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The Frozen Food Aisle

The Frozen Food Aisle

How the Inuit inspired the freezer, and a new era of food preservation
By Daniel Campbell
Jun 09
From the June 2016 Issue

The Inuit really know how to use the cold to their advantage. And you might not know that some of our most widespread food preservation techniques today were figured out by the people of the Arctic.

In 1912, American businessman Clarence Birdseye was fur-trading in Labrador when he was taught the way Inuit preserve fish in the winter. Once a fish was caught, it was allowed to instantly freeze in the deep Northern cold, to be thawed and enjoyed later. He found it always tasted fresh. At the time, deep freezers did not exist down south. Food was put on ice to gradually freeze, but  large ice crystals would form that destroyed the cell walls upon thawing, which drained nutrients and degraded taste. The flash-frozen fish of the Inuit would thaw with the cell walls in tact. (And would taste way better.) 

When he returned home, Birdseye built the first “Quick Freeze Machine,” and started a frozen foods company called General Seafood Corporation (later General Foods). The knowledge he learned from the Inuit eventually translated into hundreds of patents (which he sold for millions of dollars) and turned frozen foods into an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars today.