0QHYyIGoDw&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=2500 BC frying&f=false" target="_hplink">invented by the ancient Egyptians around 2500 B.C.</a>
19. Microwave Oven
The microwave was <a href="http://web.mit.edu/invent/iow/spencer.html" target="_hplink">invented by Dr. Percy Spencer</a>, who drew on radar technology invented during World War II. It was first sold commercially in 1947.
18. The Barrel
The Celts likely were the <a href="http://irishamerica.com/2012/01/slainte-wine-another-irish-triumph/" target="_hplink">first to create a barrel</a> similar to the ones we recognize today. Wooden staves were encircled by bands of iron and closed on both ends with flat wood caps.
17. The Cork
Up until 1650, French vintners didn't use corks -- they used <a href="http://books.google.com/books?ei=-KpTUKfxBO630QHw7YBA&id=Pd1JAAAAYAAJ&dq=Wine+From+Grape+to+Glass&q=oil+soaked#search_anchor" target="_hplink">oil-soaked rags</a>.
16. Eating Utensils
Utensils have been used in various forms for centuries. The fork, for instance, <a href="http://researcharchive.calacademy.org/research/anthropology/utensil/forks.htm" target="_hplink">gained a place at tables in Middle Eastern royal courts by the 7th century</a>.
15. The Knife
Although knives have been around since prehistoric times, it's only relatively recently in human history that specialized knives designed for specific uses in the kitchen came into existence.
14. The Pot
Pots have been around so long it's difficult to tell when they were first appeared in human history. The earliest may have been made of clay or stone, and today metal pots are most commonly produced commercially.
13. Crop Rotation
Throughout history, humans have employed the practice of <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/143973/crop-rotation" target="_hplink">cultivating a succession of different crops in a specific order on a single field</a>.
12. Fishing Net
The <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=ZljldSpV28UC&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&dq=fishing+net+Antrea&source=bl&ots=iLL21Qi4ls&sig=24aO7cu8ETOpPUjRBsCgLm0Q_MA&hl=en#v=onepage&q=fishing net Antrea&f=false" target="_hplink">oldest surviving fishing net</a>, made of willow, dates to 8300 B.C. in Antrea, Finland.
Fermentation is a chemical process <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/204709/fermentation" target="_hplink">harnessed in the production of wine, beer and other products</a>. Humans have been fermenting foodstuffs for thousands of years, but the processes at play weren't understood until the 17th century.
10. The Plough
The plow is often credited as the <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/464972/plow" target="_hplink">most important agricultural implement since the beginning of history</a>. The mechanism, which has evolved considerably since Roman times, turns and breaks up soil to bury crop residues and control weeds.
Watermills were <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=Kj7PSOqTZ3IC&pg=PA42&lpg=PA42&dq=watermill+greece&source=bl&ots=HII-Mk9PCr&sig=7SI5IlAG7nuj0Eiqvt1_1ohLvbw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=-ZRTUNaiG-yC0QH8hIHACA&ved=0CCwQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=watermill greece&f=false" target="_hplink">first invented by the Greeks</a> to grind grain, reducing the amount of human labor necessary for the task.
8. Selective Breeding/Strains
Selective breeding, the process of breeding plants and animals for particular traits, was first explained in Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species," though there's evidence it's been <a href="http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/226430?uid=3739936&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101048811523" target="_hplink">practiced for thousands of years</a>.
Egyptians are credited with the first intentional use of leavening, and were <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/49594/baking" target="_hplink">making bread with nearly-modern methods by 2600 B.C. </a>
6. Combine Harvester
American farmer and inventor Hiram Moore <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=n--ivouMng8C&pg=PA865&lpg=PA865&dq=Hiram+Moore+combine+harvester&source=bl&ots=CwZdF-GBMu&sig=Mbvqm1kKP41lqNvShItkMXQDvNs&hl=en#v=onepage&q=Hiram Moore combine harvester&f=false" target="_hplink">invented the combine harvester in 1834</a>. The early versions were pulled by a horse or mule. It's so named because it combines three separate operations: reaping, threshing, and winnowing.
In 6000 B.C., <a href="http://www.irrigationmuseum.org/exhibit2.aspx" target="_hplink">irrigation began roughly at the same time Egypt and Mesopotamia</a>. Waters from the flooded Nile, Tigres and Euphrates would be diverted for 40 to 60 days, then drained back into the river at the right moment in crops' growing cycle.
4. The Oven
Ovens have been around longer than some might suspect, going back perhaps thousands of years. The first written record of an oven being built <a href="http://uk.lifestyle.yahoo.com/oven-love-history-hot-box-kitchen-000000978.html" target="_hplink">dates to 1490 in France</a>.
The process of preserving food in an airtight container was originally conceived early in the Napoleonic Wars, when the French government offered cash prize of 12,000 francs to any inventor who could <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/30573/Nicolas-Appert" target="_hplink">develop a cheap way to preserve large amounts of food for its army</a>. Confectioner and brewer Nicolas Appert won the prize in 1810 after more than a decade of experimenting with corked-glass containers reinforced with wire and sealing wax, which he kept in boiling water for various lengths of time.
French chemist Louis Pasteur is credited with developing the modern concept of pasteurization, originally intended to keep beer and wine from going bad. The process involves heating food, usually a liquid, to a certain temperature for an amount of time and then immediately cooling it, which deters microbial growth.
The world's first patented refrigerator was created by Jacob Perkins in 1834, but it wasn't until 1913 that refrigerators were made for use at home.
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