Steam Oven Choices
Over the last several years, steam ovens have gained in popularity due to their ability to prepare fresher, tastier and healthier dishes.
Many of us are already familiar with steaming vegetables on a stovetop using a metal steamer. The small holes in them allow the steam to pass through to heat vegetables. Since no water is in direct contact, and the use of high heat is not necessary, the vegetables remain crisp and retain more of their color and nutrients. Double-boilers do something similar, using two pots stacked (the bottom filled with water, the top with food).
Some research shows that high temperatures and a large volume of water involved with boiling can actually cause a loss of 70 percent of nutrients within your food! The longer the food cooks, the more nutrients are lost.
Historically Speaking … Such a Steamy Past!
Steaming food is not a new idea. Historians believe that the Chinese steamed their food thousands of years ago and as early as 32,000 B.C., early French settlers are thought to have steamed their food. They would wrap their meals in wet leaves to preserve moisture, then heat it over hot embers.
In the American southwest, steam pits used for cooking have been found dating back about 5,000 years. So, if you’re thinking of purchasing a steam oven, you will be following a long line of diverse people through the ages!
What are the Choices?
- Steam-only ovens, sometimes called pure steam ovens, provide steam-cooking functionality. These are commonly used for fish and vegetables. Cooking grains, edible seeds such as beans and peas, eggs, puddings, curries, slow-cooked casseroles, pasta, reheating leftovers are also on the list.
- Combination steam ovens or convection steam ovens. These offer dedicated steam, dedicated convection, or a combination of the two.
- Standard convection oven with an added moisture function, called steam assist. These inject steam into the oven at intervals during a regular fan-forced mode.
A Steam Only Oven
Generally, steam only ovens are small, countertop items. This type of oven may be for you if you are on a budget, have limited space and want simply to cook healthy meals for 2 or 3 people by steaming.
- Keeps the natural color and nutrients in
- Can refresh and moisten leftovers
- No need to add oils or butter
- Food won’t stick together or to the pan
- Defrosts food at a low setting
- Cooks food faster than regular ovens
A Convection/Steam Oven
Convection/steam ovens are great for their ability to steam, roast and bake food. In addition to the features of a steam only oven, this combination:
- Allows for browning and charring because of its ability to reach higher temperatures than steam
- Adds variety to the type of food and the way it is cooked – roasting meat and vegetables for instance
- Can cook different dishes using the 2 different methods at the same time as there are no flavor or aroma transfers
- Cooks food up to 30 percent faster than a regular oven
- Heats foods more evenly than a regular oven
This type of oven is ideal for those who have the budget and want the most versatility, being able to steam for health, and convection for more food choices and crisp browning for roasting and baking.
A Steam-Assisted Oven
Many chefs consider this type of oven the “best of both worlds”. This is not a full steam oven. A steam-assisted oven does not use only steam. Instead, the oven adds steam at regular intervals.
- Good for cooking a lot of roasts, large cakes and breads as they help keep those foods moist during cooking
- Less expensive than a full convection/steam oven
The Versatility of a Convection/Steam Oven Combination
Steam only ovens can only reach a temperature of 212 degrees F. Browning typically happens at temperatures over 300 degrees F.
Both convection and steam ovens share a similar cooking time, heating food at a more rapid rate than a regular oven saving energy.
Combining steam with a convection option will allow you to cook using both convection and steam, either separately or together. This way, you have maximum flexibility and cooking performance for any dish.
What’s the Difference Between a Steam Oven and a Convection Oven?
Steam ovens and convection ovens can look almost identical, but they use opposite cooking techniques.
- Convection cooking uses dry heat, creating a more charred, or roasted texture to your food.
- A small convection fan works as the heating device, removing cold air while circulating hot air to raise the oven temperature. The continuous air circulation is what makes convection oven cooking a much faster method than cooking with a regular oven.
- Since fans move the air around the oven during cooking, food heats more evenly.
- Convection ovens also tend to keep moisture in better than traditional ovens
- A steam oven circulates steam to cook the food.
- Steamed food retains its moisture and does not get the browned charred effect you’ll see with a true convection oven.
- Steam ovens keep more nutrients and natural color in your food and eliminate the need for oil.
Maintaining a Steam Oven
With steam cooking, baked on grime is less of a problem. Wiping the inside of the oven is important after steaming to keep it odor free.
Appliances that cook using water need regular descaling. (Most models will notify you when they need descaling). The tank will need regular emptying and cleaning.
If your model of steam oven has an evaporator dish, soak up the water residue after each use to keep the appliance smelling fresh.
Some Disadvantages of Steam Ovens
High quality steam ovens can be very expensive, ranging from $2000 to $4000 for basic models and $8000 and up for higher end models (generally, steam-only models are less expensive).
Most sources mention a learning curve. Most recipes are written for conventional ovens. Recipes will often need to be adjusted for temperature and time. Cooking time is often 25-30 percent faster.
Conventional ovens may be better for batters that need to rise, delicate pastries and baked goods, such cheesecakes, flans, soufflés and meringues.
Cost and Size Considerations
Many cooks who want the benefits of steam without the large price tag of a full-size oven opt for less-expensive countertop models. About the size of a microwave, countertop steam ovens can cost less than $1,000. Be prepared though, to do some research to make sure you purchase a reliable brand and model.
Whatever type of oven you have, you can count on C&W Appliance Service for the very best in repair and maintenance. Call us at (855) 358-1496 or contact us online for prompt, professional care of all your major appliances.