Britain's leading scientists have named the top 20 most important innovations in the history of food and drink — with fridges, pasteurised milk and tin cans topping the list.
The modern innovations beat ancient inventions like the fishing net, the plough, and the cork, without which our ancestors would have struggled to survive. Refrigeration came out on top, while vital methods for food preparation like the pot, the knife and the spoon came 14th, 15th and 16th, respectively.
A team of 45 top scientists from the Royal Society ranked a shortlist of 20 innovations by their levels of accessibility, productivity, aesthetics and health. The group of Royal Society Fellows, chaired by Royal Society Treasurer Sir Peter Williams, decided two of the top three discoveries were made in Britain — artificial refrigeration was first demonstrated in Glasgow in 1748, and a British merchant patented the tin can in 1810. However, the first pasteurisation test was completed in France in 1862.
Sir Peter Williams said: “Royal Society Fellows have played vital roles in improving people's lives for 350 years and science has a major role to play in meeting the global challenges of the 21st century. We thought it appropriate to look at how that innovation has shaped what we eat and drink. The poll reveals the huge role science and innovation have played in improving our health and our lives. This is something to which the scientific community continues to add.”
Refrigeration allows food to be kept fresher for longer, allowing people without a large garden to eat a more varied and more nutritious diet. The first known artificial refrigeration was demonstrated by William Cullen at the University of Glasgow, but they were first introduced into homes in the 1920s.
The Royal Society said: “Refrigeration has played the biggest role of any innovation in improving the diets of millions of people. It is responsible for bringing a more varied, interesting, nutritious and more affordable diet to an ever increasing number of people.”
Pasteurisation is the process of heating food to a specific temperature to kill bacteria inside and prevent spoilage, and was first used to heat wine in China in 1117. Modern pasteurisation, including immediate cooling, was created by famous microbiologist Louis Pasteur — who was also a pioneer for vaccination.
The Royal Society said: “Improperly handled raw milk is responsible for nearly three times more hospitalisations than any other foodborne disease outbreak, making it one of the most potentially dangerous food products.”
Canning provided a way of preserving all sorts of food, and also makes it easy to be transported. British merchant Peter Durand invented and patented the tin can in 1810, and three years later the UK's first commercial canning factory was opened — but the can opener was not invented until 50 years later. Krueger Cream Ale became the first canned beer in 1935.
— Daily Mail
The Top 20 Food and Drink Innovations
4. The oven
6. Threshing machine/combine harvester
7. Baking 8. Selective breeding/strains
10. The plough
12. The fishing net
13. Crop rotation
14. The pot
15. The knife
16. Eating utensils
17. The cork
18. The barrel
19. The microwave oven