How Did They Keep & Preserve Food in Medieval Times?

Written by bibiana da silva
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How Did They Keep & Preserve Food in Medieval Times?
Apple was a regular part of medieval diets. (Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

Centuries before the invention of the refrigerator, people used natural processes and food items to preserve food. Commodities such as salt and sunlight kept food edible for months after it would otherwise spoil, making it possible for people to survive the winter. Medieval preservation methods are still popular today, even if for the qualities they lend to foods rather than for food preservation.

Meat, Poultry and Seafood

It was impractical to keep a lot of animals alive during the winter because of the food they required, so medieval people slaughtered them for meat in the fall. They commonly pickled meat and fish in a salty vinegar solution. People sometimes preserved meat by packing it in salt, but this required finer salt than the coarse sea salt that was common at the time. Fine salt and fatty meat was the ideal combination for preserving meat by dry salting, since the salt could easily penetrate the fibres of the meat to preserve it. People rinsed food before using it in recipes to dilute the heavy taste of salt. Smoking and jellying were not unusual for seafood and pork.


Medieval diets included wheat, as well as grains such as barley and rye. To preserve these foods, people laid them in the sun to dry.


Sun drying was an effective way to preserve most fruits, but oven drying became popular once the Romans brought ovens to the rest of Europe. Medieval people ate fruit regularly, even using quince to add flavour to meat. Apples, grapes, plums and pears were also major parts of the medieval diet.


Dairy was a major part of medieval diets. Like meat, it preserved well when packed in salt.

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