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Category: OUR DRINK
Source: 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]

Next: Filling The Boiler Of The Body-engine

Previous: Fruits And Vegetables

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