The evolution of the cooking process closely mirrors evolution of man through various periods in history. It’s said that primitive man, during the late Stone Age, discovered in a fire accident the benefits of roasting meat.
As the story goes on, they used to keep sheep tied in a hut, set fire to the whole hut in order to roast the animals; they improved upon the process of roasting subsequently, mimicking fire in a small scale – a precursor to the oven. In the Paleolithic period, steaming of meat by wrapping it in wet leaves was practiced. In the Neolithic period, discovery of pottery led to boiling and sautéing of food.
Discovery of various metals since the Iron Age led to shallow frying and deep-frying in lard and other animal fat. Baking followed this and a more recent addition is pressure-cooking. The discovery of electricity and the industrial revolution resulted in high-quality utensils, cooking implements and stoves, which revolutionized cooking. Today, there are various cooking styles with associated tools and implements.
The different styles and effects on nutrition
Cooking in general makes protein such as meat, eggs, poultry and lentils more digestible. However, different styles of cooking have different effects on water-soluble vitamins, fat-soluble vitamins and minerals.
Boiling, simmering and poaching: These styles reduce the content of water-soluble or heat-sensitive vitamins such as C and B; but the loss is minimal, if the water used to boil them is also consumed. These methods are good for fish as they help preserve the omega-3 fatty acid contents.
- Grilling and broiling: These methods use dry heat, and cause a loss of 40% of the vitamins: the nutrient-rich juices either drip (from the meat) or evaporate (from the vegetables).
- Microwaving: The quick cooking in this method is due to electromagnetic radiation. It reduces exposure to heat, which is good. Only 20-30% of vitamins are lost in this method, while anti-oxidant properties of garlic and mushrooms are retained.
- Roasting and baking: This method also uses dry heat and causes as much as 40% loss of Vitamin B, with no significant loss of other vitamins such as C.
- Sautéing and stir-frying: This involves cooking with medium or high heat using a small amount of fat. The fat helps absorb better anti-oxidants and plant-nutrients such as Beta-carotene and lycopene. However, it results in reduction of Vitamin C.
- Deep-frying: This method preserves Vitamins B and C, as long as the temperatures are not very high and food is not fried for long. However, it destroys the omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish, and in most foods it causes the formation of toxic substances called aldehydes.
Steaming: the healthiest option
Another method of cooking is steaming food in a closed container using water at high temperatures, with or without pressure, with or without the use of fats. This is a great method of cooking, compared to all of the above methods. It preserves all the nutrients, plant compounds and vitamins. Water-soluble and heat-sensitive vitamins such as B and C are reduced by just 10-12%.
Compared to steaming without pressure, pressure-cooking is even better as the food is cooked quickly, reducing the exposure to heat and hence loss of nutrition. Little wonder that pressure-cooking is the most popular method of cooking food today. It is used in most homes at least once a day to cook one or more items, anywhere in the world.
If you have been using pressure-cooking only occasionally to date, it’s time to make it a daily routine for the best health and nutrition of all your family.