Accum, Friedrich Christian

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

Accum, Friedrich Christian (1769–1838) chemist and food investigator, was born in Buckebourg, Westphalia.

After training as a chemist, he went to London in 1793 and worked for the apothecaries to King George III.

He lectured on science at the Surrey Institute, opened a laboratory, and began to publish work on mineralogy. He then became an engineer with the London Gaslight and Coke Company and published, in 1815, his Practical Treatise on Gas Light. Turning to the investigation of food, he published Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons (1820). He was appalled by the adulteration of food carried on by men who, ‘from the magnitude and apparent respectability of their concerns would be the least obnoxious to public suspicion’. He asserted that ‘spurious articles are everywhere to be found, made up so skilfully as to baffle the discrimination of the most experienced judges’. Accum was not fooled; and he gave his scientific attention to a number of ‘substances used in domestic economy which are now very generally found sophisticated [adulterated]—tea, coffee, bread, beer, wine, spiritous liquors, salad oil, pepper, vinegar, mustard, cream, confitures, catsup and other articles of subsistence’. His book gave methods of detecting adulterations and culinary poisons and listed brewers and grocers who had been prosecuted for adulterating beer and tea.