Unlocking Flavorful Efficiency: The Science and Wonders of Pressure Cooking

In an age where speed and efficiency reign supreme, the pressure cooker stands as a culinary ally for those who seek delicious food in record time. Whether you're considering adding one to your kitchen arsenal or if you've been sceptical of its merits, this information is a must-read.

You can listen to the Hinglish version of this post here. (Podcast)

How Pressure Cookers Work?

Let's start with the basics. A pressure cooker is a sealed chamber that harnesses the power of steam. As the contents heat up, steam builds up, and pressure increases inside the closed chamber. This elevated pressure raises the boiling point of water beyond the usual 100°C. (Remember, in the earlier post, we spoke about how the higher the air pressure results in a higher boiling point of water). Higher temperatures, shorter cooking times, and enhanced flavour extraction become the norm.

A Brief History of Pressure Cooking 

The roots of the pressure cooker trace back to a 17th-century French physicist and mathematician named Denis Papin. His invention, known as the "steam digester," served to extract fats and collagen from bones, creating bone meal for dietary supplements or fertilizers. It consisted of a closed pot with a tight lid, initially lacking a pressure-release mechanism, leading to early explosive experiments.

Over the centuries, innovators refined the concept. In the 1930s, pressure cookers finally entered home kitchens, marking a significant culinary milestone. Today, pressure cookers span several generations, from the "old type" with weighted valves to modern electric models with precise controls.

Safety and the Evolved Pressure Cooker

Concerns about exploding pressure cookers aren't unfounded. During World War II, demand for pressure cookers soared due to self-sufficiency programs. However, production often prioritized quantity over safety. Inferior materials and construction resulted in hazardous designs. Fortunately, manufacturing and design practices have since improved, and modern pressure cookers incorporate fail-safe mechanisms, ensuring your safety in the kitchen. It is always advisable to buy a pressure cooker of a good brand for the sake of safety. 

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The Science Behind Pressure Cookers

Pressure cookers are rooted in the "ideal gas law" or "general gas equation," which describes gas behaviour. In a sealed pressure cooker, volume and the ideal gas constant (R) remain constant. As the temperature (T) increases, pressure (P) rises. This rise in pressure elevates the boiling point of water, leading to faster, flavour-packed cooking.

Pressure Cooking at High Elevation

Cooking at high elevations requires adjustments due to lower atmospheric pressure. Pressure cookers increase pressure above atmospheric pressure, meaning they must be modified for high-altitude cooking. Cooking times and temperatures may differ, with a rule of thumb suggesting a 5% increase in cooking time for every 1000 feet above 2000 feet in elevation.

Choosing the Right Cooker

Electric models operate at lower pressure (12 psi), resulting in longer cooking times but offering convenience and safety. Stovetop versions (15 psi) provide faster cooking but require vigilant heat monitoring. Always reduce the flame after the first whistle. At this point, the pressure cooker has achieved Full Operating Pressure (FOP). The duration that follows, while maintaining pressure, is referred to as the Pressure Cooking Time (PCT).

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How to Cool a Pressure Cooker Down

You have three options to release pressure: natural release, quick release, and cold water release. Each method serves specific culinary purposes and suits different recipes. Your choice depends on your desired outcome.

Pressure Power

Ultimately, using a pressure cooker is no more hazardous than boiling water. When handled with care, these culinary wonders elevate your cooking to new heights. Speed, efficiency, and enhanced flavours are at your fingertips, making pressure cookers a valuable addition to any kitchen.

Embrace the science behind pressure cooking, and unlock a world of culinary possibilities. 

Stay tuned for more insights into the science behind cooking! #KitchenScience

Happy learning with cooking!

Neerja Bhatnagar


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