Steaming vs Boiling – Which One Better for Cooking Vegetables?

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By Maria Turner • Last Updated: February 16, 2023 is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Steaming Vegetables

Whenever we faced to a condition where we need to cook vegetables, there is no better cooking method than boiling it or steam it for the sake to keep the nutrients.

In fact according to urban ecology, there are 20,000 different species of vegetables out there. Every year around this time millions are told to eat 400 gram of vegetable daily. Make use of the wrong cooking method, and you face the risk of losing up to 50% of nutrients.

Why do the methods we use in preparing food matter? Boiling might be just an easy route to softening foods and steaming is another. Thanks to modern science new facts have now been proven to describe attributes of both boiled and steamed foods.

How’d you like to know of some of the effects of boiling and steaming vegetables? The article addresses the impacts and differences between boiling and steaming.

What Is The Difference between Steaming and Boiling?

Let’s say that you just bought 2 portions of leafy greens from the market and decided to boil one portion and steam the other, which of the two portions will be more nutritious?

A study published in 2010 by the World Health Expert Community on Food Additives found that the major cause of acrylamide formation is, “high-temperature cooking.” That goes further to show that temperature plays an important role in deciding how nutritious our food becomes.

Now, let’s take a detailed comparison of this between boiling & steaming.

Boiled vegetables versus steamed vegetables

To start with the boiling of vegetables, boiling is when the vegetable is immersed in heated water of about 100 degrees Celsius. When the temperature rises in the body of plants, the cells are expected to get softer, just like when you heat an object and it melts. When this happens the water used in boiling the vegetable flood the cells and pulls the nutrients away.

The process of plant cells losing their natural nutrients in this manner is called leaching.

To add more sense to this, “water is not the cook’s best friend when it comes to preparing vegetables.” As mentioned in a study published in 2007, by the US National Institutes of Health. Not all vegetables are affected this way; vegetables with better cell structure s are less affected. At the end of the day, this depends on the volume of water-soluble vitamins contained in the vegetable.

Now, coming back to the steaming technique of cooking vegetables. Although the method of boiling differs a lot from steaming; the same component (water) is needed to prepare the vegetables.

The primary action in the steaming process is evaporation, a step further than the boiling process. However, just in the same way heat is needed from the vaporized water to soften the vegetables. Unlike during the boiling process when water floods into the cells, during steaming the vegetables are not immersed in water.

The big question here is between boiling and steaming which one is at a higher temperature. To know this we need to understand what steaming really is.

Steaming is when we continuously boil water until it turns to vapor. It is when the particles of water gather enough heat energy to escape into the atmosphere.

This implies that the higher the heat energy the faster the vegetable burns and not the higher the temperature. Steaming is done with a steaming basket/pot and a covering at the top to seal the flavor from escaping which can also retains up to 9%-15% of vitamin and minerals.

Texture and palatability

Heating a vegetable does not only affect the nutrients but cause changes of flavor and texture in vegetables. Certain food ingredients have general characteristics when they are heated – Here we have the same foods exposed to different cooking methods. Boiled green vegetables become dull in color and tend to retain fewer flavors when leaching occurs.

Steamed vegetables are briefly exposed to heat making them bright in color, flavorful, and crunchy. Boiling helps break down the molecules in foods to aid consumption; different vegetables such as tomatoes release more nutrients when boiled. Root vegetables with thicker cell walls benefit more from boiling than leafy green vegetables.

Order considerations

It all boils down to three things; time, heat, and water. A low level of water is favored than too much water to reduce the leaching effect. If you were to cook at a higher temperature then consider using less time – Highest retention of nutrients is not observed when the temperature is very high but rather at its lowest.

A study published by the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who eat uncooked foods have higher levels of vitamin A & beta-carotene. The common ground here is? The best option to retain the nutrients in your vegetables is to take them raw.

Is steaming better than boiling?

Is steaming better than boiling?

An excellent way to prove this is to quantify the nutrients loss and gain of the steaming process. A significant cause of loss of nutrients in cooking is the leaching effect when water floods the plant cells. However, during steaming, this stage is mostly eliminated because the vegetables are not drawn in water.

This is a clear advantage of steaming over boiling. But, let’s not forget the primary reason why we usually boil our food. According to the World Health Organization; boiling helps to kill 99.99% of bacteria, protozoa, and viruses in water. This is to show that boiling is the key to food safety.

Now, to break this tie between boiling and steaming. Ask yourself, what is the main reason we consume food? The main reason we consume food is to gain vital nutrients that nourish our bodies and keep us going. Now, we’ve understood from the past that steaming retains us more nutrients in vegetables than boiling. This brings us to the conclusion that; steaming is more nutritious while boiling is the key to safety consumption.

Final Verdict

If you are still wondering whether boiling vegetables is the only way to safety – Then, the answer is ‘No’. You are to remind yourself of the fact that steaming is a result of boiling water.

Others might think that why not boil the water first and then use it to steam vegetables, wise enough. But, actually, this already happens when the water boils into vapor. That is what I will call a fail.