Why do we need to be careful about cooking?
Posted on December 22nd, 2012

Dr Hector Perera             London

Time spent in the kitchen preparing food can be a great pleasure, but often by the time the festivities begin you are too worn out to enjoy it.  The list of things that one wants to do during Christmas is endless, too much to mention them over here.  If I say cooking is one of them, including baking a cake or two, is it right? Quite often meat is on the menu, chicken or turkey is a must, roast turkey and chicken or least chicken curry. Other kinds of meats such as beef, pork and lamb are also in the menu and sometimes they have totally forgotten all about fresh salads or cooked vegetables.

Cooking is the process of preparing food, often with the use of heat. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions. The purpose of cooking foods is threefold: to increase their nutritive value and render them more digestible; to develop their flavors; and to safeguard health by destroying germs and parasites.

Chemicals and food

To me all foods are kinds of chemicals, all food are made up of chemicals and this cooking is a kind of application of heat and other chemicals to transform these chemicals in the so called food into more edible, digestible and palatable forms. In other words, cooking is the act of preparing food for eating by the application of heat and other chemicals called ingredients.

The spice cinnamon has over 12 aromatic highly volatile chemicals, other spices such as cardamom, clove, pepper, curry leaves, cumin and chilly powder also have a number of complicated chemicals. They are very temperature sensitive, have low volatile chemicals when they are heated these chemicals start to ooze out or escape. When they come out if there were other chemicals, according chemical laws they react and interact with each other producing other complicated chemicals.

Applying heat to a food usually, though not always, chemically transforms it, thus changing its flavor, texture, appearance, and nutritional properties. The diversity of cooking worldwide is a reflection of the myriad nutritional, aesthetic, agricultural, economic, cultural and religious considerations that impact upon it. The effect will depend on temperature, cooking time, and technique used. It may kill or inactivate potentially harmful organisms including bacteria and viruses.

Many vegetables are indigestible if uncooked; this is not only because their coarse cellular structure must be softened by cooking, but because most vegetables are made up largely of starch; and starch in its raw state cannot be appropriated by the body. In the case of the ripe fruit, the starch has been partially cooked by the heat of the sun’s rays and with the help of a series of enzymatic reactions. Exposure to heat, as in boiling, causes the starch grains to swell and burst the hard outer coverings in which they are enclosed. The starches thus softened and released are converted during the digestive process into sugar, which the body so readily appropriates.

Cooking develops and intensifies the flavors which render food more appetizing, and therefore more digestible. This is particularly true of meats. Cooking also serves to destroy germs and parasites; and, in the case of meats, to break down their heavy muscular fibres and tough connective tissues.

Germs, bacteria and viruses

Meat and poultry may carry E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, Toxoplasmosis, Trichinella spiralis, and Listeria. Fish and seafood may carry Vibrio cholerae and hepatitis A. Thorough cooking is required to kill these disease-causing agents. The only way to know if meat is thoroughly cooked is to take the temperature of the meat.

The bulk of the meat determines the amount of time required to achieve the temperature needed to kill disease-causing bacteria to a large extent. Different types of meat have different safe temperatures, because they may have different types of bacteria.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends cooking ground beef, pork and lamb patties or mixtures such as meat loaf to 160°F. Whole pork cuts such as chops and roasts should be cooked to 145°F (medium), or 170°F (well done). Whole beef and lamb cuts such as steaks and roasts may be cooked to 145°F (medium rare), 160°F (medium), or 170°.

According to USDA, “A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook turkey to higher temperatures.

Fish should be cooked until it reaches 145°F at its thickest point. It should be opaque and flaky when tested with a fork. Raw shrimp should turn pink. Lobster should turn bright red.

The servants were experts

I have my doubt whether these so called celebrity cooks have any scientific and chemical idea about food. They do lots of TV programmes in England but I have my doubts whether they really educate the public on their culinary techniques? They must understand that many children as well watch these things and may be they are expecting to learn something from them but they get absolutely wrong ideas. The way they cook, really put them off learning to cook.

Let me say just one or two points I observed during these cooking programmes. Some cooks turn the fire to full strength and place these vessels and place chicken or fish in them with some oil, when the oil is too hot and vapouring it sometimes catches fire, if not they add something purposely to catch fire. They might think excitement makes the programme very popular. They cook in open pans for the camera, they do not understand that all the chemicals vapouring and escaping and depositing on the cooks and sometimes on the presenters as well. They never explain the intermolecular and intramolecular reactions with different ingredients. Just toss the food up and down and say ready to eat. They do not give enough time to cook and the ingredients to react and interact, may be they are unaware of these chemical reactions. After years of experience our servants have become expert cooks unlike the present day so called celebrity cooks. The children should be taught to cook absolutely carefully because one cannot allowed them to play with fire just like in chemistry practicals involved heating and boiling. Actually cooking is not a tedious task if done systematically that means when and then possible one should make home cooking than depending on precooked, packed food and takeaway unhealthy junk food. Those packed food must have been lying down for weeks or months with lots of food preservatives and many additives. I am sure one would enjoy some home cooked food for many reasons. Any comments please [email protected]

 

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