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How does acidity and alkalinity affect vegetables during cooking?

When it comes to cooking vegetables, you will always be faced with one choice. One must choose between emphasizing appearance and texture, and maintaining nutrients. Remember, ideally vegetables need to be cooked as briefly as possible to preserve all three quality points. If you accidentally overcook your vegetables, then you will ruin all three points leaving them drab looking, mushy, and with little nutritional value.
So how does an acid or alkaline affect the texture of vegetables during cooking? To start, acids such as vinegar, wine, or lemon juice added to the cooking liquid will make the vegetables resist softening, and they will take longer to cook. An alkaline such as baking soda on the other hand, will make vegetables soften faster and become mushy. Note that using an alkali such as baking soda will cause nutrient loss which might be undesirable.
Now when it comes to color, acids and alkali affect each pigment differently. Every vegetable has a combination of the three basic pigments: chlorophyll (green), flavonoid (purple, red and white), and carotenoid (orange and yellow). Carotenoid is not affected by the presence of an acid or an alkaline. For chlorophyll, an acid will cause it to turn from a bright green to an olive green color. An alkaline will help chlorophyll retain a bright green appearance. The opposite is true for flavonoids. Acidity will help retain their bright colors and an alkaline will contribute to color loss.
So if you are not overly concerned about nutrient loss, and color retention is what you are after, cook any vegetables high in chlorophyll in a slightly alkaline liquid. As for vegetables containing flavonoids, cook them in an acidic liquid.
Question submitted by Mike.
Kelowna, BC.



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