Pressure cooking is just a few centuries old method, but last century’s industrial revolution has made it quite popular throughout the world. Pressure cookers never used to be considered safe for cooking, because of so many explosion stories related to it. But most of these concerns have been taken care of, thanks to 2nd and 3rd generation utensils with sophisticated functions and extra safety features.
Some people still consider pressure cooking unhealthy. Here are a few points raised by traditional foodies against pressure cookers:
- Pressure cookers are hard on nutrients
- Pressure cooking utilizes abnormally high temperatures, something our ancestors didn’t use. They preferred slow cooking on fire.
The second argument looks quite convincing. Most of us live and stand on what our ancestors taught us, and food making is one important part of our teachings.
On the other hand, a group of people favoring pressure cookers tends to prepare even better food with just the right kind of feel and taste with the help of modern-day cookers. You must have noticed:
- The food prepared in pressure cookers always takes a quarter of the time, yet the quality is better than slow cookers.
- The broth prepared in the pressure cooker is always gelatinous, unlike the one prepared with the traditional method.
Think about it: if pressure cookers are not good for nutrients, how come they prepare such tasty and jelly-like broth all the time? This post answers every concern related to the quality of food prepared by pressure cookers. But, before you move on, it’s better to take a look at the pressure cooking process.
Two Noteworthy Things about the Pressure Cooking Process
Almost every kind of food – meat, poultry, fish, fruits, grains or vegetables – take a certain amount of water to cook. Cooking is the method of transferring heat from one source to the food, causing molecular changes to the food, and eventually getting the cooked food.
Primarily, it’s the temperature of the water that’s responsible for delivering the heat and causing that molecular change in the food.
#1. Boiling Point of Water
The boiling point of water is essential for the food to cook better. If you live at high altitudes, the water will have a higher boiling point because of high pressure. Similarly, if you live in a low-pressure zone, the water will take less time to boil.
If the boiling point of water is lower than normal, the food will take less time to cook and eventually, you’ll end up getting an undercooked or dry food. Even if you turn up the heat, you cannot help the food to cook faster.
In low-pressure areas, you tend to cook food longer and supply more water to the food so that it can be cooked properly.
On the other hand, if you live in such a high-pressure altitude where water can be boiled at room temperature, you will not be able to cook the food without a special mechanism. You will need a pressure cooker for this purpose.
#2. Increasing Pressure Increases the Boiling Point
Now, thinking about the low altitude, you can lower your cooking time by increasing the pressure of the utensil. High pressure increases the boiling point of water, and eventually, the food will take less time to cook. This is the principle followed by pressure cookers.
Now, let’s find out whether pressure cookers cook healthy food or you’re just being fooled by the manufacturers.
Is it Really Safe and Healthy?
That’s the biggest argument raised by the people who haven’t tried this mechanism or are more into traditional cooking. But, there hasn’t been any real proof of it being unhealthy or hard on nutrients. In fact, studies on pressure cooking reveal interesting facts:
- Pressure cooking preserves nutrients better than normal cooking
- Through boiling, you retain 40 – 75% of the vitamins in food
- Roasting can retain 53 – 90% of the vitamins in food
- If you steam your recipe, you can preserve 75 – 90% vitamins available in food
- With pressure cooking, you can retain 90 – 95% of the vitamins in food
Moreover, research suggests that pressure cookers preserve beta-carotene and ascorbic acid in amaranth and spinach. If you want to know how read further.
- Reduced Cook Time
High temperatures do not destroy nutrients; otherwise, heat-sensitive nutrients would be eliminated in other forms of cooking, such as boiling, steaming and roasting, which are all high-temperature processes.
The real trick lies in cooking time. The more time spent in cooking, the greater will be the chance of nutrient loss. Pressure cookers take far less time than other methods and end up preserving more nutrients.
- Less Water Usage
Did you know that health experts prefer steaming vegetables rather than boiling them? That’s because nutrients dissolve in water and are dumped out when you pour out the water.
Pressure cookers, in this context, are more suitable due to the underutilization of water. They can be seen as steam cookers because they secure the steam under the lid. At the same time, as the water inside is turning into steam, there are fewer chances of nutrient loss in water.
If you allow your cooker to cool naturally, more steam will turn into liquid and settle back onto the food, preserving even more nutrients.
- Pressure Cookers Prepare Legumes and Grains Better
That’s true! Pressure cookers make legumes and grains more digestible as compared to boiling. It does so by reducing lectins and phytic acid found in grains and legumes.
Phatic acid prevents the human body from using minerals and nutrients inside grains and legumes because it binds them tightly. This is the reason why these food sources are too difficult to digest.
A study on peas indicates that boiling soaked peas reduced phytic acid content by 29%, while pressure cooking reduced the content by 54%. That’s almost double the amount!
Lectin is another anti-nutrient found in grains, and it can be best treated with pressure cooking.
- Formation of Acrylamides and Carcinogens
You may raise a concern that high temperatures could cause the formation of unhealthy compounds, such as carcinogens and acrylamides. These compounds are mostly formed while cooking potatoes on high heat.
With a pressure cooker, these compounds are not formed at all. The reason is that acrylamides are formed in dry-cooking, such as roasting, grilling or deep-frying. Due to the consistent presence of steam in a pressure cooker, these compounds cannot build.
In a study conducted by Swiss researchers, they found negligible amounts of acrylamide while pressure cooking potatoes for twenty minutes. When the cooking time was reduced to ten minutes, there wasn’t any sign of these radicals.
- Denaturing of Protein
All cooking methods are intended to denature protein so that the food can be made digestible. A human body cannot assimilate protein without breaking it down into small particles.
When you stew meat and make it tender enough to eat, you’re actually denaturing the proteins in it. In short, you cook your food to break down the proteins in it.
Pressure cooking is arguably the best way to achieve perfectly digestible food. By pressure cooking soaked peas, you can increase protein digestibility up to 84%, while boiling can make it up to 81%.
You can go through more proof with other foods, such as:
Pressure Cooking is Not Traditional or it’s Unnatural — What?
Pressure Cooking is Unnatural
If you think pressure cooking is unnatural, what about the oven, the toaster or the blender? All of these items make the process simpler and much more convenient. Pressure cookers, in their own way, are also unnatural, but they’re far better than traditional cooking methods.
The Mechanism and Process is Different
In fact, the process is better than traditional cooking processes. The steam is forced to stay inside the cooker as the pressure is increased. It makes the boiling point of water move up, meanwhile, the food cooks in less time.
If you think that’s unnatural or not traditional, think about two differing altitudes.
- If you roast your food in Miami and do the same in La Paz, the entire process will take different amounts of time to complete. Miami’s at sea-level while La Paz is above sea-level. Roasting takes less time in Miami, compared to La Paz.
- Here, the difference of time does not affect the nutritional value or digestibility of the food. All you need to be concerned about is whether the food is cooked properly or not. The food at one altitude takes more time to evaporate the water, compared to another altitude, yet the end result remains the same.
Now, apply the same rule to pressure cookers. Think of the internal atmosphere of the pressure cooker as Miami’s environment, while the external atmosphere is like La Paz’s environment.
In pressure cooking, food takes less time to cook compared to traditional cooking, but the amount of nutrients, the digestibility, and the food quality remains the same or is even better than conventional methods.
What You Should Really Care About is Not the Cooking Time or Temperature?
By the time you have read this far, your concerns about cooking time and temperature will have been removed or greatly reduced. Even if they remain as they were, think about all the evidence and research conducted by food experts and scientists.
- Pressure cooking is much better in preserving nutrients, especially heat-sensitive nutrients, compared to other cooking methods
- Pressure cooking is healthier than other methods
- Pressure cooking creates differences in boiling points just like two different altitudes do.
Having mentioned the health benefits of pressure cooking, it is also advisable that you should pay attention to the entire process, and be very careful about the temperature indicated in the recipes, otherwise the vegetables turn into mush.
When you see these possible benefits, you’ll definitely be more careful to try to achieve them
- Pressure cooking greatly reduces the amount of cooking time
- Pressure cooking makes food more digestible
- Pressure cooking preserves more nutrients
- Pressure cooking makes better food with a jelly-like broth on top
- It is the best alternative for cooking last-minute meals. So, it doesn’t matter if you’re a bad planner. You can hide this weakness with a pressure cooker.
So, if you’re getting the same food in less time, you should be proud of that fact, rather than being skeptical about its quality and nutrients. It’s just the technology and physics involved in the process that makes it possible to bring that high pressure inside the cooker, while actually, the external pressure remains the same.