The importance of water in cooking

Juni 9th, 2023 | Water and Taste
Person poring water into bread mix

Image source: courtesy of insanely good recipes.com

Can the water you add impact the success of your recipes?

The simple answer is yes, it can, as water is a flavour carrier.

Chemicals and substances can easily dissolve in water and can be detected by our taste receptors, which is why water is often used as a base for many foods and beverages.

As a water company we know from both research and interviews with industry professionals that the quality of your water directly affects not only the flavour of your food, but also the texture and the success of certain processes like boiling, proving, and steaming.

At a recent trade event an Italian restaurant spoke with use about having to import mineral water directly from Italy to make their pizza dough, as the water in London impacted both the taste and the rise of their pizzas.

So how does water impact taste and texture?

Mains water contains a variety of mineral salts, dependent on where you live in the UK. These mineral salts will make your water hard or soft. Hard water contains high levels of dissolved mineral salts, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. These salts leach into the water from the soil and rock formations in your local area. Soft water has fewer dissolved minerals, and so impacts the taste less.

Hard water with its heavy mineral load can really affect our cooking. It not only reduces the efficiency of our appliances such as steam ovens over time, but it can make impact the taste, texture and nutritional value of our food.

When cooking vegetables in hard water, the minerals (mainly calcium and magnesium) can leave a metallic after taste. According to a study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology hard water impacts the taste of carrots, green beans and broccoli. The hard water gives these sweet vegetables a tougher texture and harsher taste. Even spinach and other leafy greens were shown to be more bitter, and darker when cooked in hard water. The same tough texture is also noted when cooking pasta, rice and grains in hard water too. Not only will hard water impact the taste and texture but is also increase the cooking time as the mineral increase the boiling point of water.

Image source: Courtesy of Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Hard water can also reduce the rise in your bread making. The calcium and magnesium in the water can interfere with the action of the yeast in the dough, which leads to a weaker rise. According to the Journal of Food Science, hard water can reduce the volume of bread by up to 50%, compared to bread made with soft water. The Journal of Cereal Science also noted that using hard water can cause changes in the crumb quality as well as lower volume yield. Hard water can also affect cakes and pastries by interfering with the leavening agents, such as baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Some of the alkaline minerals can neutralise the acidic environment needed, which means the cakes have less rise and become denser in texture. So overall, hard water can really dampen down our baking and cooking prowess.

Does hard water impact the nutrients in our food?

Some of the minerals in hard water can reduce the nutrient content of our food. The Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology found that hard water can reduce the absorption of iron and zinc in the body. This reduced bioavailability can lead to deficiencies over time.

Do impurities in water impact taste?

That’s not all…along with mineral salts in hard water impacting our cooking, water can also pick up impurities from the area in which we live, for example:

  • Nitrates from farm run-off
  • Medical residues such as the contraceptive pill or pain killers which get into the water through the human body
  • Heavy metals
  • Bacteria and Viruses
  • Macro and Nano plastic particles
  • Added impurities such as Chlorine or Fluorine – Added by the main water companies to combat outbreaks of bacterial growth

Most householders think that the water companies make sure we have clean water. They do, but only to a certain extent. The Water companies filter out water through a series of sediment filters, which remove the larger impurities, to ensure they are delivering drinkable water. They also add chlorine to combat any bacterial growth to further protect the public.

The filters they use, do not combat the smaller particles such as nitrates and viruses. People are turning to filtration systems at both home and work to improve the taste and hygiene of their water. This can be seen from the rise of the “hot tap”. These are better at filtering out the water and can remove the awful chlorine taste as well as some of the larger bacteria particles, but they leave behind the smaller particles such as heavy metals and micro-plastics, which not only impact taste, but can potentially impact health too.

The LUQEL system uses a reverse osmosis filter to remove all these micro impurities, leaving behind a hygienically clean base level water with which to build up flavours. This RO water is then taken through a patented micro-dosing system which adds back in some of the natural mineral salts that were taken out through the RO filter. Delivering specific waters that can enhance food and beverage recipes.

Sources:

Effect of water hardness on bread making

Bread making hard water

Bioavailability

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