Cooking is the act of preparing food for eating. It encompasses a vast range of methods, tools and combinations of ingredients to improve the flavour and/or digestibility of food. It generally requires the selection, measurement and combining of ingredients in an ordered procedure in an effort to achieve the desired result. Constraints on success include the variability of ingredients, environment conditions, tools and the skill of the person cooking.
The variety of cooking worldwide is a reflection of the myriad nutritional, aesthetic, agricultural, economic, cultural and religious considerations that impact upon it. Cooking frequently, though not always, involves applying heat in order to chemically transform a food, thus changing its flavor, texture, appearance, or nutritional properties. There is archaeological evidence of cooked foodstuffs (both animal and vegetable) in human settlements dating from the earliest known use of fire.
On heating the food gets soften and disinfect (depending on temperature, cooking time, and technique used). 4 to 60°C is the "danger zone" in which many food spoilage bacteria thrive, and which must be avoided for safe handling of meat, poultry and dairy products. Refrigeration and freezing do not kill bacteria, but slow their growth.
uncooked foods diet adherents advise against the use of heat in the preparation of food: they believe that temperatures above 41°C (106°F) destroy necessary enzymes in the food, which they believe are necessary for proper digestion and nutrition (note: during digestion, pepsin in the stomach quickly breaks down most proteins, including enzymes).
Food preservation is the process of treating and handling food in such a way as to stop or greatly slow down spoilage to prevent food borne illness while maintaining nutritional value, texture and flavor.
Preservation usually involves preventing the growth of bacteria, fungi and other micro-organisms, as well as retarding the oxidation of fats which causes rancidity. Common methods of preserving food include drying, freezing, vacuum-packing, canning, radiation-treatment and adding preservatives. Other methods that not only help to preserve food, but also add flavor, include pickling, salting, smoking and curing. The oldest method of food safeguarding is by drying, which reduces water activity sufficient to delay or prevent bacterial growth. Smoking is sometimes done in combination with drying. Although not sufficient by itself to permit long term storage of food, smoking adds chemicals that help inhibit the growth of micro-organisms. Meat is often also cured with salt or sugar, or a combination of the two. Curing draws wetness from the meat through a process of osmosis. Nitrates and nitrites are also often used to cure meat.
'Pickling' is a method of preserving food by placing it in either a brine (high in salt), or a solution of vinegar which is too acidic to permit bacterial growth. Canning involves cooking fruits or vegetables, sealing them in sterile cans or jars, and boiling the containers to kill or weaken any remaining bacteria. Various foods have varying degrees of natural protection against spoilage and may require that the final step occur in a pressure cooker. High-acid fruits like strawberries require no preservatives to can and only a short boiling cycle, whereas marginal fruits such as tomatoes require longer boiling and addition of other acidic elements. Many vegetables require pressure canning.
A 1950s issue of Popular Mechanics details the impending arrival of "food irradiation". However, at the present time, the implications surrounding the irradiation of food are still not fully understood, and the technology is therefore still not in widespread use. However, irradiation of potatoes, strawberries, and meat is common in many countries where refrigerated facilities and trucks are not common. In 2002, the FDA permitted irradiation of meat and poultry to reduce the spread of E. coli and Salmonella. In the US and most of Europe irradiation of spices is common, as the only alternative (treatment with gas) has been shown to be potentially carcinogenic. The process is incorrectly called "pasteurization" to avoid the reduced sales that arise from the correct term of "irradiation".
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