The 50 Most Important Inventions (And Discoveries) In Food And Drink

"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.