I was scared of my newest kitchen tool… but I quickly found out my fear was all for naught! AND I found that it’s now one of my favorite kitchen tools… What is it, you ask??
Yep, it’s a pressure cooker, a kitchen tool that I never ever thought in a million years could be part of a real food, nutrient dense kitchen. It seems that there has been a BUNCH of myths and bad rumors surrounding pressure cooking. The fact is, pressure cooking (and pressure canning) has a place in a Nourishing Traditions style traditional diet & real food kitchen.
At first I was really scared of my new pressure cooker! I had heard all of the explosion stories, but it seems that those were due to some early pressure cooker styles, not really the ones that are being sold today. The Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker I bought has 5 “over pressure” safety systems and it’s virtually impossible to remove the lid when it’s under any pressure at all. Plus it’s beautiful and easy-to-use, and it’s also QUIET when it’s cooking. None of that rattling that other pressure cookers have.
MYTH: Pressure Cooking Destroys and Reduces Nutrients in Food
You would think that pressure cooking a roast, broth or especially vegetables would damage nutrients in the food. Well, cooking AT ALL does damage to heat sensitive nutrients such as vitamin C, but studies have found that pressure cooking does NOT damage these nutrients more, but actually less than boiling or steaming (see graphic on the right). Yeah, I was surprised too! One of the reasons for this is that pressure cooking (especially if you use a very good stainless steel model that does not let steam escape during cooking), virtually all of the steam remains in the cooker instead of escaping. Obviously when you eventually open the lid, some of the steam escapes. But keeping the steam in during cooking actually preserves many nutrients in the cooking water. Also, minerals that are not heat sensitive are not damaged very much during pressure cooking (similar to boiling, steaming, baking and frying).
A 2007 study published by the Journal of Food Science measured vitamin C retention in broccoli using five different cooking methods. The researchers pressure cooked broccoli (15 PSI / 1 bar or 250F/121C) for two minutes and found that 92% of the vitamin C was retained in comparison to 78% vitamin C retention for conventional steaming.
“Boiling and steaming caused significant vitamin C losses, 34% and 22%, respectively, while with the other treatments [pressure cooking] more than 90% retention was observed.”
These findings contradict an earlier study published in the same journal that documented a high loss of nutrients in broccoli after pressure cooking. The authors of the study conceded that the nutrients were not actually lost but transferred to the cooking liquid. This is why it’s important to ALWAYS use the cooking liquid from pressure cooking in some way. Usually with meats you would be making gravy from this liquid anyway, and with beans or rice, you naturally consume it. With vegetables, add the liquid to any gravy or even just drink it.
FACT: Pressure Cooking is Convenient
One reason why I will continue using my pressure cooker, is the convenience. Have you ever thought to yourself, “oh I won’t make that roast today, because it’s still frozen as a brick!” Yeah me too. Then what do you end up eating instead? Probably something not as healthy as a roast, or beans, or brown rice. The fact is, many people do not have the time at home and pressure cooking can mean the difference between a good home cooked meal with healthy ingredients or picking up food outside of the house, or even cooking something less healthy.
Some Pressure Cookers Can Be Canners, Too
If you buy a big enough pressure cooker, it can also double as a pressure canner. This is one reason I bought my 12 quart Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker, because it can process 5 quart jars at a time. Now not everyone may want to attempt pressure canning, and that’s ok. But I wanted this option due to the fact that I would sometime in the future like to can broth or meat stews or other low acid foods, that can’t be canned using the water bath method. This is a great option to have shelf stable, non-frozen and non-commercial “canned” foods available to your family for quick meals! I will be writing a future post on how to do this.
A pressure canner is also great to have around for an emergency. Say your power goes off for 10 days during a particularly bad storm, and you don’t want to lose all of your grass-fed pastured meat supply in your freezer, and your family can’t eat it all during that time. Well if you have a pressure canner, you now have an option to help preserve that food instead of just losing it completely.
Buying a Pressure Cooker
It should be noted that a pressure cooker can be different from a pressure canner. Pressure canners are usually over 12 quarts in size, and usually made of aluminum. You could cook food in a large aluminum pressure canner, but I wouldn’t due to the aluminum leaching out into the food. But it’s safe to can low acid foods in a pressure canner, such as broth, stews, chili.
Pressure COOKERS are meant to actually cook in, and sometimes if you get one big enough (like this Kuhn Rikon 12 quart pressure cooker), you can actually have it do double duty for you as a pressure canner also (see section above). The high quality pressure cookers are made with stainless steel, which I recommend. They will last nearly forever and many of them only have one rubber gasket that could need replaced (good to have a spare on hand – the gasket lasts for years though). Some of them have no gasket but the lid screws down.
The most important thing to remember when buying a pressure canner is to buy one bigger than you think you need. I thought that my Kuhn Rikon 12 quart pressure cooker would be too big, but then I realized that you NEVER fill up the pressure cooker more than 2/3 full. And when you cook ‘foaming’ foods such as rice or beans, you don’t fill it more than half full. So always buy the biggest that you can.
The Best Thing About Pressure Cooking…
But the best thing about pressure cooking is the lack of TIME that it takes to make something flavorful! Anything that takes a lot of time to cook, such as beef pot roast, brown rice, soup, stew, beans, chili, spaghetti sauce, other grains can be made in the pressure cooker at a fraction of the time. Your dish will taste as if it simmered all day long.