The fridge of the desert: how to preserve food without electricity

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By Leu

zeer pots fridge of the desert

You may not be familiar with the “fridge of the desert” or “Zeer” which comes from Arabic, but it is the name for a very simple pot-in-pot cooling device, which can be extremely useful in certain situations where electricity or indeed a refrigerator appliance are not available.

There is proof that this method of refrigeration was used since the Egyptian civilization, thousands of years ago. It appears that the Zeer was invented in Northern Africa but then forgotten for hundreds of years until an entrepreneur in Nigeria decided to market it again in the 1990s with great advantage for the larger part of the population there who, living in rural areas, did not have access to electricity or did not have the means to buy a refrigerator.

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The fridge of the desert is made of two clay pots nesting into each other and separated by a layer of wet sand. The food is stored inside the inner pot and covered by a wet cloth. As the water evaporates it cools the inside of the pots. It is therefore important to stress that the Zeer must be located in a well-ventilated spot and works at its best in hot, dry climate where evaporation is abundant.

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If the inner pot is made impermeable to water, for example with a glaze, even sea water can be used, making the zeer perfect for arid, coastal areas where fresh water is scarce.

It is a very effective method to preserve food: tomatoes for example can be kept for up to 10 times longer than if kept outside.

Aside the obvious economical reasons – a zeer costs a few dollars and does not require electricity to run- many other advantages come from the diffusion and use of this device in poor, rural countries.

The possibility of storing food for longer means there is less chance of food contamination and related illnesses. The variety of the diet is improved with foods being available out of season. As there is less pressure to sell all the produce immediately, farmers can negotiate better prices and make a better profit out of their work.

The production of the Zeer can be local and therefore can create local job opportunities. Finally the pots can be used to store not only food but also for example vaccines or medicines, making it a great device to improve life in rural, poor, countries.

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