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Whole Gourmet Natural Cooking

Alison Anton's Natural Cooking Blog offers healthy recipes, inspirational food articles and culinary advice for the natural chef, and features dessert recipes from her upcoming cookbook, Desserts for Every Body.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hazards of Microwaving?

MicroYes, microwave ovens are convenient and energy efficient. That’s why over 90% of American households and restaurants use them.

Although no FDA or officially released governmental studies have proven microwave usage to be harmful, history does shows that the validity of governmentally-funded food safety studies can be limiting, and sometimes we even find out later that they are altogether inaccurate. European countries have also run studies, and, contrary to the US reports, have reported negative effects of microwaved food.

Swiss, German and Russian studies have shown that microwaving proteins, grains, vegetables and fruits can cause the formation of well-known carcinogens. They also reported a marked acceleration of structural degradation leading to a decreased food value of 60-90% in all the foods that they tested. They’ve found that microwaving food does have an effect on various biological levels in our bodies.

So how is it that microwaving is any worse than conventional forms of cooking food? In a nutshell, the microwaving process interacts with the molecules inside the food in a way that changes the molecule’s polarity from positive to negative with each wave cycle, which happens millions of times per second. All this agitation creates friction inside the molecules, which then heats up the food.

This unusual type of forceful heating causes substantial damage to the molecules, often deforming them or tearing them apart altogether. We can’t see it on the outside, but on the inside, the cellular structure of the food (where the nutrition resides) is dramatically altered.

Other forms of heating, like baking, sautéing and boiling, also alter the chemical structure of foods; this is why so many foods are recommended by naturalists to be eaten raw or just slightly cooked. But, for me, the way in which the food is cooked via the microwave is what is bothersome. Microwave cooking begins within the cells in a way that can, for some, be construed as a form of radiation.

My mom, also a chef and cooking instructor, has been cooking foods in the microwave for decades. She is a gourmet chef, and by far makes use of her Viking range and convection oven over the microwave, but touts the use of microwaves for lightly cooking vegetables, for basic heating and reheating, and even to prepare certain chicken dishes and desserts. She is of the ilk to encourage convenience and ease in the kitchen (who wouldn't want that?) and microwaves certainly fulfill that role.

So should you throw out your microwave? I don’t know. I don’t think reheating a frozen burrito or melting butter once in a while is going to cause cancer, but it may be worth reconsidering if microwaving is your choice means for cooking food on a daily basis.

Seared Asian Salmon Scallops
Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin (Asian seasoning wine)
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 pound salmon filet
1 cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
6 radishes, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1 teaspoon unrefined sugar
Salt and pepper
Oil for searing

In a wide shallow dish, combine the tamari, mirin, ginger and a grinding of black pepper. With a thin, sharp knife, slice the salmon into four thin, broad slices by cutting almost parallel to the surface of the filet. Drop the scallops in the marinade as you go, letting them marinate for at least 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the cucumber and radish slices with the vinegar, sugar and a pinch of salt.

To sear the scallops, heat a little oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the scallops for 1-2 minutes on each side. Transfer to plates and top with the cucumber mix.


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