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Tinned Duck vs Canned Duck

A piece of duck pedantry…

For some reason the other day I started to worry about whether Confit de Canard UK sold tinned confit duck or canned confit duck – as well as other duck-based products… so of course being a natural pedant (or should that be etymology enthusiast?), I started to research. Other people have asked the question out there on the so-called interweb…

One answer says that canned is more  American English, whilst British English speakers use either – which is of no help really… Someone suggested tins might be square, like corned beef tins. (Those comments were the result of someone studying soldiers’ rations where both words were used but seemingly indiscriminately. Someone else had just posted a picture of a gorilla which was what happens in forum debates (when at least they don’t descend into abuse).

In another source, canning was said to be the process of preserving (which of course is what “confit” is) whereby any bacteria is killed by the heating before it’s canned and then sealed, bacteria free. Confit de Canard is of course double safe as the fat keeps bacteria out even out of the tin.

Meanwhile, I’m finding out that canning was invented by the French. Ta da!. At the end of the 18th century, the French military put up a prize to develop a way of preserving food without risk of spoiling (or use of preservatives per se). Nicholas Appert suggested canning and won the 12,000 francs prize – though glass jars were used initially as the process is the same. It was tested in 1806 and the prize was awarded in 1809/10. (All very Napoleaonic… Don’t mention Waterloo…  And by the way, the process got patented in England!)  The glass didn’t travel well so tins were used quite soon after – ie wrought tin canisters. Tin is a non-corrosive coating for steel. The word canister got shortened to “can”. So in that sense the words are entirely transposable.

Of course like most early processes it was difficult, slow and expensive.  At some time in the 19th Century, having canned food became quite a luxury and the upper classes thought it was jolly grand. Later there were many improvements like double sealing and much better sanitary conditions which led to the cans being labelled “sanitary cans” at one point.

We really ought to be celebrating the tin can’s double centenary, shouldn’t we…

(As a post script, is it worth mentioning that the biggest tinned food scandal in the 1850’s involved disreputable Romanian producers using all sorts of anonymous and undesirable meat… Plus ça change…)


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