Microwave potatoes – why does it work?

This month is fruit & vegetable science month on my blog! All posts are somehow related to fruits and vegetables. We’re discovering the amazing science involved when cooking or baking with them! Today it’s one of my favorite discoveries I made in cooking: using a microwave to cook potatoes.

Microwave potatoes? Yes, of course, it’s the best and easiest way to prepare your potatoes for a whole range of uses. I once saw the trick on a website and it’s helped me so much.

Potato = Vegetable

Wait, one step back, is a potato a vegetable? Yes, from a biological point of view it certainly is. It is a tuber, growing under the ground and actually serves as the energy supply for a new potato plant. Potatoes contain a lot of starch as the energy supply.

Starch is a carbohydrate, meaning that it is a molecule build up of a lot of sugar units, in this case glucose. Starch again consists of two types of molecules: amylose & amylopectin, which sit together in so called granules. Amylose is a long chain of glucose molecules, whereas amylopectin has a branched structure. Starch is known for its thickening properties, when starch is heated the amylose leaks out and will bind water by forming a network of molecules.

Since potatoes contain a lot of starch, from a nutritional point of view they are grouped with breads, rice, pasta, etc.
microwave potatoes

Microwave potato

Now that we’ve discussed potatoes, let’s dive into using a microwave to prepare potatoes. A microwave uses radiation to move and thus heat water molecules. The radiation will specifically heat up the water, not the other components. The heat of the water will break down cell walls, but it will also ‘activate’ the starch and the thickening will start as well.

A potato actually contains enough water in itself to perform this complete cooking phase. Since no additional water is added and since part of the water will evaporate, the potato will become drier. This can be prevented first of all by leaving on the skin, this will prevent water from escaping. Don’t try to cook your potatoes in the microwave without a skin, it will become very very dry and unappetising.

Baking microwaved potatoes

There is one great advantage of cooking potatoes in the microwave, it becomes so much easier to bake them in a frying pan. As mentioned above, a microwave will slightly dry out a potato, even if there is still a skin around it. Which is great when you want to bake potatoes in a frying pan. When frying potatoes in a frying pan you always start of by evaporating moisture from the outside of the potato. Only once enough water has evaporated, browning reactions can start. By using a pre-dried microwave potato you can skip this step for the greatest part. That makes it a lot easier to actually brown your potatoes off.

 

Have a go at it, I’ll be curious to hear whether this has also been such a great innovation as it has for me! Curious to learn more about fruits and vegetables, check out my brussel sprouts, apple beignets or onion pickle!

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