From WikiMD's Food, Medicine & Wellness Encyclopedia

Cooking food on a stove in a wok

Cooking is the process of preparing food for consumption by applying heat. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions and trends. The ways or types of cooking also depend on the skill and type of training an individual cook has. Cooking can also occur through chemical reactions without the presence of heat, such as in ceviche, a traditional South American dish where fish is cooked with the acids in lemon or lime juice.

Raw food is food that has not been heated beyond a certain temperature, preserving natural enzymes and nutrients. While some foods are nutritious and delicious when eaten raw, others require cooking to improve digestibility and eliminate harmful bacteria.

Cooking Methods[edit | edit source]

Cooking methods can be categorized into dry-heat methods, with or without fat, and moist-heat methods.

Dry-Heat Cooking[edit | edit source]

  • Grilling: A method of cooking that involves direct exposure to radiant heat. This can be achieved with charcoal, wood, gas, or electric heat.
  • Roasting and Baking: Both involve cooking food in an oven. Roasting is typically used for larger cuts of meat, while baking is preferred for pastries, bread, and vegetables.
  • Sautéing: Involves cooking food quickly in a small amount of oil or butter in a skillet over direct heat.
  • Frying: There are several types of frying, deep frying and pan frying, both of which involve cooking food by submerging it in hot oil.

Moist-Heat Cooking[edit | edit source]

  • Boiling: Cooking foods in water at boiling point (100°C or 212°F). This method is often used for vegetables, pasta, and eggs.
  • Steaming: Cooking food using the steam from boiling water, which helps in preserving nutrients.
  • Poaching: Gentle cooking in water or another liquid, just below boiling temperature. Commonly used for eggs, fish, and fruit.
  • Simmering: Similar to boiling but performed at a lower temperature. It is ideal for soups, stews, and braised dishes.

Cooks and Chefs[edit | edit source]

Cooks at work.

Those who specialize in cooking are often called cooks or chefs, depending on their training and the cooking traditions they are working in. A chef usually refers to someone with professional training and runs a kitchen team in a restaurant or hotel.

Principles of Cooking[edit | edit source]

Cooking involves understanding the principles of heat transfer and the reactions of foods to heat. Some key concepts include:

  • Protein Coagulation: Heat causes proteins like in meat, eggs, and fish to firm up.
  • Caramelization: High heat causes the sugars in food to brown, adding flavor and color.
  • Maillard Reaction: A chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned foods their distinctive flavor.
  • Starch Gelatinization: Heating causes starches to absorb water and swell, thickening sauces and forming the structure in breads and cakes.

Health Aspects[edit | edit source]

Cooking can enhance the flavor and digestibility of food but can also lead to nutrient losses, particularly if cooking times are long and water is used. Techniques such as steaming and microwaving may minimize nutrient losses.

The technique of food preparation[edit | edit source]

Effective food preparation requires understanding both the science behind the techniques and the art of executing them. Cleanliness, skillful use of tools, accurate timing, and an eye for presentation are all essential components of successful cooking.

Cooking Terms Glossary[edit | edit source]

A glossary of cooking terms can help both novice and experienced cooks understand the wide range of techniques and ingredients used in culinary arts. These terms include but are not limited to:

  • Al Dente: "To the tooth"; pasta or rice that is cooked to be firm to the bite.
  • Blanching: A brief method of cooking in boiling water, used to preserve color and texture.
  • Deglazing: Dissolving browned food residue at the bottom of a pan with liquid.
  • Mise en Place: A French term that means "everything in its place", referring to the setup required before cooking.
  • Sous Vide: A method of cooking in which food is vacuum-sealed and cooked in a precisely controlled water bath.

Also see[edit | edit source]


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Contributors: Prab R. Tumpati, MD