Researchers at Nofima have analysed the nutritional content from a commercially prepared beef stew and one that was made from scratch at home. The study revealed that the two meals scored the same in 17 out of 18 nutritional values.
What might come as a surprise is that the ready meals contained higher levels of vitamin B and C. Lower cooking temperatures enabled a reduction in vitamin loss. In home kitchens, the risks of increased loss of key vitamins are higher as a result of overcooking.
To allay consumers’ concerns about the nutritional value of ready meals, companies have adopted food processing technology that minimises nutrient loss. When ready meals are packaged before it undergoes heat treatment, vitamin loss is reduced as it is contained in the package.
When raw ingredients are heated, water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin B and C could be lost. Even with vitamin C being less heat resistant, up to a third of vitamin C is lost after vegetables are under high heat for five minutes. Vegetables such as carrots and spinach contain fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D or E are not affected by heat, and will not lose significant nutritional value when heat-treated.
Sous vide is a culinary technique that immerses food which has been vacuum-sealed in a water bath, and cooked at a consistent and precise temperature. This method involves cooking food at a lower temperature for longer periods of time.
The sous vide cooking method also contributes to better taste and quality to food, and nutrients remain within the cooking pouch, which is sometimes mixed in the sauce and used in the meal. Sous vide has gained wide popularity and this method of cooking is used by chefs globally.
Nofima’s research team has revealed the importance of heat treatment on food preparation as prior to this, there was not adequate research in finding out how ready meals retain nutrients. Researchers also examined if nutritional levels in the food packages are affected by cold storage, but found that there was insignificant decline in the nutritional value of the food if they are stored cold.
The global ready meal market is expected to grow over four percent by the year 2020, according to a market research study by Technavio. Ready meals are certainly increasing in popularity, especially with an ageing population and busy working professionals that depend on meals which are quick and easy to prepare.