Microwaving food - can we settle this

So lately I’ve been reading a lot about Yoga, and am in fact trying to follow an Ayurvedic diet as far as reasonable. What I don’t consider reasonable is the attitude towards microwaving food, which according to Yogic principles, and generally all ‘naturalist’ proponents, is baaaaad.

I don’t understand this. Firstly this ‘rule’ surely cannot be more than decades old, which means some or other guy in fairly recent history just decided that microwaves are out. Second it seems like an unjustified bias against the second method of heating food that humans came across (the first obviously being fire, or traditional cooking where heat is transferred from a source underneath. Even though there is incontrovertible truth that this method can be dangerous (carcinogenic) to health as it is easy for food to be burnt black).

I would like to know if there are genuine reasons why microwaving food is a bad idea.

Not in the way they’re trying to make you think. It’s “bad” for baby food, because it heats unevenly and leaves hot pockets and cold pockets, and no matter how well you stir it, you risk missing a hot pocket and burning the baby. Same deal for heating milk in a bottle.

But there’s no reason to worry about the “radiation” - it’s not nuclear radiation. It’s not going to give you cancer, it’s not going to destroy any more enzymes or vitamins in the food than heating it any other way. In fact, vegetables heated in the microwave can retain MORE vitamins, because you only need a very small amount of water to cook them in, and that water clings to the vegetables when you serve them, holding all those vitamins. Boiling on the stove requires more water, the vitamins leech into the water, and then you throw the water - and vitamins - away. Additionally, the longer you heat something, the more vitamins are destroyed; since microwave cooking is generally faster than any other method, more vitamins are preserved.

I think microwaves had the poor luck to be invented when atomic bombs were really fresh in everyone’s memory, and so people got this idea that microwaves use energy like what caused so much death, destruction and short and long term health effects at Hiroshimo and Nagasaki. They don’t.

They’re much more like radar, in fact. And no one’s freaking out about radar.


WhyNot hit the biggest one, i.e. the potential for uneven heating that results in dangerous hotspots. With liquids, this problem is cured by stirring thoroughly before drinking (although liquids will also circulate on their own due to thermal convection, mitigating hotspots all on their own). For thicker stuff, the hotspot problem is mitigated by:

-heating in short intervals (30-60 seconds) and stirring in between each interval

-using a lower power setting

-cutting solid food into smaller pieces (no more than 2" on a side) and spreading the pices out on the plate

-using a turntable

One interesting problem that occurs very rarely is superheated water. If you have good clean water in a clean, smooth cup, it’s possible for a microwave oven to heat it well past the water’s boiling point. This is an unstable situation, and when you physically disturb the water (pick up the cup, or put your spoon in it), the water can suddenly and violently flash into steam, potentially causing burns. This is an extremely rare thing though, and the hazard can be mitigated by keeping the mug of water away from your face when you stir it for the first time.

I’m going to need you both back that statement up, and show that heating food in a microwave creates more carcinogens than other cooking methods.

He was talking about cooking with fire being dangerous, not microwaves. It wasn’t very clear. He’s saying “How can microwaves be so bad when we know for a fact the traditional method can create carcinogens?”

Another element that gives microwave cooking a bad imagine is the fact that most of the ready made microwaveable products are actually unhealthy. They contain way too much sodium and are often high in carbs. Check out the labels of those “Healthy Choice” meals and you see that even the healthy versions of microwave foods are not really healthy for you. The regular run of the meal microwave meals are total crap, thus giving microwave cooking itself a bad rap.

Ah, I see. Sorry, it was worded awkwardly.

It’s much worse than just the nutrition panel content. It’s bad enough that microwave foods tend towards being unhealthy crap even if they were made from the best ingredients. They are at the pinnacle of engineered foods; virtually nothing in them is what it appears to be. Every single component is food-engineered to simulate what a fresh or freshly-cooked equivalent would be.

You cannot just make fresh food and freeze it for later nuking. The tortilla, beans and cheese in a simple burrito are all made and processed in significantly different ways from even the equivalents you’d buy from a grocery shelf. Try it yourself: make a burrito from the best ingredients you can find, wrap it very tightly (in a couple of zip-lock bags, for example) and freeze it for a month. Nuke it. Be very, very surprised if it’s edible, much less anything like your basic dollar frozen burrito. It’s more likely to be cardboard wrapped around separated mush with greasy streaks of yellowish curdle. While most microwave burritos are pretty unappetizing, they don’t look like sludge pulled from a dumpster. Your homemade one will.

Take this to the level of lasagna or pizza or pastry sandwiches or any complete dinner product, and you don’t want to know what’s been done to make that stuff come out of the microwave looking like you think they should. What went into the box bears no resemblance to anything most people would consider normal food - even if you consider something like a Hot Pockets “normal.”

It’s not that this level of food engineering is inherently bad; in most cases it’s a matter of cooking basic ingredients in a different way to a different end. But the level of additives, fillers, substitutes - starting with sugar and salt to make up for the loss of flavor from the processing methods and freezer time - and extreme processing of ingredients like flour and cheese gives a whole new meaning to the term “junk food.”

I’d like to see some cites for that. Not the part about food engineering, I’m more than prepared to believe that frozen meals are engineered to levels beyond bridges and ultrasounds.

But I disagree that you “can’t” freeze real food and nuke it later. I do so all the time. We make “TV dinners” from leftovers, and they’re at least as edible as Stouffer’s, and generally much more so.

I think the “engineering” is more about cost cutting, less about the true limitations of freezing and reheating real food.

There’s nothing at all wrong with cooking a microwave. You can fail to cook food properly on a stove too. It’s just a method of heating things, no different for your health than anything else.

What reason(s) do they give for claiming it’s bad?

You should never feed a baby Hot Pockets.

You sort of hit on the answer here. There is a general belief among New Age-y types that you are slowly being killed by your microwave. It has nothing to do with Ayurveda (at least, nothing inherent).

Even the most fanatical Indian Ayurveda followers have no compunctions about using a microwave (though they weren’t common in India the last time I was there).

There is a general belief in Ayurveda that food shouldn’t be reheated, because it disrupts the food’s water balance and thus your digestion (I’m not a follower, this is just stuff my grandmother used to teach me). That’s not a blanket prohibition on microwaving things, though.

Same here. I freeze all sorts of stuff for months at a time. I’ve never done a burrito (but I have done enchiladas), and I see no reason why a homemade burrito wouldn’t survive just fine after a month.

I’ve done burritos, and if you wrap them in plastic wrap (squeezing out the air) and then store them in a freezer ziptop bag, they’re fine. The tortilla *is *prone to freezer burn if you’re not careful to keep them airtight. So that’s a packaging point, not a freezing one.

I think the manufactured foods are made to cook quickly and more evenly in the microwave, in addition to using the cheapest ingredients laden with salt, sugar, flavorless stuff that might be food, and a bunch of chemicals.

I’m sure someone is.

Heh. You’re probably right.

Might I interest you in this pamphlet on the danger of dihydrogen monoxide? They’re putting it in the drinking water now, I hear.

I nuke chicken breasts that come out really tasty and tender. Here’s how:

Take a boneless chicken breast and put it in a microwavable soup plate (sort of a shallow bowl)
Sprinkle Wylers Chicken Granuals on top evenly (about a 1/4 teaspoon). Sprinkle dried basil on top of that. Microwave at power 3 for approx. 15 min. depending on the size of the breast and the power of your microwave. The chicken comes out tender, juicy, and probably healthier than if I had
fried it stovetop.

There is a difference between freezing homemade food and freezing commercial goods. We all certainly freeze leftovers and extras, but we don’t store them for many weeks or months and expect them to pop out of the microwave looking appealing and ready to eat. Freezing spaghetti sauce, goopy foods like enchiladas, etc. for a few weeks, and then expecting to heat them up and “finish cooking” with them is one thing. Commercial frozen foods are expected to last for months, resist mishandling like multiple partial thaws, cook quickly, and literally jump out of the box looking good and tasty. You simply cannot achieve that without using considerably different food composition and preparation techniques from anything like home or restaurant cooking.

Go ahead, try it. Make up a truly finished “TV dinner” with sauce, meat, pasta, cheese, and vegetables. Package it any way you like. Freeze it for eight weeks. To be really fair, let it partially thaw once or twice. Nuke it without being too fussy about power and time (or turning, fluffing or tending it) and put it on the table as it comes out of the microwave. Does it look like the fresh version you made? Does it look even as good as a Swanson offering? Or does it look like colorless, separated, dried-out institutional food?

Food engineering is not secret. It’s just not publicized. Anyone who imagines their burritos coming from rows of skilled mamacitas tenderly making each one from fresh taqueria ingredients, or any variation thereof, is welcome to their delusion. If it’s frozen and it’s not a raw vegetable, it’s as engineered as an iPad.