Have you ever stood in the kitchen while preparing a meal and asked yourself the very basic question:
Why do we cook our food?
There are 4 main reasons why we cook our food.
- To kill harmful bacteria and other pathogens.
- To extend the time that food can be stored without spoiling.
- To increase the digestibility of food.
- To improve the taste of food.
In this article I will discuss:
Kill harmful bacteria and other organisms
One of the main reasons we cook our food is to make it safe to eat.
There are many foodborne pathogens that can cause illness.
These pathogens includes bacteria like E.coli and viruses like Rotavirus.
And one of the easiest and best ways to eliminate these is to raise the temperature.
The temperature needed to kill different pathogens vary.
According to the World Health Organization, 60°C/140°F to 65.5°C/150°F will kill most bacteria and temperatures above 70°C/158°F will kill most viruses.
However, it’s not just as straightforward as this.
The longer a pathogen is exposed to increased temperatures, the more likely it is to die.
For the temperatures mentioned earlier to be effective, exposure time of at least 60 seconds is necessary.
If you heat food higher than that, the time decreases and vise versa.
Extend the time that food can be stored without spoiling
Food spoils due to various factors and combinations of them.
These include sunlight, air, temperature and microbial activity.
To limit the impact of any of these will help food last longer before spoiling.
You can’t indefinitely postpone spoilage unless you totally sterilise the food, which you don’t want since that will also all but destroy the taste.
One of the biggest of all the factors responsible for spoilage mentioned earlier, is microbial activity.
In nature these microbes are part of the natural ecosystem.
They are responsible for recycling organic matter and making it available for other organisms to use.
Unfortunately for us these bacteria are present all around us and when they start degrading food, the food usually becomes less edible to us.
So the easiest way to delay spoilage is to reduce or eliminate these microbes.
We do that by cooking food. When we cook food the higher temperatures reduce or even eliminate these microbes and thereby postpone and inhibit the spoilage process.
Increase the digestibility of food
Natural unprocessed foods occur as complex chemical and organic compounds.
The whole purpose of a person’s digestive system is to break down these complex structures so it can be absorbed into our bodies.
When you cook food, you start breaking down these structures into smaller fragments. This aids your digestive system to properly digest them.
Other substances in nature are hard to digest when ingested raw.
Vegetables is one example.
Although vegetables are healthy, they can cause bloatedness due to the body struggling to digest them.
There could be various reasons why this happens and the degree to which you are impacted differs from person to person.
But in general you can cook vegetables to aid in the digestion process.
Cooking vegetables breaks down cell walls and some of the fibre.
This makes it much easier for the body to digest and reduces the time needed to do so.
Improve the taste of food
There are big debates going on about whether cooking food improves the taste.
The general consensus is that heat breaks down food, as mentioned earlier. That helps release all the flavors and aromas and thereby increases the taste.
This, unfortunately, is not always the case.
Heat also breaks down compounds that causes bitterness in foods as well as other unpleasant flavors.
Therefore it is safe to say that when it comes to taste, the amount of heat applied is a bit of a personal choice.
Although foods like meats taste better when cooked, there are others dishes that tastes great without any cooking.
Cooking food is an integral part of food preparation.
Playing around with cooking temperatures and finding the perfect temperature settings as well as cooking times for your dishes is part of the experimentation process and the art of cooking.
Some recipes require less cooking than others. That’s not to say those dishes are less safe or more tasty.
With cooking being a form of art you have to find the balance that works for you in terms of food safety, preservation, digestibility and taste.