Steam Your Way to Easy, Nutrient Rich Foods

Original Image by Alpha via Flickr
Original Image by Alpha via Flickr

By: Nikki Nies

Certain cooking techniques (i.e. braising, poaching) can diminish the nutritional value of some foods as vitamins are heat sensitive and may break down as a result of the heat. When foods are cooked in fluids, some of the nutrients may end up leaching out of the vegetable(s) and into the liquid.  Yet, as a moist heat cooking method, steaming uses the least amount of water when cooking, limiting the number of nutrients that can escape.  Therefore, steaming is one of the best cooking methods to maintain taste and color.

When using any of the other methods, nutrients are drawn from the vegetable to the water. To get more nutrients when using other methods is to additionally consume the water. When cooking vegetables in soups, this leaching of the micronutrients isn’t a detriment since you would be consuming the soup’s nutrient rich broth. A recent study led by Chang et al., 2012 showed that boiling of some vegetables for eight minutes actually increased the carotenoid retention. Though, in terms of other nutrients, steam cooking will have the least micronutrient losses.

Yes, steaming requires cooking at a higher temperature than poaching, braising or stewing, it’s one of the more “gentle” cooking methods, limiting agitation to foods as there is no bubbling liquid. As a reminder, steaming occurs when water is converted to its vapor state at 212F degrees.  Steaming’s perfect for vegetables (i.e. broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, corn, carrots), couscous, desserts, fruit, fish and other “delicate” pastas (i.e. Chinese dumplings and ravioli).

Original Image via Ron Dollete via Flickr
Original Image via Ron Dollete via Flickr

Steamers can be found in a variety of materials, yet it should be noted that bamboo steamers are meant to be stacked on top of one another-at least two to three steamers together.  If you’re feeling extra frugal, you can use a metal colander in a  large pot.

Once steamer’s set up:

  1. Pour water in the bottom of your lidded cooking vessel (wok, pot, etc)
  2. Place food to be steamed in a steamer basket/insert/improvised steamer
  3. Put the insert into the pan, cover and let the water come to a boil over medium heat.

In addition to being a cost-effective way to cook, steaming does not require fat to conduct the heat.  Since the food is cooked in a combination of convection-movement of hot vapor through food and conduction-direct contact between steam, a squirt of lemon juice is all one needs! Again, since nutrients don’t leach out into vapor, water soluable nutrients, such as vitamin C and B can be preserved up to 50% more than in other types of moist heating cooking methods.

The steaming technique has been used as far back as the Paleolithic Period and is still one of the most popular ways to make fresh, healthy meals! To this day, China, India and North African countries use this cooking technique, allowing people to cook a lot of food relative to fuel and water.  Interested in getting your hands and food steam filled? I recommend steaming some fresh broccoli or cauliflower to start yourself off. For the steaming aficionados, what tips or recommendations do you have fellow readers for the best steamed meals? Then options are endless!


Click to access hs9040.pdf

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