Pressure cooking is a game changer when it comes in making food, no question on this. But what is this really all about?
Most people, who are new into cooking ask about how pressure cooking works and I took an extra mile for them, to seek the answers – backed up by science, on these six major questions:
- What is the misconception in pressure cooking?
- Is there any benefits in pressure cooking?
- Is pressure cooking healthy?
- What are the health benefits of pressure cooking?
- Is there an effect on food?
- Pressure cooker vs. Slow cooker, Which is better?
Allow yourself a little time to understand more about pressure cooking before deciding to have this at home.
Let’s start with the common misconception.
1. The Misconception in Pressure Cooking
The most common misconception about pressure cooking is that it is a type of forced cooking that will save us time in the kitchen but will not deliver the same satisfying results as normal cooking would give.
The truth is; pressure cooking is actually a method of cooking food in water, stock or any cooking liquid using steam inside a sealed container. Just as simple as that.
2. Is There Any Benefits in Pressure Cooking?
Two of the common rejections for this type of cooking are that it is unnatural and unhealthy.
Probably because even if this has been around for decades, it is still considered nontraditional especially with the problems of the earlier versions of pressure cookers: the pressure was uncontrollable thus they release screeching sound and they explode.
But recent models are better and safer created with valves and vents for safety system.
It is also highly beneficial for individuals who have less time to prepare meals. Not just that, there are still more benefits that pressure cooking offers. But if they are so good and they save time, why haven’t they earned the trust of most households?
Back in the day, flavor and taste of food is preferred over convenience. People used to believe that fast cooking would not be able to achieve the right blend of ingredients in order to produce fine textured and tasty recipes.
In addition, based on the experience of most Baby Boomers, the old versions of pressure cookers are scary because tend to mess the kitchen with explosion due to unreleased pressure – which as mentioned, was already remedied.
Today, most people are so busy and tend to lean towards fast food convenience. These are not just the over the counter food we can order but includes pre-pack food we can toss in the microwave. Now, with the improvement of pressure cookers and the convenience they can offer, people have the chance to prepare home cooked food quick right after office.
Here are the Top 3 Benefits of Pressure Cookers:
It has been proven that cooking takes time therefore; it also consumes fuel and energy. Since boiling is faster when there is more pressure above the water than elevated temperature, cooking happens quicker using a pressure cooker because as steam is trapped inside the cooking pot, the heat inside is increased by about 30° and this heat permeates evenly through the food allowing it to cook with even and good texture.
In line with that, studies also show that pressure cooker reduced cooking time by 70% which means that it cuts off on fuel and energy consumption, both for people using gas range or electric stoves at about 50%.
Imagine the cost of food preparation you are able to save. Truly, pressure cooking is a great alternative to eating out and ingesting food high in calories and saturated fats all because we don’t have enough time to spend in the kitchen.
In fact in the 1950’s, New York Times Magazine claimed that 37% of US household used to own at least one pressure cooker and this number increased by 20% in 2011 according to a study published by the NDP group.
Why would it?
Most chefs found out that pressure cooker is able to produce perfect risottos, soup, and stock and can even prepare at least three meals at the same time but with increased speed. It also helps that today’s models are made of aluminum o thermal retention is assured.
Another concern before, is that if a recipe relies heavily and finds precise temperature control critical, a pressure cooker cannot be used.
Today, that is no longer the case.
This problem has been worked on and modern units come with quick pressure release valves and automatic pressure gauge that will allow users to release or to adjust the pressure depending on the requirements of the recipe since different recipes require different preparation methods.
However, the pressure cooker’s use is not limited to speed cooking but it can be used for several other purposes as well.
The bigger models of pressure cookers are also used for canning since it can store food as an airtight container. It can also be used as an oven, a saucepan or as a baking pan.
Considering that it will allow you to cook your own food in an average of 25 minutes and it can be used for other functions as well, the pressure cooker also lets you save more time and money.
The less time you spend in the kitchen means more time you can spend for other things.
You also no longer have to worry that pressure cooker entails mechanical skills to be used as thought by other professional women due to the seemingly complicated nature of its structure: it comes with vents, locks, and gauges. Especially it makes use of steam and pressure that appears to some as critical and dangerous.
What most don’t realize is that using it is as simple as using other pots and unlike before; a pressure cooker is safer and more manageable.
It has at least 6 valves and vents that work as part of the safety system.
First, it has at least two-pressure release device that allow the user to take control of pressure inside the pot.
This is due to certain pressure requirements depending on the recipe being cooked. This was also proven to rid the new generation of users the peril of exploding, which usually happened to the first versions of the product.
By releasing the pressure, the user no longer needs to wait for the pressure inside the pot to decline minutes after the food is cooked nor does the user need to place the pot under running water in order to lessen the temperature.
This system is supported by automatic pressure gauge that measures internal pressure and is adjustable according to food preparation requirements.
It means that pressure is regulated. It also has a safety lock on the lids that will enclose and secure them as pressure builds inside the pot.
Now, these specialized clamps will not open unless it is time to do so. This means that these locks are pressure sensitive and will not open when it is not safe.
- Intense Flavor
But of course, when it comes to food it is not enough that we make it fast or convenient.
We also have to consider the taste and texture. So even if food is pressure cooked, it does not lose its natural flavors, instead it is enriched and cooked to perfection.
How is this possible?
We know that the pressure of steam inside the pot is equal on all the surface of the food we cook.
Pressure cooking extracts more flavors from meat, fish or vegetables because they are cooked twice as fast and in temperatures double if the usual.
At 250° F the natural flavors or content of the food repose, which causes a maillard effect.
This is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reduced sugar that is associated caramelization and browning that give food its desirable flavor.
And as some of these flavors are extracted they are condensed back as a full tasteful soup.
3. Is Pressure Cooking Healthy?
Researches have been preaching that the longer we cook food, and the higher the temperature, the faster we lose the nutrients of the food we prepare and they end up dry, soggy, or bland.
It is true that preparation affects the texture and taste of food especially their nutrient content.
So the shorter time they are in heat, the better.
But the dread people feel when they think about nutrient deterioration that can be brought by immense pressure on food can now be put to rest as studies prove that pressure cooking is a healthy meal preparation choice.
Probably one of the best features that pressure cooking has is the retention of the needed nutrients in the food we cook.
It actually does not matter which method we use because in the process we lose some of these minerals but that does not mean we do not have choices when it comes to food preparation that will help restore more nutrients and lose less of them.
Studies show that the longer food is in the pot, the more nutrients it loses.
This is not surprising because even by washing them some of the minerals are already being washed away. And there also minerals in food that are heat sensitive just like Vitamin C and folate.
These are the reasons why it is encouraged to cook food quickly and in less water, which are the features and requirements in pressure cooking hence, contrary to popular belief,
Pressure cooking is actually very healthy!
Pressure cooking food can reduce the risk of it developing cancer causing chemicals like carcinogens and acrylamides which build up in food prepared through dry cooking methods.
The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that pressure cooking lessens the growth of anti nutrient chemicals like lectins in peas, beans, and wheat. Lectins collect the vitamins and minerals in our digestive tract keeping them from being absorbed by the body.
Pressure cooking also increases the digestibility of macronutrients such as protein, fiber, and starch by reducing phytic acid, another anti nutrient chemical, up to 54% when we cook peas or beans.
In addition, pressure cooking decreases the amount of unsaturated fats in meat but keeps iron intact.
Another study also found that pressure cooked food increased their antioxidant capacity.
We also do not have to worry about the nutrients from vegetables we lose when we cook them because when they are pressure cooked, these nutrients are extracted into the soup therefore, these are regained when the soup is consumed.
Is pressure cooking healthy? Definitely!
4. What are the health benefits of pressure cooking?
Now we know that pressure cooking is healthy. So what does it do to us then?
First, since it retains about 90-95% of the vitamins and minerals in food, and kills anti-nutrient chemicals, we know that we are able to take advantage of the nutrition that we intake.
Eating pressure cooked food reduces the risk of developing certain cancers.
For example, starchy foods like potatoes when cooked at a temperature above 248°F develops carcinogens or acrylamides. Agents’ known to trigger cancer.
In pressure cooking, temperature exceeds that at 250°F but studies reveal that pressure cooked potatoes almost did not produce acrylamides. How could this be?
The moist environment in pressure cooking forbids it since these bad chemicals usually develop when food are cooked using dry methods.
What good is it for the body to absorb more of these bioactive phytonutrients?
Naturally, the cells in our body are exposed to oxidation. it is the process of metabolizing oxygen which causes a by product called free radicals. It is a natural biological process that degrades and damages cell membranes and other biological structure such our DNA and lipids leading to certain major chronic diseases like cardiac illnesses and Alzheimer’s.
They do this by stealing electrons from other molecules causing damage.
In order to fight this, we must have a balance amount of oxidants and antioxidants, which is the main reason why it is of utmost importance the vitamins and minerals become absorbed by the body.
They support our immune system at the same time strengthens our cells. By lessening the amount of reduced nutrients, we are able to optimize our health through functional food intake.
Another health benefit gained from pressure cooking food is you are assured that you are eating sterile dishes. When food are heated at 15 PSI (pounds per pressure) for 30 minutes, they become sterile and most bacteria that causes food poisoning such as Salmonella and E.Coli are killed.
This sterility cannot be achieved when food are cooked at lower temperature for a longer period. It does not kill any more bacteria because what is more impacting is the pressure rather than the temperature.
5. Pressure Cooking Effect on Food
The question left now is when we pressure cook what happens to our food?
- Retention of Nutrients
When we cook, it is normal that we lose certain amounts of bioactive nutrients and heat sensitive minerals from them.
This happens when food are pressure cooked but it also happens when food are cooked in general. However there are certain minerals that are tough like Calcium but folate, vitamin C and B and potassium are really fragile and degrades as they encounter heat.
For example. when we cook vegetables the vitamins and minerals leach out to the soup and then they go straight to the sink. Unless you reuse this liquid to cook the vegetable or make soup.
This heat sensitivity is also present in legumes, peas, and beans as found in researches.
In most crops that are starchy, actually.
Even though some minerals are lost, pressure cooking these crops results in more digestibility and bioavailability of minerals. It is important because increased bioavailability of these nutrients allow them to actually be incorporated in our circulation as they enter the body.
However, the good news about this loss of nutrients is if we were going to rank preparation methods in terms of how much nutrients they actually retain, a lot of studies would rank pressure cooking as number 1.
The shorter time we cook, the higher retention of nutrients there is.
- Tenderization of Meat and Infusion of Flavours
Chunks of meat are tender due to their structure: they have lots of connective tissues. These tissues are tough because they are made of collagen.
When we pressure cook meat, the steam build above it and creates pressure. This pressure forces moist into the meat through the center, that breaks down these collagen.
When collagen is cooked, they melt and turn to gelatin.
With perfect timing, meat being cooked correctly, this collagen will make meat juicy and tender. This is the same principle that applies as to the infusion of flavor.
With equal amounts of pressure on the surface of meat, flavors are extracted and then permeated back. Also, by doubling the pressure, food is cooked faster but evenly.
So, using a pressure cooker produces the same tasteful results as in using ordinary cooking tools, in fact, better!
First, you are saved more time, second you have elevated efficiency because you can tenderize meat in the same container you will use to blend sauce, third up to 90% of nutrients are retained and lastly, it increases the digestibility and the bioavailability of essential vitamins and minerals in the food we eat.
After knowing the benefits and understanding the principle behind pressure cooking, people will try and compare this tool with other cooking appliances. The usual competitor is the crock-pot or the slow cooker.
In a glance it is this: a pressure cooker can make you meals in as fast as 20 minutes but it entails kitchen involvement. You check the pressure, you regulate it then you open the pot.
In a crock-pot or a slow cooker, you toss everything inside and wait for them to simmer for 4 – 10 hours max. You don’t have to check the food once in awhile but some recipes require stirring every other time but it is not usual.
Can you alternately use them? Not quite. Each caters to specific cooking procedures.
So which do you choose?
It depends. It depends on your time, resources, and the food you want to prepare.
Let me explain you this;
A slow cooker allows you to simmer food slowly throughout the day. So you can mix everything at 8 AM and unplug the crock-pot at 6 PM without burning yet overcooking your dish.
It prepares food in low temperature and uses moist heat to cook it. It can be left without supervision because most crock-pots are programmable.
If you have too much to do in a day and you are not in a hurry to prepare food, then a slow cooker can be good but due to the process it entails, this tool requires planning ahead in terms of what to cook.
You also need to understand that a slow cooker is not as versatile as the pressure cooker can be.
It can only be used for slow cooking and nothing else;
Whereas, a pressure cooker is something you would like to have in your kitchen if you are busy all through the day until 7 PM but wants to have warm, freshly cooked dinner by 8 PM.
It makes use of heat and pressure to cook food. This process forces liquid into the food allowing it to cook faster.
If you are a vegetarian, you love vegetables and beans, then using a pressure cooker is more desirable because it softens them a lot quicker.
A pressure cooker also is a very good tool to use if you want to preserve at least 90% of the nutrients the food has.
It is also good in reducing anti nutrient chemicals that stop healthy chemicals from entering our body, especially researches suggest that the cooking period greatly reduces vitamins and minerals present in any food especially some are heat sensitive like the Vitamins C and B.
Bishnoi S et. al, Protein Digestibility of vegetables and field peas. 1994.
Galgano, F., et. al. (2007). The Influence of Processing and Preservation on the Retention of Health-Promoting Compounds in Broccoli. Journal of Food Science
Jiménez-Monreal AM, et.al. .2009. Influence of cooking methods on antioxidant activity of vegetables. J Food Sci.
Yadav et.al, 1994. Effect of domestic processing and cooking methods on phytic acid and polyphenol contents of pea cultivars
Vallejo, F., Tomás-Barberán, F. and García-Viguera, C. (2003), Phenolic compound contents in edible parts of broccoli inflorescences after domestic cooking.; Journal of Food Science, Agric.