October 21, 2016, by The Ingenuity Lab

History’s most ingenious culinary inventions

Last week, we celebrated World Food Day by having an international food fuddle in The Ingenuity Lab.

From pork pies to pakoras, Century eggs to a vegan chocolate coffee cake – we had amazing and interesting food from all corners of the globe (and Melton Mowbray!) laid out for our staff and members to try.

Members introducing their dishes to each other

Members introducing their dishes to one another

Continuing on with our gastronomic theme we thought we’d dedicate this week’s blog to the to history’s most ingenious culinary inventions, as without them we would never have been able to experience the beauty of our favourite foods – whether that’s a falafel from the Lebanon, Jamaican bun and cheese, or the classic British fish and chips!


Luckily, fellows of the Royal Society and experts in the food and drink industry have done the hard work for us and ranked their top innovations in food and drink, from the dawn of time to the present day. Here’s our top 10 favourite inventions that made it into their shortlist…


Although the use of ice to preserve food dates back to prehistoric times, machine based refrigeration was developed as a process in the late 18th Century.

Throughout its long history, refrigeration has allowed humans to preserve food and, with it, nutrition.

The microwave oven

The first microwave oven, built by Raytheon in 1947, weighed over 750 pounds and stood over five feet tall.

Thankfully today, the microwave oven we heat our lunches up with at The Ingenuity Lab takes up a lot less space.


Pasteurization, invented by Louis Pasteur in 1864, is seen by many as incredibly useful for the prevention of bacterial contamination in food and drink.

Today, we associate the process with sterilizing milk. However, Pasteur originally came up with his innovation after Emperor Napoleon III commissioned him to save the entire French wine industry, which had become overrun by ‘diseases’ that cause the wine to be sour or bitter.


We’re heading back to France again for this ingenious invention. At the end of the 18th Century, the French military offered a cash prize of 12,000 francs for a new method to preserve food, sparking Nicolas Appert to develop the process of canning food.

While the basic principles of canning have remained similar to Appert’s original idea, today the canning industry is much more sustainable – with recyclable steel and aluminum cans becoming a common place in homes across the world.


Fermentation is a process that converts sugar to acids, gases or alcohol. Various sources have claimed that the process has been documented from 7000-66000 BCE in Jiahu, China; 5000 BCE in India; 6000 BCE in Georgia; and 1500 BC in Sudan.

Wherever it was that the process was first established, today it makes some of our favourite products: yogurt, bread, cheese and beer!

The oven

The earliest ovens, found in Central Europe, date from 29,000 BC, and were used, at times, to cook mammoth.

Their contemporary counterparts, a staple part of kitchens across much of Britain, were first developed in the early 19th Century and used to cook buns.


Put crudely, irrigation is the artificial application of water to land or soil. The process originated with the ancient Egyptians, where King Menes and his successors used dams and canals to use the diverted flood waters of the Nile into a new lake called ‘Moeris’.

It is still incredibly useful in maintaining healthy soil during dry weather, encouraging crop growth and helping to sustain the livelihood of those involved in the agricultural industry.


Dr Terri Holloway’s amazing chocolate coffee cake at last week’s food fuddle stands testament to why this fantastic culinary invention deserves a spot in the Royal Society’s shortlist.

Baking, along with irrigation, was first championed by the ancient Egyptians, and The Oxford English Dictionary traces the word ‘cake’ back to the 13th Century.

Dr Terri Holloway's vegan chocolate coffee cake

Dr Terri Holloway’s vegan chocolate coffee cake

Combine harvester

Prior to the industrialization of the agricultural industry, farmers would separate grain by hand.

The combine harvester combines the main harvesting operations into a single process, making the task much more time and energy efficient.

Some of the crops that are harvested by this invention include wheat, oats, rye, soybeans, flax and sunflowers.

Eating utensils

This one speaks for itself.

But if you would like to learn a fun fact, the original spoon handles were made from dead animals’ bones. We’ll stick to what Ikea has to offer these days.

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