Home & Garden

Steam ovens save energy, cook healthier

Question: I want a healthy and efficient method to cook meals for my family. I don't like microwave ovens for most foods. How efficient are the new residential steam ovens and do they bake as well as a regular oven? — Jan T.

Answer: Steam ovens have been used for many years by professional bakeries and restaurants because of the quality of the cooked foods and the dramatically reduced cooking time. Professional ovens, steam or conventional, often do not have the necessary safety features required for use in homes. Nearly everyone has used a small countertop steamer for vegetables and rice. The foods cook fast without losing as many of the natural flavors and nutrients as other cooking methods. With more natural flavors, less salt and other seasonings are needed which further enhances the health benefits.

Within the past several years, steam oven models have become available for home use. They are typically about the size of a microwave oven and are available as countertop or built-in models. The built-in models look similar to a conventional wall oven. Most models have a small water reservoir so they do not require a water line connection. The efficiency and energy savings from using a steam oven results from the greatly reduced cooking time as compared to using a conventional oven. Roasting a large chicken in a steam oven takes about 20 minutes as compared to two hours in a conventional oven. The overall heating element wattage in a steam oven is also less than for the elements in a conventional oven. There are additional energy savings because the entire meal (meat, vegetables, and potatoes) can be made in the steam oven without the need for using separate pots on the stovetop. Stovetop cooking is particularly energy inefficient because much of the heat never gets to the food. Instead, it escapes around the sides of the pot into the room air.

Since steam cooking at home is relatively new, most people don't know how to cook with it. Most of the new steam ovens have a menu of foods from which you select. The oven determines the proper cooking time and settings. Some of them, such as Miele's models, have hundreds of food items stored in memory, and combinations can be selected.

For more versatility, combination steam/convection ovens can cook even faster with both or each separately. For more browning and fat removal from foods, models which use superheated steam are available.

The following companies offer efficient steam wall ovens: Gaggenau, (877) 442-4436, www.gaggenau.com; Kitchenaid, 1-800-334-6889, www.kitchenaid.com; Miele, 1-800-843-7231, www.mieleusa.com; Sharp, 1-800-237-4277, www.sharpusa.com; and Viking, (888) 845-4641, and www.vikingrange.com.

Q: In a recent column on selecting a new furnace, you recommended a homeowner should have a heating load analysis done first. Is this something I can do myself, and if not, who would I contact for one? — Janet M.

A: It is very important to have an analysis done to determine how much heat your house actually needs. To do it properly, you must include many factors about your specific house and climate. It requires a computer program and experience, so it is difficult to do accurately yourself. Every reputable heating and cooling contractor will do a heat load analysis before recommending a furnace. This is part of the typical furnace quotation process.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, Lexington Herald-Leader, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.