Tuesday, April 8, 2014

CHEF TALK Canning and Retort in the Culinary World and at Home. PART 2


Canning and retort in the culinary world and at home

In part 1 about retort or canning of food products, I explained the importance of temperatures and cooking times during the canning process. Too low temperatures and too little cooking time result in high heat resistant bacteria to survive and worse, to grow at ambient temperatures.
For many chefs this means that canned foods are most likely overcooked and overcooked food means no more healthy food properties. Most chefs tend to use fresh products, which is a good thing but there is a flip side to the coin.
Combing retort foods with fresh food can well be a good choice in home cooking especially when you are pressed with time and on a tight budget. 
I also highlighted that vitamins are often more heat resistant than bacteria. Specialized canning companies use the products when their vitamin levels are at the highest i.e. within 2 days after harvest. 
University studies show that the nutritional values of some canned foods are comparable or sometimes even higher than fresh produce. Vegetables like green beans and spinach lose up to 75% of their vitamin C after 7 days of harvest. Processing the harvest, packing, transportation and putting the product on the shelf of a supermarket takes up most of that time. 
The use of canned foods can therefore be beneficial to a healthy diet. Tomatoes are a good example of a food sometimes better canned than fresh. The heart healthy antioxidant Lycopene found in tomatoes is greater in canned tomatoes due to the heat from the canning process, than the levels of lycopene found in fresh hothouse tomatoes. The levels appeared to be 3 times higher.
Canning or retort can also be beneficial to your budget. Seasonal fresh produce is not year round on the shelves and if available, the extra cost from transportation makes the price high and for many, out of reach. 

Canned products like tomatoes, beans, some vegetables and fruits can be a helpful aide in home cooking. Self canning is therefore a good idea, definitely when you live in a part of the country where fresh produce is hard to come by or extremely pricey during the winter months.
The peak of harvest is the right and best time to get in to action. Seasonal products are then at their lowest price and easily available. If you have the opportunity to buy from local farmers you can get adventurous, buy cheap in bulk and mobilize the whole family. It will sure be a fun activity with everybody involved. 
Main advantage of self canning is that you decide what goes in the pouch.
The use of cans to retort might not be possible for most of us but the use of pouches for retort is very well possible. You need a retort pressure cooker, an investment that you may want to share with family members or other retort enthusiasts.
Retort pouches are specially designed for this purpose. The seal layer of retort pouches will give necessary leaking protection after you vacuum and seal the pouch. This special protection is needed to resist the high heat the pouches will be exposed to. Cooking times vary per product. So ensure to have the right information before you start.
Individual products or combined products like whole meals are suitable for retort. You can enjoy all the summer vegetables and fruits when the snow falls.
When you have your own produce you will get more creative in the kitchen and enjoy your own creations even more. 

Written for PMG by:

Professional Chef
Marinus Hoogendoorn
Culinary expert in recipe development   

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