When it comes to cooking, we have it all these days: The best non-stick induction cookware, fresh ingredients from across the world, and free recipe access 24/7. We can make what we want when we want it, with little effort. What you may not know is that cooking has changed radically in the last 100 years, leading us to this era of radical freedom. To prove this point, here are six ways cooking has changed over the last century:
1. Gas Ovens Became Standard
Gas stoves have been around since the 1800s, and ovens fired by wood have been around longer than that. However, in the 1920s, gas ovens became standardized thanks to the invention of the thermostat in 1923.
2. Recipes Became Increasingly Shareable
In 1910 and 1919, immigration was firing off like crazy, especially in America. During this time, all kinds of Chinese, Eastern European, German and Jewish recipes found their way to the states. Dishes like meatballs, Chop Suey, and matzo ball soup started to appear on restaurant menus. These cultural delicacies soon became home-cooked favorites in the homes of many Americans.
3. World War II Taught Us How to Prolong Shelf Life
World War II kicked off in the late 30s and lasted throughout the early 40s. During that time, military research focused on establishing strategies for prolonging the life of food for soldiers. As a result, after the war was over, a considerable amount of new products hit the market.
Additives made it possible to create cheese powder, which is still used for boxed mac and cheese or cheesy chips. Back then, it added flavor to the basic starchy carbs soldiers ate. This is also the origin story of M & M’s (Mars & Murray). The candy shell encasing the chocolate stopped it from melting, so soldiers could enjoy a sweet treat.
4. Fast Food Arrived
Fast food arrived in 1920 in the United States as a hamburger chain called ‘White Castle’ was founded in Kansas. Back then, it was considered a revolution for families tired of preparing their food from scratch.
Being able to pay for a cooked meal quickly and cheaply was a blessing. And as soon as cars became more common, fast-food restaurants added drive-thrus, securing their place as a crucial part of family life.
5. Fertilizers Transformed the Food Industry
As WW2 went on, the West constructed nitrogen plants to produce this critical component of explosives. At the war’s end, those plants were reused to create crop fertilizers. In turn, this move boosted crop production and improved industry profits.
Unfortunately, the world’s reliance on fertilizers for food production accounts for 1.4% of global CO2 emissions. It is also a significant contributor to soil and water pollution, so this “advancement” has not come without its issues.
6. Microwaves Were Born
The microwave offers an easy way to heat food at the push of a button. Interestingly, it was invented by accident in 1945 by Percy Spencer – a self-taught engineer. He was working on a project involving radar for a defense company.
While testing a special magnetron component for his work, he found melted chocolate in his pocket due to the heat created by the experiment. Spencer recognized that the magnetron experiment had resulted in a quick way to cook food. He then made a metal container to trap the energy, and this was the first rudimentary microwave.
Next time you cook up a storm for your family, you can smile and think about how far we’ve come and the convenience and variety we’re all so lucky to have these days.