Monday, May 19, 2014

Healthier Healthy Foods, Part Four, Take a Steam

So far I have talked about some knowledge that was acquired from thousands and thousands of years of trial and error.  Well, and a lot was just observation of one's environment.  When early humans looked around at the world about them, they saw that plants grew when it rained, flowers bloomed, fruit and grain came later, and the world's creatures thrived.  And early man, figured it out.  They ate the sprouts and seeds soaked in rainwater, they pounded grains on rocks and formed cakes and baked them on stones near the fire.  They fermented plants in skins and ate the stuff, and drank the liquid that gave them a fun feeling when they did.  And they hung the carcasses of their kills in their caves for a length of time to make it better.  All of those techniques we as humans learned about from the dawn of time.  And of course we promptly forgot it all when businesses told us that cheap imitations of real food doused with chemicals was all good for us.  And with enough MSG, salt, sugar and trans fats added, it even tasted good.  However the fourth method of preparing healthy food to make a healthier product came about just a few centuries ago. 

Steaming.  I hope I don't need to have a basic chemistry lesson here and tell everyone the stuff we should have learned in school, about how water at 212 degrees has considerably less heat energy than steam at 212 degrees.  It takes a lot of energy to turn water to steam, and that extra energy can be quite useful when we turn our attention to cooking.  And of course there is also the really cool benefits of cooking with a pressure cooker.  Remember a couple days ago when I talked about those nasty things in grains, and such, the phytates and the lectins.  Well, lo and behold, those things seem to breakdown a little when they are cooked in traditional methods.  Boiling and baking.  The limiting factor is that 212 degree limit on what can be achieved when cooking the stuff.  Lectins and phytates tend to remain pretty much intact at that temperature.  And as we all know, from basic cooking, that is the limit, you can't cook anything at a higher temperature than 212.  Even if you turn your oven up to 500 degrees, the food you cook in it will cook at 212.  That is up until all the water boils out of the food and then it will begin to burn.  And you wouldn't want to eat it then either.  But, about 3 hundred years ago, the Chinese came up with this impressive method of cooking, they put grains in woven bamboo and put it over boiling water so that the steam actually cooked the grain.  And lo and behold, steaming was born.  Because steam has much greater heat energy it actually cooks the foods at higher temperatures than 212, the standard limit to boiling water.  Sounds weird, it isn't.  It's basic science.  And the coolest way to use the steam heat thing is with a pressure cooker.  When you use one, you can get the internal temperatures of anything in the cooker up to 240 to 250 degrees.  And when you do, poof, most if not all of the lectins and phytates are broken down and become digestible.  And even better for those meat eaters out there, it also breaks down the collagen fibers holding the meat muscle tissue together and it makes meat tender.  Not such a deal with steak, but a pot roast in a pressure cooker is done in a third the time and any flavorings you added to the pot permeate into the meat, under pressure. 

So, what we do know about healthy food is that all that stuff, seeds, grains, legumes and even stuff like broccoli and carrots, are better for you if they are cooked with steam. 

That's all I have to say about this one.  Combining techniques tomorrow will have some more depth to it. 

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