Food preparation helps in combining food ingredients in various ways with delicate flavors, textures and color which appeal to the senses. Food has to be pleasing in appearance and taste so that it is consumed. It’s preparation is an important step in meeting the nutritional needs of the family. Fruits, vegetables and nuts are eaten raw but most of the foods are cooked to bring about desirable changes. The process of subjecting foods to the action of heat is termed as cooking.
Objectives of cooking:
- Improves the taste and food quality
Cooking improves natural flavor and texture of food. For example roasting groundnuts, frying onions and papads, roasting coffee seeds improve the flavor. Cooking meat with spices, rice with spices to make pulav, frying cashew nuts in ghee, addition of turmeric, curry leaves, pepper in pongal, blend flavor with one another.
- Destruction of micro organisms
Micro organisms are ubiquitous and some are useful in making curd, cheese and bread. Some are harmful and cause infections or produce toxins, e.g., Clostridium botulinum and Salmonella sp. Some moulds produce toxins like Aspergillus flavus produces aflatoxins in groundnuts, cereals and spices which is health hazard.
One of the most important methods of protection of food against harmful micro organisms is by the application of heat. Cooking food to the required temperature for a required length of time can destroy all harmful microorganisms in food e.g., pasteurized milk.
- Improves digestibility
Cooking softens the connective tissues of meat and the coarse fibers of cereals, pulses and vegetables so that the digestive period is shortened and gastrointestinal tract is less subjected to irritation. It improves the texture hence it becomes easy to chew and swallow. Cooking also bursts the starch granules of cereals and pulses so that the starch digestion is easier, rapid and complete. It increases the access to enzymes and improves digestibility.
- Increases variety
By cooking, same food can be made into different dishes. For example, rice can be made into plain, pulav, lemon rice, biryani or combination with pulses like idli. Wheat can be made into chapattis, puri, paratha or halwa.
- Increases consumption of food
Cooking improves the texture and improvement in texture and flavor by cooking increases consumption of food to meet our nutritional requirement.
- Increases availability of nutrients
Raw egg contains avidin which binds biotin making biotin unavailable to the body. By cooking, avidin gets denatured and biotin is available to the body.
Trypsin inhibitors present in soyabean and duck egg get denatured on cooking and availability of protein is improved. Toxic substances from kesari dhal can also be removed by boiling it and throwing away the water. Cooking increases the quality of protein by making some amino acids available to the body.
Studies have shown that when iron pans are used for cooking, the iron content of the food increases. This iron is then made available to the body.
- Increases antioxidant value
Cooked tomatoes are associated with greater health benefits, compared to uncooked, because the heating process makes lycopene more easily absorbed by the body. Lycopene – the pigment present in tomatoes – reduces the risk of some cancers.
- Concentrates nutrients
This may be due to removal of moisture or using combination of foods or due to cooking procedures, e.g., sweets.
- Pesticide residue
Pressure cooking, frying and baking minimize the harmful effect of pesticide residue. Boiling milk destroys the pesticide residue.
Preparing delicacies using different techniques is a tradition as old as human existence itself. With the discovery of fire by cave man, food enhancement and protection were the areas fire dominated. The science came in years later, explaining the whys and hows of Cooking.