The term cookery, as has been explained, means the preparation of both hot and cold dishes for use as food, as well as the selection of the materials or substances that are to be cooked. The importance of cooking foods by subjecting them to the action of heat has been recognized for ages; and while it is true that there are many foods that appeal to the appetite in their raw state and still others that can be eaten either raw or cooked, there are several reasons why it is desirable to cook food, as will be seen from the following:
1. Cooking makes foods more palatable. This is true of such foods as meat, cereals, and many vegetables, which would be very unappetizing if they were eaten raw.
2. Cooking renders foods more digestible. For instance, the hard grains, such as wheat, and the dried vegetables, such as beans, cannot be readily digested unless they are softened by cooking. But while cooking makes such foods more digestible, it renders others more difficult of digestion, as in the case of eggs, the degree of digestibility depending somewhat on the cooking method used and the skill of the cook. An egg in an almost liquid form, or when only slightly cooked, as a soft-boiled egg, is more easily digested than when it becomes hardened by cooking. Then, too, a properly prepared hard-cooked egg is more digestible than an improperly cooked one, although the degree of hardness may be the same.
3. Cooking gives foods greater variety. The same food may be cooked by various methods and be given very different tastes and appearances; on the other hand, it may be combined with a large number of other foods, so as to increase the variety of the dishes in which it is used. The large number of recipes found in cook books show the attempts that have been made to obtain variety in cooked dishes by the combining of different foods.
4. Cooking sterilizes foods either partly or completely. Many foods need partial or complete sterilization for safety. They must be completely sterlized if the germs that produce fermentation or putrefaction and thereby spoil food would be destroyed. This is done when fruits and vegetables are canned for keeping. Foods that are exposed to dust, flies, and improper handling should be thoroughly cooked in order to destroy any pathogenic germs that might be present. By such germs are meant disease-bearing germs. They differ from germs that produce fermentation and putrefaction, or spoiling, and that must in general be considered as a help, for these play an important part in the raising of bread and the preparation of various foods, as is pointed out later.
5. Cooking develops flavor in many foods. In the case of some vegetables, the flavoring substance is given off in the air by certain methods of cooking and a better flavor is thereby developed.