EFFECTS OF HEAT ON FOODS
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Foods are composed of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and water, plus small amounts of
other compounds such as minerals (including salt), vitamins, pigments (coloring
agents),and flavor elements.It is important to understand how these components react
when heated or mixed with other foods.You will then be better equipped to correct
cooking faults when they occur and to anticipate the effects of changing cooking methods,
cooking temperatures, or ingredient proportions.
In other words,when you know why foods behave as they do,you can understand
how to get them to behave as you want them to.
The following discussion is concerned with the physical and chemical reactions
that affect the components of food.
1. Starches and sugars are carbohydrates. Both compounds are present in foods in
many forms.They are found in fruits,vegetables,grains,beans,and nuts.Meats and
fish also contain a small amount of carbohydrate.
2. For the cook,the two most important changes in carbohydrates caused by heat are
caramelization and gelatinization.
• Caramelization is the browning of sugars.The browning of sautéed
vegetables and the golden color of bread crust are forms of caramelization.
• Gelatinization occurs when starches absorb water and swell.This is a
major principle in the thickening of sauces and in the production of breads
Acids inhibit gelatinization. A sauce thickened with flour or starch will be thinner
if it contains acid.
FRUIT AND VEGETABLE FIBER
1. Fiber is the name for a group of complex substances that give structure and firmness
to plants.Fiber cannot be digested.
2. The softening of fruits and vegetables in cooking is, in part, the breaking down of
3. Sugar makes fiber firmer.Fruit cooked with sugar keeps its shape better than fruit
cooked without sugar.
4. Baking soda (and other alkalis) makes fiber softer.Vegetables should not be cooked
with baking soda because they become mushy and lose vitamins.
1. Protein is a major component of meats,poultry,fish,eggs,milk,and milk products.
It is present in smaller amounts in nuts,beans,and grains.
2. Coagulation. Proteins consist of long chains of components called amino acids.
These chains normally form tight coils. As proteins are heated, the coils gradually
unwind.At this point,the protein is said to be denatured.
For the cook, the important fact about denaturing is that, when the protein
coils unwind,they become attracted to each other and form bonds.This bonding is
called coagulation.The coagulated proteins form a solid network of these bonds
and become firm.As the temperature increases,the proteins shrink,become firmer,
and lose more moisture.Exposure of proteins to excessive heat toughens them and
makes them dry. Most proteins complete coagulation or are cooked at 160°F to
185°F (71°C to 85°C).
3. Many protein foods,such as meats,contain small quantities of carbohydrates.When
proteins are heated to about 310°F (154°C),the amino acids in the protein chains
react with carbohydrate molecules and undergo a complex chemical reaction.The
result is that they turn brown and develop richer flavors.This reaction is called the
Maillard reaction. It is what happens when meat browns. Because of the high
temperature required for this reaction, the Maillard reaction takes place only on
the dry surface. Because of its water content, the interior of the meat cannot get
4. Connective tissues are special proteins that are present in meats. Meats with a
great deal of connective tissue are tough,but some connective tissues are dissolved
when cooked slowly with moisture. Cooking tough meats properly, therefore,
makes them more tender.
5. Acids,such as lemon juice,vinegar,and tomato products,do two things to proteins:
• They speed coagulation.
• They help dissolve some connective tissues.
1. Fats are present in meats,poultry,fish,eggs,milk products,nuts,whole grains,and,
to a lesser extent, vegetables and fruits. Fats are also important as cooking mediums,
as for frying.
2. Fats can be either solid or liquid at room temperature. Liquid fats are called oils.
When solid fats are heated, they melt, or change from solid to liquid.The melting
point of solid fats varies.
3. When fats are heated, they begin to break down.When hot enough, they deteriorate
rapidly and begin to smoke.The temperature at which this happens is called
the smoke point, and it varies by type of fat.A stable fat—one with a high smoke
point—is an important consideration in deep-fat frying.
4. Many flavor compounds dissolve in fat, so fats are important carriers of flavor.
When fats melt and are lost from food,some flavors,as well as some vitamins, are
lost with them.
MINERALS, VITAMINS, PIGMENTS,
AND FLAVOR COMPONENTS
1. Minerals and vitamins are important to the nutritional quality of the food.Pigments
and flavor components are important to a food’s appearance and taste and may determine
whether the food is appetizing enough to eat. So it is important to preserve
all these elements.
2. Some of these components are soluble in water, and others are soluble in fats.All
of these components may be leached out, or dissolved away, from foods during
3. Vitamins and pigments may also be destroyed by heat, by long cooking, and by
other elements present during cooking.
4. It is important,then,to select cooking methods that preserve,as much as possible,
a food’s nutrients,taste,and appearance.This is addressed whenever cooking techniques
are explained in the remainder of this book.