The History of Parchment Paper - Part 1

The History of Parchment Paper - Part 1

Origin of parchment paper part 1

With the holidays fast approaching, ovens across the country are going to be stuffed with all sorts of baked goods and mouthwatering meals. Cookies. Cakes. Biscuits. Pies. Cookies. Biscuits.... the list goes on.

From the side dishes to the main course, in recent years home chefs have discovered a key tool that will enable such an onslaught of baking with amazing efficiency and delicious results.

It’s not a secret and it’s called by a variety of terms like baking sheets or even backpapier, but of course, we are talking about parchment paper.

What we were wondering was… Where did this chef’s best friend, and the terminology surrounding it, originate?

Parchment Paper & Plain Ol’ Parchment Are Not the Same

When trying to unravel the origin story of most items you use around the kitchen – say Ziplock bags – you can usually begin with a corporate history which will often either answer your questions or point you in the right direction to do so.

However, in the case of parchment paper or baking paper or whatever you call it in your kitchen, you are dealing with centuries of history, along with decades of more recent innovations that helped turn it into an object that makes life a little easier.

Though they were certainly not talking about the same non-stick, non-toxic parchment paper found in your kitchen today, the ancient cookbook from the first century AD titled the Apicius mentions using ‘parchment paper’ to prepare small goats as meals.

The reason why we know that they weren’t using today’s version of parchment paper way back then is because key constituents of today’s parchment paper simply did not exist in society back then.

For example, cellulose, the basic chemical compound that composes plant life, and from which paper is made, is a good place to start.

Parchment, in its base form, is not a term used in reference to wood-derived cellulose, which is a main ingredient of most types of paper.

The History of Parchment and Parchment Paper Pt.1

Instead, as the U.S. National Archives notes, it’s a term generally associated with animal skin that has been scraped and prepared for writing.

This use goes back millennia, and since we know that the modern alternatives didn’t yet exist, this animal-based parchment was most likely what Apicius used to bake his creamed kid.

It was not until the 19th century that we came up with a non-animal alternative for parchment, which eventually came to be known as parchment paper.

Specifically, this occurred in 1847, when French scientists Jean-André Poumarède and Louis Figuier pioneered a chemical treatment process for plant-based paper that retained many of the desirable qualities of animal-based parchment.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the manufacturing process of parchment paper is its treatment.

The 1874 book A Manual of the Chemistry of the Carbon Compounds notes the use of sulfuric acid during that process played a key role in giving parchment paper its durable qualities. “If unsized paper be dipped for a few seconds in a cold mixture of two volumes of concentrated sulfuric acid and one volume of water, and then washed with water and ammonia, the so-called parchment paper is obtained,” the book reads.

In The Pharmaceutical Journal (1859), researcher A.W. Hoffman wrote at great length of the potential for this new parchment paper in a variety of settings, like the laboratory, but he made sure to levy his prediction that parchment paper would find a home in kitchens around the world.

Hoffman penned, “In closing the orifices of vessels for preserves, et cetera, few housewives will hesitate to substitute an elegant material like vegetable parchment paper for the animal membrane, so frequently offensive, which is now generally in use.”

This is where we find the origin of the term “backpapier”, its roots set in Germany, as the popular new product earned a place in food preservation and distribution, proving itself to be an effective tool to prevent food spoilage.

For example, a 1889 edition of the Kansas Farmer gives a specific shout out to parchment paper for its ability to protect butter for delivery and long term storage.

It is fairly well-known that any time the surface of butter is exposed to the air, such exposure tends to diminish the aroma, and eventually the flavor.

When packaging butter, therefore, you need a package as near air tight as possible before shipping. The best material so far devised for that purpose is – you guessed it - parchment paper.

History of Parchment Paper & Butter Pt.1

When butter is compactly wrapped in such paper (as you see it done to this day) you not only manage to retain a good deal of the original flavor but you also add to its storage life.

Ok, ok we now know all about how we stopped skinning animals and began using plants to create our parchment, but where does the silicone come in?

For that, you’ll need to tune in to PART 2, coming soon!

In the meantime, feel free to browse the site and if you are in the market for the highest quality American made parchment paper products on the world wide web, we have what you need and we are ready to ship your order today!

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