Steam Cooking: Benefits and Tips

We're going to teach you everything you need to know about steam cooking, one of the best methods for preparing plant-based foods.
Steam Cooking: Benefits and Tips
Saúl Sánchez

Written and verified by el nutricionista Saúl Sánchez.

Last update: 14 July, 2023

Steam cooking is one of the healthiest options. It allows optimal preservation of nutrients, which improves the impact of food on the body. A greater amount of substances will be used, thus ensuring efficiency in daily functions. In fact, it’s considered one of the best cooking methods.

Before starting, you should know that, as a general rule, you should avoid fried foods and batters to prepare food. Also, charred foods and smoked meats. All of these processes have more disadvantages than benefits. In fact, they could increase the risk of developing chronic and complex diseases over time.

What is steaming?

Steam cooking is based on introducing the food into a kind of basket or strainer with holes, allowing the steam of water or hot broth to penetrate inside, gradually heating it up. It’s considered a slow but very healthy food preparation mechanism. It manages to keep a large amount of nutrients unchanged, so they’ll be available to perform their functions within the body.

At the same time, steam cooking has the characteristic of being very respectful of the original organoleptic characteristics of the food. It hardly alters the taste or smell of them, so you can enjoy a very authentic taste. It’s the favorite option for many people, as the end result isn’t artificial at all.

Also, it should be noted that there are many products that can be steamed. Not only vegetables, but also fish and even meats. Of course, depending on the thickness of the piece, the time can be more or less extensive. What’s decisive is ensuring that the product reaches a high temperature inside to eliminate the microbiological risk, especially when it comes to foodstuffs of animal origin.

In addition, it must be borne in mind that steam cooking is especially suitable for children’s diets. In this way, a final result with optimal nutritional value is obtained and the absence of waste compounds that may be toxic, such as those generated from frying or braising, is ensured.

It’s essential to mention that the cooking temperature must be moderate. This prevents the loss of those vitamins that are thermolabile, which improves the final nutritional value of prepared foods. There are other low-temperature cooking methods that have this same property.

The importance of conserving nutrients

Steam cooking is a good culinary method.
Sometimes we don’t tend to give too much importance to methods of preparing food, but in reality, these can greatly affect the quality of nutrients.

As we’ve mentioned, one of the main advantages of steaming is that it’s very respectful of the nutrients in the food. Loss of water-soluble vitamins is avoided, as there’s no direct contact with water. Among them, vitamin C could be highlighted, a compound that has proven to be essential to ensure the proper functioning of the immune system.

Group B vitamins are others that are found within the extensive group of water-soluble vitamins. Among them, special mention should be made of folic acid. It’s important during pregnancy to avoid defects in the closure of the neural tube of the fetus, as stated in an article published in Annals D’Endocrinologie.

At the same time, phytonutrients and flavonoids will be preserved much better. These compounds have a marked antioxidant power. They manage to neutralize the formation of free radicals and their subsequent accumulation, something that’s considered essential to prevent complex diseases. This is indicated by a study published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry.

Also, it’s important to note that steam cooking doesn’t alter the spatial configuration of fatty acids in foods. This means that its transformation to trans type will be avoided. Trans fats are capable of increasing the inflammatory processes of the body, resulting in an inefficient functioning of the same. It’s best to reduce their presence in the diet, according to research published in Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome.

The steamer, an essential element in the kitchen

To properly steam cook, it’s best to purchase a utensil known as a steamer. It’s very easy to use, and it’s very common in oriental cuisine. In it, you can prepare different types of food by means of a cooking method that’s unaggressive and noninvasive, which ensures an excellent organoleptic and nutritional result.

There are steamers of different types and construction materials. There are steel, ceramic, or bamboo, which is the most typical. Most of them can be placed over a normal pot to ensure that the steam rises and cooks the food that’s put into the basket correctly. There are even options for cooking different products at the same time, on different levels.

However, when steaming, it’s important to optimize the amount of liquid that’s used, whether it’s water or broth. This should never come into contact with the food but, in turn, there should be enough so that it doesn’t evaporate completely before the food is properly cooked. One trick is to cover the pot in order to make the most of the steam.

Is it better to boil or steam?

Cooking with water is one of the healthiest methods. However, it may have certain contraindications in the case of plant foods. If the cooking broth isn’t used, many water-soluble vitamins could be wasted, reducing the final nutritional value of the product in question.

In any case, it’s considered a very suitable mechanism to prepare both meat and fish. Purees are also an excellent idea, as in this case, the final result is crushed, taking advantage of all the broth. However, all these problems are eliminated with steam cooking, as the vitamin content of the food will remain unchanged throughout the process.

Even so, it should be noted that, in the context of a varied diet, there shouldn’t be vitamin deficiencies that condition the state of health. The key is to increase the spectrum of foods consumed in order to reduce the risk of inefficiencies in the supply of nutrients. At the same time, it’ll be essential to be able to include vegetables in the daily diet. These have been shown to be related to maintaining good health.

Why avoid frying?

Steam cooking is better than fried foods.
Fried foods contain multiple potentially harmful components inside them, so reducing their consumption is recommended.

We’ve told you about the benefits of steaming. Now we’re going to tell you the reasons why you should avoid frying food. It’s a very aggressive cooking method that can increase the energy value of dishes. This translates into a greater risk of eating a hypercaloric diet, which ends up generating an increase in body weight.

At the same time, frying produces an alteration of the fatty acids in foods. A large part of them are transformed into trans fats. This conversion will be higher if, instead of extra virgin olive oil, other poor-quality oils or seeds are used to do the frying. In this case, metabolic and cardiovascular health could be at risk in the medium term.

Likewise, fried foods can give rise to another series of toxic compounds for health. An example of them would be acrylamide. There’s evidence that its regular intake is linked to a higher incidence of cancer. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that healthier cooking mechanisms are put in place that prevent the genesis of these compounds.

As a general rule, cooking food at a low temperature is much better for the body. In this case, the development of substances that can cause a harmful effect on the body is avoided. This way, the organoleptic characteristics of food are also much more respected, improving their final result.

Electric steamers

It should be borne in mind that there are a series of household appliances known as electric steamers that can fulfill the function of steaming in a simple way. They allow you to cook a large number of products inside at the same time, thus facilitating the processes when preparing a meal for several people.

Typically, these steamers have at least two or three levels. Now, you’ll need to play with the proximity of the foods to the base so that they’re all tender enough. As a general rule, those that take longer to complete should be placed on the first floors, leaving those with a faster process for the higher levels. This way, they’ll all cook optimally.

There’s even the possibility of acquiring a pressure cooker with the function of steaming. In this case, it’ll need to have a basket to facilitate the task. This way, you can make desserts, sterilize preserves, or prepare a large number of different vegetables. Total cook time may be shorter, making it ideal for those in a hurry.

Steam cooking: A very healthy mechanism

As you’ve seen, steaming is considered very healthy. It allows you to maintain the nutritional characteristics of food, being very respectful of its vitamin and phytonutrient content. In this way, their antioxidant potential will be used to the maximum, achieving a high-quality result.

However, keep in mind that variety is the spice of life. Steam cooking can be combined with other food preparation methods to achieve the most attractive diet from an organoleptic point of view. The best thing will always be to reduce the presence of fried and braised foods, but cooking on the grill or in the oven is an excellent alternative, too.

Finally, don’t forget that it’s important to combine an adequate diet with other good habits in order to improve your health in the medium term. In that regard, it’ll be decisive to practice physical exercise on a regular basis, prioritizing strength activities above all. Also, you’ll have to rest well each night. At least 7 hours of good quality sleep must be ensured.

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