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You must have heard the famous saying, ” You are what you eat”. It makes it clear that to be able to look young and healthy we should consume hygienic, nutritious food. However, you will be surprised to know that the methods of cooking food have a major effect on the food’s nutritive value.
So we will help you explore the different methods of cooking which are used in everyday’s cooking so that you understand the science behind cooking better and are able to make informed and wise choices when it comes to the method you choose to cook your food.
In order to cook food, we use heat as the most important medium. This heat can be provided by conduction, convection or radiation.
Here we’ve listed common methods used for cooking food and categorised them according to the medium by which heat is used to cook.
Water and Moist heat as medium of cooking
It’s the process in which heat is generated in water to enable the cooking process.
This is done by immersing food in boiling water maintain the temperature at 100-degree Celsius till food is cooked in the water. Water is boiled due to conduction and convection of heat. Foods that are usually cooked by boiling are rice, potato, pasta, sage, etc. Boiling is one of the simplest methods of cooking and widely used all over the world.
POINTS TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION WHILE BOILING FOOD
- Water which has to be used for boiling should be just sufficient since a large quantity would leach all the nutrients
- Boil the vegetables with their skin, or cut them into big pieces which prevent them from nutrient loss.
- Use the boiled water as stock in soups and making curries so that the nutrient lost in the water can be conserved
- Boiling food vigorously consumes a lot of fuel and makes the food mushy, soft and spoils its texture.
- Carotene present in carrot is lost when boiled in an open vessel.
Food is immersed in water and cooked in a covered pan at 98-degree Celcius. This method is used for the food that takes long to cook like meat, fish. Especially used for fishes as they don’t disintegrate easily while cooking.
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHILE SIMMERING FOOD
- Should not rush otherwise the food may break down and may turn mushy.
- It is a time and fuel consuming method.
- While simmering, heat sensitive nutrients are lost.
Poaching is done by cooking the food item with a small amount of water at 80-85 degree Celsius. Foods which are generally poached are eggs, fruits and sometimes, even certain types of fishes.
POINTS TO CONSIDER WHILE POACHING
- Water-soluble nutrients are lost, so one should try and use that water in making gravies or soups.
Stewing is done in a covered pan with a small quantity of liquid and once the liquid reaches the boiling point the flame is set to sim mode which makes it a slow and long process. Fruits and vegetables can be cooked by this method and no nutrient loss is observed as 1-2 tablespoon liquid is left which is served along the food but this process is highly time and fuel consuming.
Food is blanched by immersing the food items in hot water and then cooling them under cold water. Usually, food items that need to be frozen, for example, peas are blanched.
This process helps in preserving the natural colour of the vegetables and fruits and to reduce the microbial load on the food.
Steam generates heat, this heat is used as a medium to cook and so it takes a longer time as compared to boiling. It’s of 2 types:
- Wet-steaming: Food is cooked by being in direct contact with the steam. For example, while cooking idlis, dhokla, dumplings this method is used.
- Dry-steaming: Food is cooked by using steam to provide heat to a utensil in which food is being cooked, without any direct contact of food with the steam. For example, double boiling in the case of chocolate.
Steaming is better than boiling as it cooks food faster and steaming helps in preserving the nutrients, colour and flavour in food as there is no nutrient loss due to contact with water.
Food is cooked under pressure. With an increase in pressure, the temperature, also increases. Thus, the food is cooked very fast. Actually, it is a type of steaming in which water is boiled under high pressure, thus raising the temperature and reducing the cooking time. The equipment used for this purpose is a pressure cooker.Foods which can be cooked in a pressure cooker easily are pulses, rice, vegetables and meat.
Water soluble nutrients are lost in pressure cooking the food so one should use the water in making gravies.
Fats as medium of cooking
In this method of cooking, fats are used as a medium to prepare food.
Done at 180-220 degree celsius using oil or fat as the medium to cook. Food is cooked at a fast pace. The types of frying are:
In this method, the oil submerges only half of the food product and then food is browned. one has to be careful not to burn the food because the food is cooked at a fast pace. For example, Parantha (Indian bread) is made this way.
In this, the food item is completely immersed into hot oil in a large quantity. Foods cooked using this method are pakoras, samosas, French fries, etc.
POINTS TO TAKE CARE WHILE FRYING
- Overheating and re-heating of oil for a long time can decompose it. When oil begins to smoke, chemical breakdown of oil begins and Acrolein and free fatty acids are formed from Glycerol. If this happens repeatedly, then the Acrolein formed causes irritation in eyes and nostrils. This breakdown is known as pyrolysis. so prolonged frying should be avoided. It may form aldehydes and other by-products that are harmful to the health and may cause cancer. Oil that has been used once shouldn’t be used again for the same reason mentioned above.
- Use only MUFA rich oil like olive oil for cooking
- Also, never mix the used oil with fresh oil.
It is a combination of using moist and dry heat to cook. This method helps in retaining the moisture or JUICE WITHIN THE FOOD PRESENT. For example, while making Vermicelli Kheer, Vermicelli is first roasted and then cooked in simmering milk.
Dry heat and air as medium of cooking
Grilling and broiling
Food is cooked by placing the food either above, below or in between a hot surface like burning wood, charcoal or any other heating element. Here food is cooked by radiation.
POINTS TO TAKE INTO CONSIDERATION DURING THIS PROCESS
- Charring may occur.
- Temperature used for cooking is high so negligence may result in burned food.
The food is kept in the center of an oven and the food is cooked by radiation. It makes the food brown, crisp and soft inside. The temperature at which food is usually prepared is 120-250 degree celsius. Used to make cakes, cookies, vegetables, poached eggs, sweet dishes, etc.
This process consumes a lot of electricity. Other than electric ovens, conventional oven method or microwave ovens are also used.
It works on the principle of electromagnetic waves which are produced by power source magnetron and are absorbed by the food.
- It is the best method for retaining the antioxidant activity in garlic and mushrooms
- About 20-30% of vitamin c in green vegetables is lost during microwaving, which is less than most cooking methods as less water is used.
- On the whole, it is the best method as nutrient retention is the most in this method.
- Even enhancement of flavour and uniform cooking is seen in less time.
Summary of how to reduce nutrient loss while cooking
- Don’t throw the water used to soak the dal and rice as it can be used to cook food again
- Never use soda to hasten the cooking of pulses as it destroys the nutrients present in them especially vitamin B.
- Boil the vegetables with peel so that nutrients are not lost.
- One can also use the vegetables and fruits with peel to cook as they have the most of the nutrients present in them.
- Always cook the green leafy vegetables in an open lid for initial five minutes as it helps to retain colour
- Always cut the vegetables and fruits in bigger pieces as in smaller pieces, greater the total surface area of the food exposed therefore is greater and so is the loss of nutrients due to leaching and oxidation.
- Do not fry and overheat the oil as Acrolein would be formed and can cause harmful diseases like cancer.
Hence , cook right and eat right as food would not just be nutritious but tasty and colourful.
Pulkit Mathur and Ravindra Chadha, Nutrition: A life cycle approach
B. Srilakshmi, Food Science, 6th Edition
Know the Author
Yamini is a student pursuing B.sc in Home Science from University of Delhi. Her specialisation is in the field of Development Communication and Extention so that she can help in spreading awareness about health and nutrition.
Proofread and Edited by Samara Vivian.