Food For Thought: Cooking with Microwaves

2021-02-21 03:33:51

By Mary Parker Draper, Extension Agent – Smith County

Ninety-six percent of American homes have a microwave. They are a fast and easy way to cook food. However, despite the widespread use of microwaves, many people think they take nutrients out of food. Do microwaves actually leach nutrients out of food?

Understanding how the microwave works can help us answer this question. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), microwaves are formed inside the oven by an electron tube called a magnetron. The microwaves are replicated within the metal interior of the oven where they are absorbed by food. Microwaves cause water molecules in food to vibrate, creating heat that cooks the food. That’s why foods that are high in water content, such as fresh vegetables, can be cooked more quickly than other foods. The microwave energy is changed to heat as it is absorbed by food and does not contaminate the food.

The FDA went on to say that microwaves do not cook food from the inside out. The outer layers are heated and cooked mainly by microwaves, while the inside is cooked mostly by the conduction of heat from the hot outer layers.

The energy from the microwave heats only the food, not the whole microwave oven. Microwave cooking also cooks foods faster than conventional cooking, and microwave cooking can be more energy-efficient than conventional cooking. Microwave cooking does not diminish the nutritional value of foods any more than conventional cooking. Actually, foods cooked in a microwave may keep more of their vitamins and minerals, because microwaves can cook more quickly and without adding water. When vegetables are cooked in water, the nutrients leach out into the cooking water. An example of this would be how boiled broccoli loses glucosinolate, the sulfur-containing compound that may give the vegetable its cancer-fighting properties as well as the taste. In some aspects, steaming broccoli may be better as it holds on to more glucosinolate than boiled or fried broccoli.

According to Harvard Health, the cooking method that best retains nutrients is one that cooks quickly, heats food for the shortest amount of time, and uses as little liquid as possible. Microwaving meets all of the criteria.

Heavenly Baked Chicken

4 or 5 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 cup sour cream

½ teaspoon garlic powder

1 tube finely crushed Ritz Cracker crumbs

1 stick melted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Dredge chicken breasts in sour cream that has been mixed with garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Roll the coated breasts in Ritz cracker crumbs. Place on greased baking sheet and drizzle with melted butter. Bake at 425 degrees for 45 minutes or until done. Submitted by Pat Wooten, Gordonsville FCE Club.