By: Tabitha Alterman
Most cooks could survive with nothing but a good stockpot, a skillet and a sharp knife. Let’s be honest: No one really needs a melon-baller or an asparagus steamer. But there is a tool that makes itself worth the money and storage space because it helps you prepare healthier food in less time for less money: the energy-efficient pressure cooker.
Imagine arriving home from work at 6 p.m. and serving your family a from-scratch beef stew for dinner at 7 p.m. From hearty soups, rice and beans to braised meats, roasted vegetables and whole grains, the pressure cooker is to wholesome home-cooking what the microwave is to store-bought, packaged food.
If money, time and energy savings aren’t enough to convince you, consider that any meal prepared with fresh, whole ingredients will taste better and offer better nutrition than anything made from processed food. Here are four reasons to give in to the pressure.
1. You’ll Save Time
If anyone really knows how to cook, it’s the French, and that’s who dreamed up the amazing apparatus known as the pressure cooker. French physician Denis Papin invented the machine in 1679. Pressure cookers speed up cooking time by trapping the steam that escapes from boiling water, thereby increasing the pressure on the liquid. When the pressure is increased, it takes more energy for the liquid molecules to escape the surface and become a gas, so the temperature at which the liquid boils is higher.
Thanks to the laws of physics, water in a pan can never exceed the boiling point — which is usually 212 degrees Fahrenheit but varies slightly with altitude — because that’s when the liquid begins to evaporate. The maximum temperature in a pressure cooker, on the other hand, is approximately 250 degrees.
The end result of this scientific wonder? All foods cook much faster in a pressure cooker. For foods that require an hour or more of conventional cooking — brown rice, beets and dry beans, for instance — the pressure cooker can slash cooking time by up to 70 percent.
2. You’ll Save Energy
Those quick cooking times also mean less energy use. Pressure cookers became popular in the United States during World War II as a means of conserving energy. What was true then is still true today: You’ll save as much as 60 to 70 percent of the typical cooking time, which means you’ll use about two-thirds less energy. Unless you’re using a nifty solar cooker or woodstove, there’s almost no way to use less energy while cooking.
3. You’ll Save Money
Energy savings translate into actual dollar savings. Because so little energy is used, many meals made in a pressure cooker will literally cost one penny on your utility bill. Kuhn Rikon, a pressure cooker manufacturer, estimates you can save more than $325 a year with a pressure cooker. And guess what? Most pressure cookers will last 20 years or more!
Pressure cookers help you save money in other ways, too. You can make less-expensive cuts of meat taste fabulous by stewing or braising. You can buy less-expensive dry (rather than canned) beans. And you can make fantastic meals with inexpensive staples such as pasta, whole grains, and dried fruits, vegetables or mushrooms.
4. You’ll Eat Better Food
Finally, pressure cookers help make food taste better. Many foods benefit from slow cooking, which is essentially what you achieve in a pressure cooker — in much less time. In fact, some people find they need less seasoning when pressure-cooking because the flavors they get are so intense. Dry beans and grains come to you without added salt and preservatives, and taste better than their mushy counterparts in cans, yet a pressure cooker lets you prepare them just as quickly.
If you’re cooking meals from processed foods, chances are it’s because you need to save either time or money. Any tool that does both, while still allowing you to start with whole, fresh foods, will result in healthier and tastier meals. Period.