Who Invented Sous Vide?

You have probably either started your sous vide journey or are about to embark it. When I started my sous vide journey several questions came to my mind. What does sous vide mean? Who invented sous vide? Where did sous sous vide start? And so on. As I have spent quite some time digging into the history of sous vide, I thought it would be nice of me to share this knowledge with whom ever may stumble upon this article.

Who Invented Sous Vide?

This article is some of the knowledge I have collected on sous vide. Small pieces of knowledge that will act as a great conversation piece during a dinner, where you will be serving food prepared sous vide.

In my experience, whenever I serve anything sous vide, my guests often ask many questions around sous vide. What does sous vide mean, where does it come from, what is the technique and so fourth. I hope the following content will help answer some of these questions.

What Does Sous Vide Mean?

Sous vide is french and comes from the words sous (under) and vide (empty). Once we put them together the translation becomes “under vacuum”. Therefore the literal translation for sous vide from French to English is “under vacuum”.

Sous vide is also sometimes referenced to as low temperature long time cooking. Simplistically said, sous vide or low temperature long time cooking is a method of cooking where food is cooked in a water bath usually while placed in a plastic bag, vacuum bag or glass jar. The food is often cooked this way over longer periods of time at a precise temperature. This is radically different compared to traditional cooking.

If for example we take the cooking of a steak as an example. If I were to cook this traditionally, I would heat up my skillet, cook it for a couple of minutes on each side, baste it with some butter, put it to rest and serve. This whole process probably takes 15-30 mins.

If, on the other hand, we cook this sous vide we would start with prepping our meat, vacuum the meat (or use a Ziploc bag), place it in a water bath in a container and leave it in there at my specified temperature (129°F (54°C) for medium rare) for an extended period of time. Once the meat has cooked in the water bath for my desired period of time I would take it out. Wipe off any excess water or liquid and cook it hard and fast on my skillet to brown the meat.

Who Invented Sous Vide?

Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford was the first to describe the art of cooking under low temperature. All though from reading his memories about how he first encountered this, it does seem like he merely stumbled upon this. More so than actually did it with purpose. In 1977 he wrote about his new discovery in an essay:

It was neither boiled, nor roasted, nor baked. Its taste seemed to indicate the manner in which it had been prepared: that the gentle heat to which it had for so long a time been exposed, had by degrees loosened the cohesion of its fibres, and concocted its juices, without driving off their fine and more volatile parts, and without washing away or burning and rendering rancid and empyrumatic its oils.

Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford

For a more in depth (and hilarious) interpretation of Count Rumfords essay I encourage you to have a look at this blog post by Medellitin.

Where Count Rumford is our first description of cooking under low temperature, the first encounter of cooking food under pressure is during the mid-1960s. Here a group of American and French engineers, as a means to preserve food, used pressure to create an industrial food preservation method. This was done at the Cryovac Division of the W.R. Grace Company. By wrapping the food in plastic films and vacuum packing they were able provide longer shelf life due to the seal and pasteurization that occurred.

Bruno “sous-pope” Goussault

It was not until 1974 we saw sous vide being used in restaurants. Here a chef, Georges Pralus, where enlisted by Pierre Troisgros to help him perfect the way to cook fois gras. He wanted to reduce the waste that occured when cooking foie gras, where 30 to 50 percent of its weight were lost during cooking.

With Pralus help, Troisgros managed to reduce the loss of foie gras to about 5 percent. Following this Pralus stated to dub himself, the “Pope of Sous Vide”.

Pralus however, was not the only one working on exploring the wonders of sous vide. Bruno Goussault, who is not a chef, but rather a scientist worked on a study in 1974 on cooking beef shoulder sous vide. This study was presented at a frozen-foods conference. The study found that the beefs shelf life where extended to 60 days if it was cooked sous vide. Goussault has later on dubbed him self the “sous-pope”.

Pralus and Goussault eventually ended up working together. And both have been heavily involved in establishing sous vide to the wider public. Initially i restaurants and later on moving into the private kitchens.

So to conclude on who invented sous vide as we know it, I believe we should give that credit to Georges Pralus and Bruno Goussault, the pope of sous vide and the sous-pope.

How Has Sous Vide Evolved?

What started out with a somewhat crazy Count Rumford stumbling upon low temperature long time cooking, to systematically testing different techniques to improve food preservation in the industry, sous vide has come a long way over the years. As we have now learned who invented sous vide, I thought it would be interesting to look at how sous vide has evolved over time.

Sous Vide Professional Immersion Circulator CLASSIC
Professional Sous Vide Immersion Circulator

Initially, sous vide as we know it, was exclusive to businesses and restaurants. Or private people with very deep pockets. The initial investment to purchase temperature controlled immersion circulators was very steep, none for-home equipment really existed so you had to rely on scientific equipment usually designed to be used in laboratories.

Further along the way, immersion circulators and other machinery designed to be used specifically in the commercial kitchens where created. However these still had very high price points, usually costing 1.000 USD or more, which essentially made them a non-starter for any private chefs that wanted to embark on the sous vide journey. In 2009 Sous Vide Supreme was launched, as the first circulator with a more “reasonable” price point of around 500 USD. Obviously still a quite high price point for a product, that for many people would still be seen as a quite novel and niche product.

Along the way the price point has changed to a more reasonable price for the home chef. Just take a look at this sous vide immersion circulator from Anova with built in WiFi so you can control it through remotely. Impressive how sous vide has evolved!

See Amazon for the latest price on the Anova Culinary Sous Vide Precision Cooker Nano

What usually happens with technologies as adoption becomes greater and productions scale up is that prices drop and new solutions are developed. The same has happened for sous vide circulators. Today the circulators can be found in more and more households, and what was once a novelty product for the few is becoming a useful product for the many.

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