As part of our celebration of Black History Month in the United States, we wanted to take a look at just a few of the many African Americans who helped shape the food industry and the science of food profession.
"It is very important that we promote and leverage the many extraordinary contributions of African-American men and women to the science of food, if in fact we intend to attract students of color to the field," says IFT Fellow Larry Keener. "The life stories and accomplishments of American food scientists such as George Washington Carver, Norbert Rilleux and Percy Julian are compelling in this nation's history. Their life stories are simply amazing, and their accomplishments and innovations in food science and technology are inspirational for students desiring careers in science and technology. It’s exceedingly difficult to see one’s self in a place or a position in which there are no images nor history of people of similar background having succeeded previously. History can also be a portal to the future."
Here are four African American scientists and inventors who changed the food industry:
A true food preservation pioneer, Lloyd Hall is responsible for inventing many chemical preservation techniques that are still in use today. In 1932, Hall discovered a method of suppressing food-spoiling nitrogen by combining sodium chloride with tiny crystals of sodium nitrate and nitrite. He later developed new approaches to preventing food spoilage by using chemicals like lecithin as antioxidants, and invented a way of purifying foods from spoiling microbes by using ethylene oxide gas in a vacuum chamber.
A member of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Joseph Lee created and patented several bread-related machines. In 1895, he received a patent for a device that mechanically tore, crumbled and ground old bread to form bread crumbs. Then, in 1902, he invented (and patented) a new machine that could uniformly knead dough, allowing for a faster, cheaper and more sanitary way of making bread.
Like potato chips? Then you have George Crum to thank! A chef, he invented what later became known as “Saratoga Chips” in 1853 while working at the Moon Lake Lodge resort in Saratoga Springs. In 1860, Crum opened a restaurant of his own—Crums House—which proudly featured a basket of potato chips on every table.
George Washington Carver
It would be difficult to make any list of American food pioneers without mentioning George Washington Carver. Though he did not, as popular folklore would have you believe, invent peanut butter, Carver did famously come up with more than 300 uses for peanuts. Additionally, he helped support and spread the now-widespread idea of rotating crops to help combat soil depletion. And, in fact, his many inventions of peanut uses were aimed at helping improve the profitability of the legume to better benefit farmers. Shortly after his death in 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation to give Carver his own national monument, which now stands proudly in Diamond, Missouri.