Cooking up a climate friendly storm

18 December 2020 | Muriel Cozier

Researchers serve up some suggestions for improving the environmental footprint of your festive feast.

A joint research study indicates that while consumers may be making climate friendly choices in terms of what food they consume this Christmas, the method chosen to cook that food may not be so beneficial to the climate.

Publishing their work in Nature Food, researchers from the University of Manchester, in partnership with Brunel University, London, University of Sheffield’s Institute of Sustainable Food and City, University of London, have served up some suggestions for improving the environmental footprint of the festive feast.

Reducing cooking time can help cut emissions. ‘Part cooking some foods in a microwave first can decrease the time required to cook food in the oven without substantially affecting the taste or texture,’ the researchers say.

For those who are more organised, a method known as ‘sous vide’ or under vacuum is effective for reducing the environmental impact of roasting a turkey on Christmas day.  The roast is placed in a vacuumed plastic pouch or bag and submerged in a heated water bath for eight hours, until the internal temperature of the joint is between 55oC (white meat) to 75oC (dark meat). The joint is then unwrapped and placed on a hot skillet to sear the surface, preserving texture and flavour. However, for those who would prefer a traditional roast, the researchers add that turkey creates less greenhouse gas emissions than other types of meat.

Swapping meat for vegetarian options as well as reducing food waste by, for example, purchasing less food or opting for smaller cuts of meat and not preparing too many dishes, which might not be eaten, will all benefit the environment.

Other options for environmentally friendly feasting include using an electric pressure or slow cooker, both of which the researchers say are ‘incredibly energy efficient ways to cook but still not widespread in the UK.’

Professor Sarah Bridle from the University of Manchester said, ‘Our research showed that up to 60% of the climate impact of foods can come from cooking, particularly for the most climate-friendly foods like vegetables, when baked in the oven. Whereas appliances like microwave ovens and pressure cookers are generally used for less time and so use less energy and contribute less to climate change.’
DOI: 10.1038/s43016-020-00200-w

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