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Are food preservatives bad for you? - Eleanor Nelsen

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Food doesn’t last. In days, sometimes hours, bread goes moldy, apple slices turn brown, and bacteria multiply in mayonnaise. But you can find all of these foods out on the shelf at the grocery store — hopefully unspoiled -- thanks to preservatives. But what exactly are preservatives? How do they help keep food edible? And are they safe? Eleanor Nelsen investigates.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Eleanor Nelsen
  • Director Dmitry Yagodin
  • Animator Dmitry Yagodin
  • Designer Dmitry Yagodin
  • Producer Vessela Dantcheva
  • Composer Samuel Pocreau
  • Sound Designer Samuel Pocreau
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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Additional Resources for you to Explore
These days, we have ready access to synthetic preservatives that are inexpensive, effective, and largely safe. Electric refrigerators and manufacturing techniques like vacuum-sealing go even further in expanding the range of foods we can preserve. But people have been preserving food for thousands of years, using a variety of creative methods.

One of the oldest food preservation techniques is pickling, which, as the lesson describes, discourages the growth of bacteria by increasing a food’s acidity. Most modern pickles are made using acetic acid, more commonly known as vinegar. But traditional pickles were produced via fermentation, using lactobacillus to convert sugars to lactic acid. This technique works for cabbage, mixed vegetables, and many other types of produce; the same principle is used for yogurt.

Many fermented foods use fungi like yeasts, which occur naturally in the environment, and inhibit the growth of bacteria by converting sugars to alcohol. Combined yeast/lactic acid fermentation adds a tangy flavor to bread and even cookies. Traditionally, fermented beverages like beer, offered a relatively safe source of liquid in the absence of clean, reliable water supplies. Kombucha, kefir, and kvass (made from rye bread!) are other examples of traditional fermented beverages.

These foods were created out of necessity; but now they’re making a comeback. So if you’re interested in exploring these traditional food-preservation methods, there are lots of resources available.

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About TED-Ed Originals

TED-Ed Original lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed original? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Eleanor Nelsen
  • Director Dmitry Yagodin
  • Animator Dmitry Yagodin
  • Designer Dmitry Yagodin
  • Producer Vessela Dantcheva
  • Composer Samuel Pocreau
  • Sound Designer Samuel Pocreau
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

Share

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