The Benefits of Pressure Cookers

The wonder-working, time-saving pressure cooker makes preparing nutritious foods with whole ingredients a snap.

| September/October 2011

  • Brown rice and seasonal vegetables star in this 15-minute meal.
    Photo By Tim Nauman

Most decent 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, apple corer or asparagus steamer. But an extra gadget makes itself worth your investment of money and space when it helps you eat healthier food in less time for less money. The pressure cooker is that gadget.

Featured Recipe: Vegetable Medley with Brown Rice 

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If anyone really knows how to cook, it’s the French, and that’s who invented the amazing apparatus known as the pressure cooker—French physician Denis Papin invented the machine in 1679. Thanks to the laws of physics, water boiling in an open pan can never much exceed 212 degrees; pressure cookers speed cooking time by raising the boiling point to approximately 250 degrees. (For you scientific types, the boiling point rises because the cooker increases the internal pressure, meaning it requires more energy for the liquid molecules to escape the surface and become gas.) The end result of this scientific wonder? Foods cook up to 70 percent faster in a pressure cooker.

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 cooking time, which means you’ll use about two-thirds less energy. Unless you’re using a solar cooker, there’s almost no way to use less energy while cooking.

And energy savings translate into dollar savings. With so little energy needed, meals made in a pressure cooker can cost as little as one penny on your utility bill. Pressure cookers help save money in other ways, too. You can make less-expensive cuts of meat taste fabulous from the benefits of stewing. You can use dry, rather than canned, beans and vegetables. And you can cook fantastic meals with inexpensive staples such as pasta, whole grains, and dried fruits or mushrooms. Kuhn Rikon, a pressure cooker manufacturer, estimates you can save more than $325 a year with a pressure cooker—and most pressure cookers last 20 years or more!

Finally, pressure cookers help make foods taste better. Many foods’ flavors benefit from slow cooking and stewing, which is essentially what you achieve in a pressure cooker in much less time. Some people find that they use less seasoning when pressure cooking, because roasting brings out more intense flavors. Dry beans and grains are infinitely better than their mushy, oversalted, canned counterparts, and a pressure cooker lets you prepare them just as quickly.

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