Why Is Hot Food Important?

Why Is Hot Food Important?

Hot food is important because it changes the food we eat. It has historical and current importance.

The heat created during cooking is an agent in a chemical process called denaturation that changes the proteins in food, unravels molecules, and alters their physical and chemical properties. Depending on the cooked proteins, this causes the solubility to decrease or the hydrophobic proteins to bind together to reduce the total area exposed to the water. Denaturation affects how food feels, tastes, looks, and smells. A fried egg clearly shows denaturation and is a good example: the clear egg white (albumin) reaches a set consistency and turns opaque white when heated. As with many denatured proteins, the process cannot be reversed, that is, it cannot return to the raw egg once it has cooled.

The denaturation process may be desirable because foods can be seen, tasted, and smelled better when cooked and chemical changes can allow the creation of new foods such as meringue. To create a meringue, the chemical bonds between the molecules of the egg must be broken so that they can recombine with those of sugar.

Cooking has another function because it also kills bacteria, parasites, and viruses, making the food we eat safer. Bacteria like Salmonella and E. Coli can cause serious illness in humans and at least cause an unpleasant stomach upset. In the worst case, it can cause death. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals are at increased health risk due to serious illness from foodborne illness, and full cooking helps make food safer for them.

The heating process also softens food and makes it easier to digest. Cooked foods contain the same amount of calories as raw foods, but require less energy to digest. Cooking makes starches more digestible. Starches are not soluble in water, so they must be heated to break them down (a process called gelatinization). When they break down, they are easier to reach for digestive juices in the stomach. Raw starchy foods are also generally unappetizing and hard (think raw potatoes), and cooking makes them tasty.

Hot food also helps us warm up and is comforting. It is much more pleasant to come home in the winter with a hot stew than to go home with a lot of raw vegetables.

We prefer to have hot food as part of our diet. That’s not to say that raw food doesn’t play a role as well, it’s just that humans like a mix of both and it benefits us to do this.

The ability to heat food was one of the things that helped humanity evolve into the dominant species that it is today. Cooking allowed us to digest some types of food more easily and was able to kill bacteria and parasites, giving us safer foods. Without the discovery of fire and the ability to cook, we would not be in the position we are in now, and this means that the addition of hot food to the human diet was a very important step in our evolution.

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