Busting myths about microwave cooking

Busting myths about microwave cooking
Are you confused whether you should be using a microwave oven or not? There have been many debates on the pros and cons of cooking food in a microwave; while some insist that it is perfectly safe, others are vehement that food cooked in a microwave is not good for health.

The convenience of cooking in a microwave cannot be denied. Also, the hassle-free method of just popping a dish into the oven, waiting for a few minutes or seconds and taking out the dish fully warmed up is a boon in today’s rushed life where people don’t have time to breathe, let alone spend time in the kitchen. In India, most families in the urban parts own a microwave. The majority use it to re-heat their food, while a slightly smaller lot use it to actually cook their food.

The microwave oven heats food very fast, much much faster than a regular oven or gas stove. That’s because the distribution of heat is even throughout, unless of course, there are layers of food of different density, in which case, the more liquid layer will get heated faster as microwave-oven energy is more penetrating than heat emanating from an oven or a stovetop.

The main argument against using a microwave is the supposed loss of nutrients from the food. But supporters of microwaves say that the loss of nutrients takes place depending on the method of cooking. Italian researchers published results in 2008 of an experiment comparing three cooking methods — boiling, steaming, and frying — and the effect they had on the nutritional content of broccoli, carrots and zucchini. Boiling carrots actually increased their carotenoid or good nutrients content, while steaming and frying reduced it.

This then goes to show that microwave cooking is safe if you follow certain guidelines, that is. So, make sure that you use “microwave safe” glass, plastic or ceramic cookware that allows most of the microwave energy to pass safely through to the food within. In contrast, metal objects reflect the microwave energy back within the oven cavity and may spark a potentially damaging electrical discharge. Only use containers that are labelled “microwave-safe” as per the manufacturer’s instructions. The international symbol for a such containers is three wavy lines, on top of each other.

Utensils that are safe for microwave use include those made from heat proof glass, ceramic cookware, oven cooking bags, straw and wood baskets (for quick heating of bread rolls or buns) lined with napkins to absorb moisture from the food, and any other material labelled safe for microwave use. Also, remember to always cover the food when using the microwave with a microwave safe lid.

Here’s some advice. Do not use the takeaway containers, that are commonly used to home deliver food, to re-heat food in a microwave. Plastic contains a number of potentially harmful chemical additives. The heat of a microwave can cause those chemicals to leach into your food.

Another item of concern is plastic wrap (or cling film). There have been cases of people using plastic wrap to heat up food in a microwave. At room temperatures, its usage can be fine, but in a microwave, it gets exposed to intense heat, which causes its components to leach into your food.

Also, avoid thermacol cups or glasses, aluminium foil or chinaware which has any metallic paint on it or even any metallic design. Follow these tips and no need to junk that microwave just yet.

(The writer is a vegan chef and author of The Vegan Kitchen: Bollywood Style!)

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