Get Cooking With Your Microwave
Try these tips and recipes to help you make the most of this popular appliance.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
Almost every American household and workplace break room has one. It's the nemesis of a certain celebrity homemaker. There are entire aisles of food products designed specifically to be used with it. We're talking about the microwave, of course!
This kitchen appliance is a must-have in summer, when people would rather be on the porch sipping lemonade than perched over a hot stove fixing dinner. Microwave cooking is particularly desirable in summer because:
How It Works
A microwave oven is rather mysterious, don't you think? You put your food in a small box with an even smaller window, you press a few buttons, and a couple of minutes later your food is hot.
Well, it's called a "microwave" because it uses high-frequency radio waves. These waves cause the food molecules to vibrate, which creates friction that heats your food quickly.
These radio waves travel fast because they are extremely short (perhaps that explains where the word "micro," meaning small, came from). These short waves pass easily through nonmetal containers, which help to cook the food from the top, bottom, and sides at the same time.
Microwaving and Nutrients
If cooking time is lowest in the microwave (compared with boiling or steaming), doesn't that mean fewer nutrients will be lost or destroyed in nutrient-rich items such as veggies?
It isn't quite that simple. No matter what the cooking method, some heat-sensitive vitamins, like vitamin C, will be lost. And when you cook vegetables in water, some of the water-soluble vitamins and phytochemicals they contain can literally leak into the water. Drain the water, and you lose some of these nutrients down the drain as well.
But therein lies the microwave solution: Use very little water (a tablespoon, for example), and your nutrient losses are thought to be very little.
A recent Spanish study measured losses of the phytochemical family of flavonoids (a water-soluble nutrient) when microwaving broccoli. The researchers noted a huge loss of flavonoid antioxidants (about 97% were lost) during the cooking process. But the results aren't really useful to those of us who microwave with almost no added water: The researchers used 2/3 cup of water to microwave just 1 1/2 stalks of broccoli. When the broccoli was steamed instead, the researchers noted that only 11% of the flavonoids were lost. So the moral of that study is to use as little water as possible when microwaving vegetables.
Here are two other tips to reduce nutrient loss:
To make sure you're using your microwave safely: