A Short History of Lox

16eLoxcommonly used as a synonym for smoked salmon, usually served as an appetizer in up-scale restaurants. The term lox comes from Lachs, the German word for salmon.  But Lox is actually not smoked.  All Lox is actually prepared by curing in a salt/sugar/spice mixture.  Smoked salmon or Nova style salmon, in addition to being salt/sugar-cured, is briefly cold-smoked.  Such cold-smoking is done at room temperature for a few hours and does absolutely no cooking or preserving of the salmon.  It’s sole purpose is to impart a slight smoky taste to the fish.

Our ancestors needed ways to preserve their food.  Meat, especially fish, was highly perishable and would last only a few days if not preserved.  Populations fortunate enough to live by the sea, however, discovered that they could make salt by the evaporation of sea water.  Such salt became not only a means of enhancing the taste of food but of preserving it as well.  Meat and fish were packed in salt and dried or, in some instances, were stored in a salt solution, or brine; food so kept would remain edible and safe for weeks.
Such salting was man’s first method for the preservation of food, the earliest recording of which is found in the writings of Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder, a Roman statesman from about 200 BC. While bacteria and the concept of germs were not known until the Nineteenth Century, ancient cultures unwittingly were killing harmful bacteria when they salt-cured their meat and fish and thus had developed one of the earliest disease prevention strategies.

Over the centuries, salt-cured fish became more then just a dietary staple, as it assumed certain mystical qualities.  For instance, during the Middle Ages, a time when spiritual and supernatural beliefs abounded, cured fish was believed by the Jews to be an aphrodisiac and was an essential part of the post-Sabbath celebration.

Anti-Semitism flourished in Europe in the centuries following the Middle Ages, and Jews fell on hard times.  Herring was the most abundant fish in the North Atlantic and was thus quite cheap.  Salt-cured herring thus became one of the staples of the Jewish diet but also became a symbol of bad times and a lesser class.

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