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

 

 

 

 

25. Pasteurization

 

 

 

24. The Gas Oven

 

 

 

23. The Grater

 

 

 

 

 

22. Parchment

 

 

 

21. Tongs

 

 

 

20. The Mandoline

 

 

 

 

 

19. The Rolling Pin

 

 

 

 

 

18. The Cork

 

 

 

17. The Threshing Machine

 

 

 

16. The Scale

 

 

 

15. The Restaurant

 

 

 

14. The Fork

 

 

 

13. Distillation

 

 

 

12. Canning

 

 

 

11. Chopsticks

 

 

 

10. The Fruit Press

 

 

 

9. The Barrel

 

 

 

 

 

8. The Fish Hook

 

 

 

7. The Mortar and Pestle

 

 

 

6. Fermentation

 

 

 

5. The Pot

 

 

 

4. The Spoon

 

 

 

3. The Knife

 

 

 

2. Fire

 

 

 

1. Salt

 

 

 

Click here to see The 50 Most Important Inventions and Discoveries in Food and Drink Slideshow.

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