Processing of food is the transformation of raw food into other products or forms.
Humans have been known to process food for centuries. They engaged in drying foods with sunlight, preserving fish and meat with salt and storing fruits with sugar.
Recently, innovations in technology have been used to transform food into varieties of food products available for purchase today. Some of these processes have enabled the production of food that provides health benefits too.
Although a lot of people believe that processed foods are junk foods, that is not totally correct. It is therefore important to find out what is the difference between processed and unprocessed food.
This will enable us to find out what unprocessed and processed foods really are.
There are three categories of processing food. They are
Primary processing which occurs when raw inedible food produce is processed into a food material than can be eaten.
Secondary processing is the use of the food products from the primary processing method as ingredients for further production of food varieties.
Tertiary processing is the industrial processing of food using the secondary food processing method.
Why are Food Processed?
A lot of foods are processed in one way or another before they are consumed. Vegetables undergo cleaning and trimming after being harvested. Cooking food or even mixing it with other food is also seen as food processing.
There are several reasons why foods are processed. Some of these reasons are:
To Make Food Edible
Some foods are not edible in their natural state and must be processed before they can be consumed. Food products like grains require grinding and even baking or cooking before it can be consumed.
To Preserve The Food
Processing food helps in the removal of microbes from food. The spoilage of food is mainly caused by microbes and they can be removed by heating or addition of preservatives.
To Increase the Nutritional Value of The Food
Some food processing methods can be used to increase the nutritional value of foods through fortification. Fortification is the addition of extra nutrients into foods either to increase its nutritional content or to replenish the nutrients lost during processing.
To Increase Its Value
Some foods are processed into new products or a form totally different from its original state and sold for a higher price. Since processing can help in the preservation of food, its value increases since it can now last longer and can be transported.
To Make it More Attractive and Convenient to Handle
Processing of food can help to make food easier to handle and more attractive. Ready-to-eat meals, canned foods, delicious dishes, and sliced and pureed vegetables and fruits are all products of processing food.
To Remove Unwanted Substances
Some substances in fresh foods that might not be edible or are harmful can be gotten rid of, through food processing.
Some of these unwanted substances are removed through dehulling, peeling, destoning, milling and shelling.
To Enhance Taste, Flavor, and Color of The Food
The flavor, taste, and color of food affect its acceptance and consumption. Some processing technique makes some food more palatable in comparison to its unprocessed version.
Processing methods like frying, roasting, cooking, fermentation, and caramelization create tasty foods that taste better than in their raw state.
Food Processing Methods
This is the application of heat to food to make them edible and palatable. Different cooking methods are boiling, baking, grilling, steaming, frying and microwaving.
Boiling is the use of boiling water to cook food. Baking is cooking food using dry heat from an oven. Roasting is the preparation of food with dry heat and flames in the presence of air.
Grilling is the use of open flames and heat to cook food on a rack. Barbecuing is the process used to cook thoroughly seasoned meat with heat from hot coals.
Steaming is when foods are cooked in steam. Frying is done when food is cooked using butter or oil. Microwaving is the cooking of food with the use of short radio waves.
This is a combination of two or more foods to create a uniform product. Sometimes, the products lose their initial flavor, taste, and texture after mixing.
Mixing can be done in the dry or wet state. A liquid might be added to dry ingredients to increase the homogeneity of the finished products.
Emulsifiers can be added to two immiscible liquids to form a colloid in a process known as emulsification. Some foods could separate into their various components after being mixed and left to stand while some do not.
This is the shredding or chopping of food into very small pieces. This can be achieved using a grinder, mincer, knives or a food processor.
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This is the removal of the outer surface of the food products and the removal of unwanted parts from raw foods. This is used to improve the taste and appearance of the food. The different method of peeling are abrasion, knife, steam, caustic, and flame peeling,
This is the use of microorganisms and other factors like pH, oxygen, and temperature to preserve and enhance the flavor of food. Fermentation can convert food products into an alcohol or an acid depending on the microorganism involved and the class of food fermented.
This food processing method involves the use of hot air to dry heat-sensitive viscous liquid food and form a powder.
This is the binding and keeping of food in a material that can protect it from microbes, pests, damage, and other external factors.
This is the deactivation and killing of microorganisms by heating food products under high temperature for a short time. This is enough to inactivate the microbes and have a low impact on the taste and nutritional value.
This is the passing through or addition of gas into food to enhance its taste and increase its volume, texture, and taste.
This is the forcing of mixed food ingredients through small openings and then cutting the products into specific weight and shape. This is used in the conversion of wheat flour into pasta and noodles, breakfast cereals and in the production of pet foods and sausages.
What Is the Difference Between Processed and Unprocessed Food?
Unprocessed food also known as real, whole or fresh food is a food that is still in its natural state. It hasn’t been altered and it doesn’t contain any added ingredient or additives.
Processed foods, on the other hand, are foods that have been altered in any way from its natural state. Once the food is cooked, packaged, broken down or frozen, it is considered as processed food.
Benefits of Unprocessed Food
It is believed that eating unprocessed fresh foods is one of the best ways to lose weight and stay healthy. There are a lot of benefits to consuming unprocessed food. They are:
During the processing of food, some natural fiber may be lost during cutting, sieving, and peeling of the raw food. Eating fiber helps in maintaining a healthy digestive system. It also helps in weight loss by causing fullness for a long time after meals.
Low Sodium Content
The processing of food sometimes requires the addition of preservatives to promote its shelf-time. Most of these preservatives contain a high content of sodium. High level of sodium in the body is associated with water retention, bloating, high blood pressure and weight gain.
Absence of Unhealthy Fats
Unhealthy fats like trans-fat do not melt until when heated under high temperatures. They, therefore, get deposited on different locations of the body like the heart, abdomen, face and blood vessels. Trans fat does not occur naturally and cannot be found in unprocessed foods.
Presence of High Sugar Content
Although carbohydrates are not bad for the body, too much simple sugar can lead to weight gain and insulin problems. Unprocessed food contains sugars, but processed food contains added sweeteners.
Consuming unprocessed food will provide the body with the quantity of sugar the body needs.
The Abundance of Natural Ingredients
When food is processed, the natural taste and flavor are altered or changed totally. It makes it difficult for the taste bud to enjoy the original taste of the unprocessed version sometimes.
It is also beneficial to consume diets rich in fresh foods because it eliminates all the ill-health associated with the consumption of highly processed foods.
Benefits of Processed Food
This video explains the benefits of processed food and the fact that processed foods are not necessarily junk foods.
Improved Taste and Aroma
Some food processing methods change foods that are not originally edible into great-tasting products. Some foods are not edible unless they are processed by peeling or cooking or baking.
Some processing methods such as grilling, frying, baking and barbecuing introduce a new texture or flavor to the food.
Some processing methods get rid of microbial and enzymatic activities going on in the food and thus preserves it. Freezing, salting, jamming, pickling, drying, pasteurization, and other food processing methods extend the shelf-life of foods.
Increased Nutritional Quality
During processing, some nutrients are added to the food either to fortify the food or to make up for the quantities lost during processing. Sometimes, nutrients that are not originally present in the food can be added to prevent deficiency or to boost the proper bodily function of the consumer.
Cooking can help to remove some enzyme inhibitors found in legumes and destroys lectins present in food which can cause the clumping of red blood cells.
Processing creates a range of products from a food source. Boiled, mashed, pureed, fried, baked and chip potatoes all emerged from a single food, the potato. This creates a range of products to choose from and provides convenience for the fast-paced pattern of modern living.