What happens when we cook our food?
Many researchers believe that cooking was an age-old concept discovered over 2.5 million years ago. While some argue stating it is a more modern concept. Despite all this, we know that cooking is a fundamental aspect of our daily lives. Initially, cooking was for preservation; now, it’s a form of entertainment and creativity for many. People love to share what they do either via social media posts and through Blogs. There are different forms of cooking — sauteeing, grilling, boiling, deep-frying, and so on.
In one of my most favorite Netflix series Cooked, author Michael Pollan states that
Cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life. Not only that he discovers the enduring power of the four classical elements — fire, water, air, and earth — to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. Ultimately, deciphering that cooking is a medium between nature and culture.
So, what is cooking?
Cooking is a process of mixing produces and ingredients to convert it into something edible. They mostly involve heating. Cooking is a means of processing food, without which many foods would be unfit for human consumption.
Why do we cook?
First and foremost is for safety. Raw foods contain a large number of microorganisms — food poisoning bacterias that are harmful for human consumption. The optimum temperature required for these bacterias to multiply between 5°C and 63°C. While temperatures above 65°C, these bacterias are inactive and killed beyond 75°C.
Most of the cooking methods involve high heat processes. Those that are chilled and frozen- like ice creams, yogurt; are processed under high heat to cool down to required temperatures. So, applying such a temperature for a carefully calculated period (along with correct food preparation and storage procedures) will prevent many foodborne illnesses that would otherwise manifest if the raw food was eaten.
Campylobacter, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes are three of the most common food poisoning bacteria and together are reported to affect over 480,000 population each year.
The second most important reason why we cook is for edibility.
The desire to eat is primarily driven by the body’s need for nutrition, with the intake of essential nutrients being indispensable for life. Cooking can cause changes in the color, flavor, and texture of foods that allow us to create meals that we derive pleasure from eating. For example, roasting potatoes or cottage cheese initiates a series of changes that make them edible, as well as attractive in color — and taste by generating a golden brown color, invoking a natural sweetness, and producing a crisp and a soft internal texture.
For many foods, cooking defines its characteristics of edibility- that are generated through an intricate series of physical and chemical changes that occur when foods are heated. Therefore, without cooking, these changes could not happen, and many foods would be deemed inedible and unpalatable.
The final reason why we cook is for digestibility.
It is impossible to have broccoli just raw. Unless it undergoes some heating process like roasting, blanching — until it is softened, broccoli cannot be had fresh, and it is difficult to digest as well.
One of the most fundamental reasons for consuming food is to extract the essential and vital nutrients needed as per the daily requirements. Consuming these critical nutrients is achieved by digestion by breaking down the food in the body into a form that can be easily absorbed. However, many of the nutrients contained in foods are not readily accessible before cooking and, thus, cannot be easily digested by the body. Cooking foods containing starch (e.g., cereals and vegetables), initiates the breakdown of the polysaccharide, thus, aiding the action of amylase and the consequent digestibility of the carbohydrate component of the food. Hence, consuming raw cereals and pulses is not digestible unless they are processed and cooked thoroughly.