The 50 Most Important Inventions (and Discoveries) in Food and Drink

Without these things, what would we do for dinner?


"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

 

 

 

49. "Cooking" with Liquid Nitrogen

 

 

 

48. Paper Towels

 

 

 

47. The Squeeze Bottle

 

 

 

 

 

46. The Food Processor

 

 

 

 

45. The Stand Mixer

 

 

 

44. The Blender

 

 

 

 

 

43. Teflon

 

 

 

42. The Weber Grill

 

 

 

41. The Bain-Marie

 

 

 

40. Tupperware

 

 

 

39. The Vacuum Sealer

 

 

 

38. Gelling Agents

 

 

 

37. The Egg Carton

 

 

 

36. The Pressure Cooker

 

 

 

35. Kitchen Wrap

 

 

 

34. The Microwave Oven

 

 

 

33. The Induction Cooker

 

 

 

32. The Deep-Fryer

 

 

 

 

 

31. The Coffee Maker

 

 

 

30. The Extruder

 

 

 

29. The Dehydrator

 

 

 

28. The Thermometer

 

 

 

27. Recipes

 

 

 

26. Refrigeration

 

 

 

 



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36 Comments

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Everyone stop overanalyzing this list. It's just a fun thing read. Also some of you need to read the title because it also says "Discoveries".
The thing about lists like this is that they are an easy way to get people to the site. They draw a lot of traffic out of basically an ordering of objects. It doesn't take much research and creates traffic. So their number one goal is to create traffic, not necessarily put out a well-researched list.

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Speaking of the Weber Grill, combine #42 (Weber Grill) and #15 (restaurant) and you get the Weber Grill Restaurant. Three locations are in Chicagoland and one in Indianapolis. http://www.webergrillrestaurant.com

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I think the electric hot-dogger should be there, too. You all remember the commercials for that. You put a dog or two between the electrodes and basically electrocute the dog.
Mmmmm, capital punished doggies...

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How about the mill? In order to make finer flours, in larger quantities...
And oil, i'm with that one. Cooking twine. Waxed paper. Fillet knives. Egg/pancake/whatever flippers. Thermoses/coolers. Whisks. Dried yeasts that can be activated when wanted to create bread, beer, etc. OVEN MITTS!!

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That's why "discoveries" is in parenthesis.

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Just picking a nit here, but 'fire' and 'fermentation' are not 'inventions.'

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I was a chef for many years and I don't use (and never have used) more than half the stuff on your list. I think this is because your list is too long. How many things are indispensible for cooking? The more sophistacted your recipes are the more things you need like a wire whip or pressure cooker. I think your out of touch with real food production. For instance, I was wondering where the Foamer was in your list. For the most part this list is silly.

spartancaver's picture

As the name implies I am Spartan a tough outdoors person that can survive on just what I find on the land, and a caver, one who explores caves. And don't call me spelunker.

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Yes, the list has no apparent order to it. But all in all, it's a pretty darn good list. (Thought I'd disagree with the majority.) While the general public may not have all of these things in their kitchen, chances are you can purchase food at the grocery store that was prepared using them. The point is, these things have changed how the world eats.

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I use my selection of whisks all the time. What about a flour sifter? Measuring spoons/cups? And then there is the pizza stone. And, of course, the pizza wheel.

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A cheese grater ranked higher than refrigeration...

This is a true testament to the stupidity of "Best of" lists.

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This list is ridiculous. I cook every day without half of these things.

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I dont think anyone anywhere uses all of those things. The fact that do don't as well doesn't make half of the items less worthy.

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I didn't realize that dirt was invented?

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Coffee maker "31" I don't think so!

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Incoherent and irrelevant.

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Why is oil left off?

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No immersion circulator? Insanity. Pure and simple insanity.

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Fire- invention of the match

ChefMikeBenninger's picture

Gee, i would think sugar and spices would be there somewhere, just like the RONCO Pocket Fisherman and maybe, you know...making glass!!.

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Who is the clueless list compiler that put fire and salt ahead of the Magic Bullet? Berman is not going to like that one bit. Nor, I am certain, will the hubris of the Super Bass-O-Matic crowd escape his notice!

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what about sugar?! how can you miss the importance (historical, economical, health, etc.) of this ingredient??? it's completely changed the way we eat... check out Sweetness and Power by Syndey Mintz
http://www.amazon.com/Sweetness-Power-Place-Modern-History/dp/0140092331

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Threshing machine but no plow?

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i would have put wine goblet in there somewhere

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i use my various cutting boards every day. Could not cook without them.

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Where is the spatula or the colander?

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Um, I think the domestication of the previously wild grasses wheat, oats and barley, along with the domestication of the cows, pigs and chickens are a little bigger food inventions than, say, the mandolin. Since that is how humans made the transition from hunter/gatherers to sedentary land dwellers. Maybe you should have called it the "50 greatest gadgets of all time" for simplicity.

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Looks like SOMEBODY didn't bother to read the article, just the list...

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Im sorry but there isnt any rhyme or reason to the order of the list or the items comprised

Asian Malaysian

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A very large chunk of the people on Earth lack most of the items on your list.

Not to be a spoil sport but the one thing they share with those of us who have well equipped Yuppie kitchens is ...hunger.

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