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Your Fridge Is the Most Important Invention in the History of Food

The Royal Society has decided that of all the things we've invented surrounding food, the refrigerator is the most important

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Behold, the most important food invention ever. Image: tychay

Earlier this year, the Royal Society set out to decide what the most important invention in the history of food was. The committee started with a list of 100 things and whittled it down to just 20. That list was then voted on by the fellows, along with food and drink industry experts. There were four criteria: accessibility, productivity, aesthetics, and health.

And the winner? Drumroll please: the refrigerator. Eeking out canning, irrigation and the knife, the refrigerator has spent the last 100 years keeping your food cold. The first two home refrigerators were reportedly revealed in Fort Wayne, Indiana, by General Electric. Several years before that, in 1889 and 1890, the winters were so warm that there was a shortage of natural ice in the United States, prompting inventors to look for ways to take commercial refrigeration into the home.

Of course, refrigeration is far older than the invention of the home refrigerator. The Chinese cut and stored ice as far back as 1,000 B.C. Later on, natural ice was harvested and shipped around—the ice trade was one of the first things to go during the Civil War. Boston supplied the south with a large amount of its ice. These days, nearly every American home (99.5 percent) has a refrigerator.

If this were the Olympics, we’d be comparing country medal count. So the Royal Society has a breakdown:

The top three result from Anglo-French scientific successes in the 18th and 19th centuries:  Artificial refrigeration was first demonstrated in Glasgow in 1748 and then produced commercially in 1805; the first pasteurisation test was completed in France in 1862; and a British merchant patented the tin can in 1810 (although a year earlier a Frenchman applied a similar process with glass jars and cork).

Here are the Top 20:

1. Refrigeration
2. Pasteurisation / sterilisation
3. Canning
4. The oven
5. Irrigation
6. Threshing  machine/combine harvester
7. Baking
8. Selective breeding / strains
9. Grinding / milling
10. The plough
11. Fermentation
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
20. Frying

More from Smithsonian.com:

Inventing Your Way to a Better Champagne Experience
Did New Orleans Invent the Cocktail?

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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