Traditional and Indigenous Ways of Preserving Food

Food preservationis an effective way of saving food and preventing it from being wasted or lost. In fact, communities around the world have been employing food savingmethodsfor centuries in order to prolong its shelf life. UNEP called the global WED community to share their knowledge on indigenous and traditional ways or preserving food and here you can learn some interesting examples!



 The Incas historically introduced the production of chuños to South America. It was a way to preserve potatoes by exposing a frost-resistant potato variety to the very low night temperatures of the Andean Altiplano, freezing them, and subsequently exposing them to the intense sunlightof the day.

is a traditional wintertime Inuit food from Greenland that is made of auks (seabirds) preserved in the hollowed-out body of a seal and which are served at feasts or weddings.

North American tribes were the first ones to eat pemmican, a mixture of dried meat and tallow. It was widely adopted as a high-energyfood by Arctic and Antarctic explorers as it is a concentrated mixture offatandprotein.

In Brazil, indigenous groups use the fermentation and maturation of yuca (cassava) to develop their farinha, which then became a highly popular Brazilian staple food. Traditional communities also used to cook their prey and leave it immersed in fat for meat preservation. 

In Nigeria and several other western African countries, cassava tubers are peeled, washed and grated to produce a mash. The mash is placed in a porous bag and allowed to ferment for a couple of days, while weights are placed on the bag to press the water out. It is then sieved and roasted, resulting in a dry granular foodstuff called garri, which can be stored for long periods.

Bedouins and other desert populations produce ghee, a type of butter that has a long shelf-life and needs no refrigeration, prepared by boiling butter and removing the residue.

Bakkwa, a Chinese salty-sweet dried meat, was traditionally made with the leftover meats from festivals and banquets. The meat from these celebrations is trimmed of the fat, sliced, marinated and then smoked.

The Turkish horsemen of Central Asia used to preserve meat by placing slabs of it in pockets on the sides of their saddles, where it would be pressed by their legs as they rode. This pressed meat was the forerunner of today’s pastirma, a term which literally means ‘being pressed’ in Turkish, and is the origin of the Italian pastrami.

Cheese is an ancient food whose origin, predating recorded history, is assumed to lie in the practice of transporting milk in bladders made of ruminants' stomachs, with their inherent supply of rennet.

Mongol Empire troops used to condense or shrink the meat of a whole cow down to the size of a human fist—this explains why their armies could travel huge distances seemingly without supplies. Tiny amounts of the concentrated beef protein (known as “borts”) could be sliced off into hot water to make a highly nutritious soup. This is just one of the traditional ways in which nomads and herders in Mongolia have preserved food without refrigeration for centuries.

Mongolians also have the everlasting aaruuls, which is curdled milk, dehydrated and thoroughly dried in the air and sun.

The Kenyan Turkana people preserved milk by turning it into milk powder which is done by sun drying the clotted fermented milk on flat rocks or hides.

In Central Kenya, the Kikuyus used to preserve meat by roasting it, and then generously applying natural honey on top of the roasted meat.  This delicacy was called "rukuri".  The Kikuyus could feast on it for many days.

Traditionally, the Kikuyus protect cereals (while growing in the garden and after it is harvested) by mixing the ash from the fireplace with water and sprinkle on the maize, which prevented insects from destroying the maize. This technique is also used for long storage of cereals, by mixing the cereals (maize and beans) with ash.  This way. the cereals can remain for many months without being feasted on by weevils.

Earthen pots served as good preservation of boiled/mashed food which could remain fresh for several days. The food could be kept in a well aerated store/place called "Ikumbi".
In Andhra Pradesh, India, tamarind or lemon juice are used as preservative for chutneys, pickles and food that is packed for long journeys.

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