By Dr Anjana Kannankara ( Chairperson CSA, Editor The Intl Journal, Sr Dir FWO, DirTGL) )
Steaming of foods is quickly gaining popularity as the most preferred way of meal preparation among those who are keen to maintain high fitness levels. In this cooking technique, the steam gently penetrates and cooks the foods at around 212ºF, the boiling point of water, which means the food does not come into contact with water or fats like in other methods. Steamed foods cook at relatively low temperatures, this keeps food in its healthiest state and also simple. A steamer is an essential piece of equipment for this, which generally is a sealed vessel with a tight lid where the lower part is used to contain water and the upper part to keep foods to be steamed.
Almost all types of foods can be steamed including both tender and tough vegetables, dumplings, breads, cakes, meat, fish and grains. While Americans probably think of steaming vegetables, people in Asian cultures have a long tradition of steaming dumplings, meats, fish and even buns. Even the traditional English plum pudding is a steamed cake. Cooking with steam is both versatile and healthy.
Let’s discuss some benefits here.
Retains Vitamins and Minerals: Many of the vitamins and minerals found in vegetables are lost with conventional methods of cooking. Steaming enhances vitamins such as vitamin B, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, biotin, B12, vitamin C, pantothenic acid, etc. Additionally, minerals such as potassium, calcium, phosphorous and zinc are also retained.
No added fat: When food is steamed, there is no need to add oil or fats, regularly used when frying. This means there is immediately a lower fat content in this kind of food than those cooked in oil. It is also a very gentle method as foods aren’t knocked around by boiling water or stirred over high heat.
Time saving: Many types of food can be steamed at the same time without being mixed up. By cooking over a single heat source, different layers of food can be stacked one on top of the other, saving time, energy and money; also helping to focus on cooking than on cleaning up.
Healthy: Cooking methods such as frying and boiling cause the loss of a huge amount of nutrients from the food that is cooked. This is not the case with steaming, which retains more nutrients than other types of food preparation, thus resulting in minimal loss of nutritional value in the food.
Enhances digestion: This method preserves the fiber, colour and flavour of vegetables. Steaming softens the fibers of vegetables and fruits, making them more easily digestible, so the body can absorb all that nutritional goodness more easily.
By steam-cooking, the vegetables are kept as close to their natural raw state as possible, whilst heating thoroughly. This not only prevents the vegetables from turning brown or overcooked, but also allows them to retain their original colour, taste, juices and freshness. To add some aromatic flavour to the food, herbs and spices can be added to the water or directly to the food.
Lowers cholesterol: Cooking food in food steamers helps lowers cholesterol; mainly because oil is not used. The steam keeps the food moist. Since no oil is added to the cooking process, added fat or those saturated fats that contribute to high blood pressure and cholesterol is not consumed. Therefore, it is arguably the most natural way to cook food.
When cooking meats such as lamb or pork, steaming removes the fat from the meat so it can be easily discarded whereas conventional cooking methods such as grilling, baking or frying, cook the fat into the meat. Getting rid of the fat makes the meat lower in calories and cholesterol. Also, steaming removes the need for cooking oil or fat, which results in lighter and healthier meals.
Clean kitchen: When steaming foods, there is no oil or sticky grease, no smoke, no mess over the cooking top or counter- thus maintaining hygiene and cleaning up of the kitchen becomes relatively easy.