Why does it take longer to cook at higher altitudes?

In this brief guide, we are going to answer the question “why does it take longer to cook at a higher altitude” with an in-depth analysis of why it takes longer to cook at a high altitude. Moreover, we are going to discuss how high altitude affects cooking and why should we use a food thermometer.

So without much ado, let’s dive in and figure out more about it.

Why does it take longer to cook at higher altitudes?

At higher altitudes, the air pressure is very low, therefore food takes a longer time to cook. Declining air pressure at higher altitudes decreases the boiling point of water and water boils at a higher altitude at a lower temperature. With every 500 feet increase in height the boiling point of water decreases by 1 Fahrenheit. Any food which is cooked with moist heat; such as boiling, simmering, etc. takes a longer time to cook at higher altitudes.

At higher altitudes, the air quality differs from the air at sea level. As at higher altitudes, the atmosphere differs; the air is drier than that of at sea level, and the air has less pressure and less moisture. Due to the dryness in the atmosphere the moisture quickly evaporates, increasing the time of cooking of foods that need to be cooked on moist heat.

How high altitudes affect cooking?

At sea level, the air pressure is 1 atmosphere, whereas at 5000 feet the pressure of air declines to 0.830 atm and at 10000 feet it further declines to 0.694, it means with every 1000 feet increase in height the air pressure decreases up to 0.034023 atm. This decline in air pressure occurs due to the presence of a thinner air blanket of the atmosphere at high altitudes. Water boils at a lower temperature at higher altitudes, therefore food cooked with moist heat requires a longer time to cook at higher altitudes. It is therefore required to change temperature, cooking method, or recipe of foods at higher altitudes. Boiling is directly proportional to pressure as pressure decreases, boiling point also decreases, and vice versa. Cooking requires heat, which is directly proportional to the temperature as boiling temperature decreases, heat also decreases. Therefore it is important to compensate for the decrease in temperature by increasing the time of cooking. The pressure affects cooking due to two main reasons:

Water and other liquids boil at a faster rate and lower temperature at higher altitudes.

In bread and cakes, the leaving gas expands more quickly at higher altitudes and lower pressure. 

Why does cooking time increase at high altitudes?

At higher altitudes, it is mandatory to cook food for a longer time and by increasing the temperature one cannot expect the food to cook faster, because by increasing temperature water will evaporate much faster, leaving the food dry. So, it is necessary to give food a long time or it can be cooked in less time by increasing the boiling point of water which can be done by the usage of a pressure cooker. At higher altitudes the humidity of air is low and the vapors in the food quickly evaporate in the dry air, to prevent this drying it is required to cover the food. 

What is the impact of high altitude on cooking meat?

Meat products such as poultry, beef, mutton are made up of muscles, bones, fat, and connective tissue. Meat products have 70 % of water content and the rest is the combination of fats, proteins, minerals, etc. leaner the meat, which means higher the concentration of water. With such a higher content of water meat products are prone to drying out during cooking if proper precautions have not been taken, and at higher altitudes cooking of meat becomes more difficult due to its water content. With every 5000 feet increase in height the cooking time required to cook meat increases up to 1/4th of its original cooking time. But when the oven is used to roast the meat then there is no need to increase the cooking time because oven temperature remains unaffected by altitudes. 

Why is a food thermometer helpful?

A food thermometer can be very helpful when cooking at high altitudes because by using this one can easily check the temperature of food (meat products) and can cook food at the temperature required for proper cooking of that food. For this purpose, it is necessary to put the thermometer inside the thickest part of the meat to determine temperature. Hence, via using a thermometer one can prevent undercooking or overcooking of food. 

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the question “why does it take longer to cook at a higher altitude” with an in-depth analysis of why it takes longer to cook at high altitude. Moreover, we discussed how high altitude affects cooking and why should we use a food thermometer.

Citations

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/shared/PDF/High_Altitude_Cooking_and_Food_Safety.pdf

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Mahnoor Asghar is a Clinical Nutritionist with a bachelor's degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. She is compassionate and dedicated to playing her part in the well-being of the masses. She wants to play a fruitful role in creating nutrition and health-related awareness among the general public. Additionally, she has a keen eye for detail and loves to create content related to food, nutrition, health, and wellness.

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