Categories: OUR DRINK
Sources: A Handbook Of Health

Why We Cook our Food. While some of all classes of food may be eaten

raw, yet we have gradually come to submit most of our foods to the heat

of a fire, in various ways; this process is known as cooking. While

cooking usually wastes a little, and sometimes a good deal, of the fuel

value of the food and, if carelessly or stupidly done, may make it less

digestible, in the main it makes it both more digestible and safer,

though much more expensive. This it does in three ways: by making it

taste better; by softening it so as to make it more easily masticated;

and by sterilizing it, or destroying any germs or animal parasites which

may be in it.

Cooking Improves the Taste of Food. It may seem almost absurd to

regard changing the taste of a food as of sufficient importance to

justify the expense and trouble of a long process like cooking. Yet this

was probably one of the main reasons why cooking came into use in the

first place; and it is still one of the most important reasons for

continuing it. No one would feel attracted by a plate of slabs of raw

meat, with a handful of flour, a raw potato or two, and some green

apples; but cook these and you immediately have an appetizing and

attractive meal. Any food, to be a thoroughly good food, must taste

good; otherwise, part of it will fail to be digested, and will sooner

or later upset the stomach and clog the appetite.

Cooking Makes Food Easier to Chew and Digest. The second important use

of cooking is that it makes food both easier to masticate and easier to

digest. As we have seen, it bursts the little coverings of the starchy

grains, and makes the tough fibres of grains and roots crisp and

brittle, as is well illustrated in the soft, mealy texture of a baked

potato, and in the crispness of parched wheat or corn. It coagulates,

or curdles, the jelly-like pulp of meat, and the gummy white of the egg,

and the sticky gluten of wheat flour, so that they can be ground into

tiny pieces between the teeth.

We could hardly eat the different kinds of grains and meals and flours

in proper amounts at all, unless they were cooked; indeed they require

much longer and more thorough baking, or boiling, than meats. The amount

of cooking required should always be borne in mind when counting the

cost of a diet, as the fuel, time, and labor consumed in cooking

vegetable articles of diet often bring up their expense much more nearly

to that of meats than the cost of the raw material in the shops would

lead us to expect.

Cooking Sterilizes Food. A third, and probably on the whole, the most

valuable and important service rendered by cooking is, that it

sterilizes our food and kills any germs, or animal parasites, which may

have been in the body of the animal, or in the leaves of the plant,

from which it came; or, as is far the commoner and greater danger, may

have got on it from dirty or careless handling, or exposure to dust.

While it was undoubtedly the great improvement that cooking makes in the

taste of food that first led our ancestors--and probably chiefly induces

us--to use the process, it is hardly probable that they would have

continued to bear the expense, trouble, and numerous discomforts of

cooking, had they not noticed this significant fact: that those families

and tribes that had the habit of thoroughly cooking their food, suffered

least from diseases of the stomach and intestines, and hence lived

longer and survived in greater numbers than the raw fooders. We are

perfectly right in spending a good deal of time, care, and thought on

cooking, preparing, and serving our food, for we thus lengthen our lives

and diminish our sicknesses. Civilized man is far healthier than any

known noble savage, in spite of what poets and story-tellers say to

the contrary.

The Three Methods of Cooking. The three[11] chief methods

of cooking--baking, or roasting; boiling, or stewing; and

frying--have each their advantages as well as disadvantages. No one of

them would be suitable for all kinds of food; and no one of them is to

be condemned as unwholesome in itself, if intelligently done; although

all of them, if carelessly, or stupidly, carried out, will waste food,

and render it less digestible instead of more so. In the main, the

methods that are in common use for each particular kind of food, or

under each special condition, are reasonable and sensible--the result of

hundreds of years of experimenting. The only exceptions are that, on

account of its ease and quickness, frying is resorted to rather more

frequently than is best; while boiling is more popular than it should

be, on account of the small amount of thought and care involved in the


Roasting, or Baking. Roasting, or baking, is probably the highest form

of the art of cooking, developing the finest flavors, causing less waste

of food value, and requiring the greatest skill and care. On general

principles, we may say that almost anything which can be roasted or

baked, should be roasted or baked.

On the other hand, roasting or baking has the disadvantage of taking a

great deal of fuel and of time, and of being exceedingly fatiguing and

annoying for the cook, making the labor cost high; and it cannot be used

where a meal is needed in a hurry. If the process is carelessly done and

carried too far, it may also waste a great deal of the food material,

either by burning or scorching, or by the commoner and almost equally

wasteful process of turning the whole outside of the roast--particularly

in the case of meat--into a hard, tough, leathery substance, which it is

almost impossible either to chew or to digest.

Boiling. The advantages of boiling are that it is the easiest of all

forms of cookery, and within the grasp of the lowest intelligence; that,

on account of keeping the food continually surrounded by water, it leads

to less waste and is far less likely than either baking or frying to

result in destroying part of the food if not carefully watched; and that

it can be used in cooking many cheap, coarse foods, such as the mushes,

graham meal, corn meal, hominy, potatoes, cabbages, turnips, etc., which

furnish the bulk of our food.

On the other hand, from the point of view of fuel used, it is the most

expensive of all forms of cooking; and unless a fire is being kept up

for other purposes, which allows boiling or stewing to go on on the back

of the stove as an extra, without additional expense, careful

experiments have shown that the prolonged boiling needed by many of

these cheaper and coarser foods, especially such as are recommended by

most diet reformers, brings their total cost up to that of bread, milk,

eggs, sugar, and the cheaper cuts of meat,--all of which are more

wholesome and more appetizing foods.

The supposed saving in boiling meat, that you get two courses, soup and

meat, out of one joint, is imaginary; for, as we have seen, the soup or

water in which meat has been boiled contains little, or nothing, of the

fuel value, or nourishing part of the meat; and all the flavor that is

saved in this is lost by the boiled meat, rendering it not only much

less appetizing, but also less digestible. You cannot have the flavor of

your food in two places at once. If you save it in the soup, you lose it

from the meat.

Frying. The chief advantages of frying are its marked saving of time,

of fuel, and of discomfort to the cook; it also develops the appetizing

flavors of the food to a very high degree. A wholesome, appetizing meal

can be prepared by frying, much more quickly than by either baking or

boiling, and with less than half the fuel expense.

The drawbacks of frying come chiefly from unintelligent and careless

methods of applying it. It is somewhat wasteful of food material,

particularly of meats; although, if the fat which is fried out in the

process can be used in other cooking, or turned into a gravy, a good

deal of this waste can be avoided. As, in frying, some form of fat has

to be used to keep the food from burning, this fat is apt to form a

coating over the surface and, if used in excessive amounts, at too low a

temperature, may soak deeply into the food, thus coating over every

particle of it with a thick, water-proof film, which prevents the juices

of the stomach and the upper part of the bowel from attacking and

digesting it. This undesirable result, however, can be entirely avoided

by having both the pan and the melted fat which it contains, very

hot, before the steak, chop, potatoes, or buckwheat cakes are put into

the pan. When this is done, the heat of the pan and of the boiling fat

instantly sears over the whole surface of the piece of food, and forms a

coating which prevents the further penetration of the fat. Quick frying

is, as a rule, a safe and wholesome form of cooking. Slow frying, which

means stewing in melted grease for twenty or thirty minutes, is one of

the most effective ways ever invented of spoiling good food and ruining


Why Every One should Learn how to Cook. Every boy and every girl ought

to know how to cook. Cooking is a most interesting art, and a knowledge

of it is a valuable part of a good education. Everybody would find such

a knowledge exceedingly useful at some time in his life; and most of us,

all our lives long. As a life-saving accomplishment, it is much more

valuable than knowing how to swim. Every schoolhouse of more than five

rooms should have a kitchen and a lunch room as part of its equipment,

and classes should take turns in cooking and serving lunches for the

rest of the children.[12]