- Chez Panisse opens (1971)
The 50 Most Important Inventions (and Discoveries) in Food and Drink
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"I simply couldn't cook without my…" Cast-iron frying pan? Ginsu knives? Immersion blender? Mickey Mouse Waffle Maker? Everybody who prepares food at home (or professionally, for that matter) has an implement or appliance or five or ten of them that they consider essential to their culinary practices. But how many of these things really matter in the larger scheme of things? How many are truly essential, or at least very important, to the preparation — and the ultimate consumption — of food (and let's throw drink in here as well, just to wash it all down with)?
We were sitting around talking about this one day and came up with the obvious candidates: pots and pans, the knife, the oven, the (hey, we're up-to-date around here) food processor… Then somebody said, well, what about the things nobody invented but somebody figured out or harnessed — like, er, fire, without which cooking as we understand it would never have been born? And what about methods of collecting food, means of storing or preserving it, ways of taming it? We started making a list, including not just things we have in our own kitchens (salt, four-sided grater) but also natural phenomena (fermentation) and specialized tools (sous-vide equipment — which we don't have in our own kitchens yet).
We decided to leave out foodstuffs — miraculous innovations that became veritable building blocks of civilization, like bread, wine, cheese, vinegar, bacon-cheeseburgers — though we did include two substances that we ingest, salt and gelling agents. We left out all the vehicles and devices with which food is planted and harvested (with one exception; see below); we omitted broad concepts like the domestication of animals and the development of genetic studies, though both have obviously had enormous effect on what and how we eat (among other things); we decided not to include means of conveying information about food, from the book to the iPad.
What we ended up with is a list of things that we, yes, simply couldn't cook — or eat and/or drink — without. As usual with such compendiums, we have been both selective and subjective. We've probably missed some obvious and vital items, and we have frankly allowed ourselves to have a little fun here and there. Should you decide to assemble such a list yourself, of course, it would almost certainly not be the same as ours. We'd love to hear your nominations for things we should have included (use the "Add a Comment" box below). But first, take a look at what we consider to be The 50 Most Important Inventions (and Discoveries) in Food and Drink in the list below. Then, for comparison's sake, see our list of 10 Food and Drink Inventions We Didn't Need.
50. The Pull-Tab
48. Paper Towels
45. The Stand Mixer
44. The Blender
42. The Weber Grill
41. The Bain-Marie
38. Gelling Agents
37. The Egg Carton
35. Kitchen Wrap
32. The Deep-Fryer
31. The Coffee Maker
30. The Extruder
29. The Dehydrator
28. The Thermometer
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