At Harry’s Country Kitchen, we pride ourselves in offering delicious and nutritious frozen meals. But just where did the concept of freezing food come from and how did it develop?
This blog post explores frozen food history, including its origins and how it grew to become a popular and convenient way to enjoy a tasty and varied diet year-round.
The origins of frozen food
The concept of using freezing conditions to preserve food dates back as far as 3,000 BC. Ancient Chinese and, later, Romans stored food packed in snow in underground ice cellars to keep it edible throughout the year.
The process of commercialising frozen food began in earnest in the late 19th century. A key figure in this development was Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, who founded the New South Wales Fresh Food and Ice Company. Mort provided financial support for engineer Eugene Dominique Nicolle to experiment with viable freezing techniques.
The first successful shipment of frozen meat from Australia to Europe took place in 1877 aboard the SS Le Frigorifique, followed by another significant shipment on the SS Strathleven in 1879, marking the beginning of the global trade in frozen meat.
However, modern frozen food history really started in the 1910s, with commercial development of the quick-freezing technique. This led to the process still used today, which employs cryogenic freezing involving immersing foods in liquid nitrogen (and liquid carbon dioxide). The commercial pioneer of quick-freezing has a pretty familiar name – Clarence Birdseye.
While working in Newfoundland, Birdseye observed local Inuit freezing fish immediately after it was caught. Birdseye also discovered that the fish retained its taste months later when it was thawed and eaten. Birdseye dedicated himself to refining fast freezing – initially focusing on peas. He also registered a range of patents relating to packaging. By 1929, he was ready to introduce quick-freezing to the American market.
Frozen food grows in popularity
Fast-forward to the 1950s, when the frozen ready meal gained traction.
Not surprisingly, this tracked the proliferation of large supermarkets and the popularity of home freezers, which were developed in the 1920s by General Electric but only went into mass production after World War II. This allowed households to buy and store large quantities of frozen food for long periods.
The 1960s was the era of convenience food, partly driven by more women working outside the home, who sought an easy way to cater for the family. From the 1970s, home freezers became more affordable, as did microwave ovens, fuelling the popularity of frozen food and frozen meals.
During this period, the choice of frozen foods widened to include things like oven chips, pizza and desserts (including those 1980s’ favourites, Arctic Roll and Wall’s Viennetta!).
The 1980s also saw greater emphasis placed on the nutritional content of frozen food, including healthier ranges and the use of sunflower oil to prepare frozen chips. Frozen food has continued to grow in the following decades, and we now know that when frozen quickly, we can retain the flavour and quality of fresh food – hurray!
Enjoy frozen food from Harry’s Country Kitchen
Ready to discover the benefits of frozen food for yourself with Harry’s Country Kitchen? We deliver a wide range of high-quality main meals, desserts and sides across the UK. Order online today or download our brochure.