In today’s post I’ll let the actual food stand to the side and let a very important food tool take the starring role. If you’ve ever had a frozen dinner or my favorite, a five-minute mug cake, you’ll know exactly the tool I’m talking about.
It’s fitting that I’m writing this post now as my family just had to get rid of an old one. It seems like they short out every two years or so. I guess they don’t have a very long lifespan, but I digress. It may seem like a boring thing to write about, but I can assure you that this humble little box that sits on your kitchen counter is riddled with intrigue. There’s a good reason why it’s the favorite tool of college students and busy families alike, and kitchen cooking geniuses that can’t be bothered to turn on the stove. Could you imagine a microwave chef?
The kitchen appliance cooks food by exposing it to electromagnetic radiation. Through dielectric heating, the molecules in the food rotate and produce thermal (heat) energy. But temperatures in the microwave do not reach high enough heats to be able to brown or caramelize food, known as a Maillard reaction; because of this, they have a limited role in a professional chef’s kitchen.
It’s contested whether or not the microwave is a safe alternative to traditional cooking methods. The claim is made that when we cook food, especially with microwaves, we destroy the nutrients that remain inside.
It’s true that cooking has an impact on how many nutrients remain intact in food—heating often does break down the vitamins and other nutrients. However, the intensity of the heat, it’s duration, and the contact the food has with water can manipulate this. In an extensive study on 20 different cooking methods of antioxidants on food, it was demonstrated that boiling, in fact, leeches the most nutrients out of food, specifically the water-soluble ones (link).
Also, any mechanism that breaks down a food at least in some way can help the body break down the food. Digestion is crucial in the body’s quest to obtain nutrients from food. Cellulose in plants and proteins are broken down to make them easier to digest. Numerous studies have actually shown that cooking can actually increase the bioavailability of certain ingredients!
Some silly claims have even be made that microwaves can:
- “short out” electrical circuits in the brain through depolarization or de-magnetization of brain tissue.
- Can cause the formation of “radiolytic compounds,” chemicals created by the tearing apart of molecules.
- Shuts down reproduction in males and females.
I don’t know about you, but the last one stands out to me especially. Have they done any controlled studies pertaining this—as if microwaves could be the outstanding cause? Both the first and last claims turn up no results in health science reference and abstract databases. Microwaves only utilize electromagnetic waves, and because of this are not “radiolytic” or radioactive—moreover, they’re not powerful enough to tear apart molecules. They simply agitate them. The agitation is what cooks the food; and cooking is what transforms the raw, frozen, or simply unprepared ingredients into a delicious meal!
Tell me – what are your favorite ways to use the microwave?
Do you prescribe to the belief that microwaves are mostly harmless, or are you more wary?