Ice, ice baby! March 6 is National Frozen Food Day.
We're not just talking about the pre-packaged meal you pop in the microwave when you're too tired to cook, we're talking about the four or five or six cases of the freezer section in your grocery store.
Since humans realized that keeping food cold kept it edible for longer, the race was on to find the coldest form of food storage possible. Even though the first domestic refrigerator was invented in 1834, freezers were slower to catch on. It wasn't until the mid-20th century that people started keeping both a refrigerator and a freezer in their homes.
The technique for flash freezing food was invented by Clarence Birdseye (you probably recognize his last name from some of the frozen vegetables at the grocery store). In 1924, Birdseye was, of all things, working as a fur trader in Canada. He noticed that when local Inuit caught fish, it froze almost immediately but was still delicious when thawed out months later. He recognized that freezing food quickly meant its taste and texture could be preserved.
The science is relatively simple; slowly freezing food causes large ice crystals to form within the food. These crystals wreak havoc on the food's cells, bursting them open. When thawed, slowly frozen food is mushy, dry and lacked texture. But, flash - or blast - freezing means smaller ice crystals and less cell disruption.
Some people snub their noses at frozen food, and yes, the fresh option is generally better. But, consider this: Some fresh food needs to travel to its final destination over a period of days, so the food is picked right before it's ripe. That means it can't ripen any more once it's been picked, so it's hard to find fresh food that's at its peak ripeness. Frozen food, on the other hand, can be picked at optimal ripeness and then flash frozen on sight before traveling to its final destination.