What is Cooking? Objectives, Advantages, Constituents, Effects

  • Post last modified:28 June 2023
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What is Cooking?

Cooking is the application of heat to food to make it more digestible, safer to eat, more palatable and to change its appearance. To cook food, heat must be introduced. In the cooking process the heat breaks down the cellulose in the plant, softens some of the connective tissues in the meat, changes, and blends flavors within the food, and destroys bacteria, making food more acceptable to human beings and their digestive system.


  • Cooking increases palatability. Cooking pleases the eye and is receptive to the palate and helps to stimulate the digestive juices, thereby creating an appetite.

  • Cooking helps to provide a balanced meal. The different ingredients combined in one dish make it easier to provide a balanced meal.

  • Cooking sterilizes the food partially. Cooked food can be stored for a longer time and it prevents food poisoning and diseases when stored properly. Some of the disease-producing germs are killed by cooking. They are killed because of high temperatures during the cooking process. A temperature of 600°C applied over 30 or more minutes, kills most of the pathogenic germs.

  • Cooking retains, as far as possible, the nutritive and flavoring ingredients. The flavor depends upon the amount and kind of extractive present, and the acids developed. Nutritive value is enhanced if the fat proportion in the meat is more. While cooking, nutrition could be preserved by using cooking liquor.

  • Cooking gives variety to the menu, as one food item could be cooked in various ways and given different textures, e.g. mutton in a soup, roast joint, croquettes, stews, keema, cookie meat, boti kababs, etc. Different methods of cooking when used make the menu interesting and enhance variety. It is, therefore, easier to plan a balanced diet.

  • Cooking preserves food for a longer time. The high temperature destroys bacteria and limits spoilage. It is economical as the cooked leftovers could be utilized and new dishes could be prepared.


The following are the advantages of cooking:

  • Cooking makes the food easy to chew.

  • Cooking softens the connective tissues in the meat and makes animal foods more digestible.

  • Cooking makes complex foods split into simpler substances.

  • Cooking helps to kill harmful bacteria. It makes the food safe to eat.

  • Cooking preserves the food. § Cooking increases palatability. It improves taste and enhances the flavor.

  • A wide variety of dishes can be made by different methods of cooking viz. boiling, frying, roasting, microwaving, baking, smoking, etc.

  • Cooking makes the dish more colorful. It develops new flavors in food.

  • Cooking makes the food to appreciable texture.

  • Cooking makes food more appetizing.

  • Cooking provides a balanced meal.

  • Cooking adds more nutritive value to food.

Food Constituents

Food is composed of the following five constituents:


Carbohydrates used in cooking include simple sugars such as glucose (from table sugar) and fructose (from fruit) and starches from sources such as cereal flour, rice, arrowroot, and potato.


Fats and oils come from both animal and plant sources. In cooking, fats provide tastes and textures. When used as the principal cooking medium (rather than water), they also allow the cook access to a wide range of cooking temperatures.

Common oil-cooking techniques include sauteing, stir-frying, and deep-frying. Commonly used fats and oils include butter, olive oil, sunflower oil, lard, beef fat (both dripping and tallow), rapeseed oil or canola, and peanut oil. The inclusion of fats tends to add flavor to cooked food.


Edible animal material, including muscle, offal, milk, and egg white, contains substantial amounts of protein. Almost all vegetable matter (in particular legumes and seeds) also includes proteins, although generally in smaller amounts. These may also be a source of essential amino acids.


Minerals are the chemical elements required by living organisms, other than the four elements carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen which are present in common organic molecules. Sometimes these “minerals” come from natural sources such as ground oyster shells. Sometimes minerals are added to the diet separately from food, such as mineral supplements, the most famous being iodine in “iodized salt.”

Other minerals are calcium, chloride, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. These minerals are obtained from milk, other dairy products, cereals, legumes, bone meal, meat, fish, all fruits, vegetables, table & sea salt, etc.


Vitamins are essential for normal growth and development. It is a key nutrient that the body needs in small amounts to grow and stay strong. Examples are vitamins A, C, and E. Vitamins are found in many fruits and vegetables; especially green peppers, citrus, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, leafy greens, potatoes, and animal foods; such as liver, whole eggs, and milk.

Effects of Cooking

The effect of cooking on the food constituents are discussed below:

Action of Heat on Carbohydrates

The interaction of heat and carbohydrates is complex. Long-chain sugars such as starch tend to break down into more simple sugars when cooked, while simple sugars can form syrups. If sugars are heated so that all water of crystallization is driven off, then caramelization starts, with the sugar undergoing thermal decomposition with the formation of carbon and other breakdown products producing caramel.

An emulsion of starch with fat or water can, when gently heated, provide thickening to the dish being cooked. In European cooking, a mixture of butter and flour called a roux is used to thicken liquids to make stews or sauces. In Asian cooking, a similar effect is obtained from a mixture of rice or cornstarch and water.

These techniques rely on the properties of starches to create simpler mucilaginous saccharides during cooking, which causes the familiar thickening of sauces. This thickening will break down, however, under additional heat.

Action of Heat on Proteins

When proteins are heated they become de-natured and change texture. In many cases, this causes the structure of the material to become softer or more friable – meat becomes cooked. Cooking at ordinary temperatures renders protein foods more digestible. At high temperatures, the protein itself gets denatured thus making it of nutritive value. In some cases, proteins can form more rigid structures, such as the coagulation of albumen in egg whites.

Action of Heat on Fats

Fat melts when it comes in contact with heat. If heated to a very high degree for a long time, fats undergo partial decomposition, and fatty acids and glycerol are produced. Glycerol further decomposes into caroling which is an irritating compound to the digestive system. When fat is heated for a long time at too slow a temperature it thickens, becoming gummy. This condition is known as polymerization, and fat that has reached this stage is no longer fit for use.

Action of Heat on Minerals

There is no appreciable loss of minerals due to cooking. Some minerals are made more readily available by cooking.

Action of Heat on Vitamins

There is some unavoidable loss of vitamins during cooking. The loss is considered in respect of thiamine and vitamin C. Vitamin A and D are not destroyed by ordinary methods of cooking. Vitamin B may be destroyed during cooking if cooked at high temperatures. The use of baking soda in cooking causes further destruction of vitamins.

Effects of Cooking on Different Types of Ingredients

  • Cereals: Rice is washed before cooking. Excessive washing removes the water-soluble vitamins and minerals. The proactive of cooking rice in large quantities of water and draining away the excess water at the end of cooking leads to further loss of B-group vitamins and minerals. Rice, therefore, must be cooked with just enough water so that all the water is absorbed at the end of cooking-this is usually 2 or 2 ½ times the volume of rice. All cereals (eg. water flour) absorb water and during cooking the starch granules swell up and burst. This renders the digestion of starch rapid and complete.

  • Pulses: Pulses are rich in protein (20 to 25 percent). They also contain small quantities of starch. It is very important to boil pulses very thoroughly. This destroys the antitypic substance present in them.

  • Green Leafy Vegetables: Green leafy vegetables are prized for vitamins and minerals. Vitamin A which occurs in the form of thiamine and vitamin C is partially destroyed by cooking. If the cooking water is drained away, there will be a loss of not only vitamins but also minerals. It is therefore recommended that green leafy vegetables should be cooked in a small amount of water and for the proper length of time. Baking soda should not be used to hasten cooking.

  • Other Vegetables: Vegetables like potatoes should be cooked with their outer skin intact; this retains all the vitamins and minerals contained in them. As a rule, vegetables should be cooked in a small amount of water to prevent loss of vitamins and minerals. They can also be cooked by steaming.

  • Cooking of Fruits: Most fruits are eaten fresh and raw. This makes the vitamins present in fruits easily available. Fruits can also be cooked by stewing; this will result in the loss of some vitamins, particularly, vitamin C.

  • Cooking of Meat: Meat is cooked in several ways. While cooking, meat coagulation of protein is at 60°C.
    • There is a reduction in water content; consequently, there is shrinkage of meat,

    • Collagen which is a protein of the connective tissues is changed into gelatin,

    • Elastic, which is also a component of connective tissue is not affected,

    • The fat of meat melts,

    • There is loss of mineral in cooking water but this water can be used as soup or gravy,

    • Loss of B-group vitamins, especially thiamine.
  • Cooking of Fish: Fish contains so little connective tissue, that the cooking time is very short. The proteins coagulate at 60°C.

  • Cooking of Milk: When milk is heated, a scum consisting of fat, forms on the surface. This makes it difficult for steam to escape; hence milk boils over easily. Some of the lactalbumins stick to the sides and bottom. Prolonged boiling alters the taste of milk. The cooked flavor is due to the burning or caramelization of milk sugar. There is the destruction of thiamine and vitamin C during boiling. Milk, which is already a poor source of vitamin C becomes poorer at the end of boiling. Boiling destroys enzymes and the useful lactic acid bacteria present in milk.

  • Cooking of Eggs: The albumin of the egg begins to coagulate at 60°C; and solidifies at 64°C – 65°C. At boiling point (100°C), the albumin becomes tough. However, there is little change in the nutrients present in the egg.

Culinary Art

Culinary art is the art of cooking. The word “culinary” is defined as something related to or connected with cooking or kitchens. A culinarian is a person working in the culinary arts. A culinarian working in restaurants is commonly known as a cook or a chef. Culinary artists are responsible for skillfully preparing meals that are as pleasing to the palate as to the eye. Increasingly they are required to know the science of food and an understanding of diet and nutrition. They work primarily in restaurants, fast food franchises, delicatessens, hospitals, and other institutions and corporations. Kitchen conditions vary depending on the type of business, restaurant, nursing home, etc.

Careers in Culinary Arts

The culinary arts profession is made up of people who work either directly or indirectly in the preparation and service of food items in the public or private sector. They work in a range of establishments including, but not limited to hotels, full-service restaurants, private clubs, corporate dining, institutional catering, caterers, and home meal replacement (carry-out). With the increased demands of consumers for nutrition, quality, and sophistication in all parts of the culinary industry, today’s culinary professional needs to be well-trained and prepared to meet the consumer’s demands.


The cuisine is a specific set of cooking traditions and practices, often associated with a specific culture. Religious food laws can also exercise a strong influence on cuisine. A cuisine is primarily influenced by the ingredients that are available locally or through trade. For example, the American-Chinese dish chop suey reflected the adaptation of Chinese cuisine to the ingredients available in North America.

Article Reference
  • Auguste Escoffier (1979), The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery, Heinemann.

  • Peter Barham (2001), The Science of Cooking, Springer.

  • Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck (2001), Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Knopf Publishing Group.

  • Philip E. Thangam (1981), Modern Cookery for Teaching and the Trade, Vol I, Orient Longman.

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