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Can microwaves change the molecular structure of food?

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To bake, grill or microwave – that is the real question when it comes to cooking.

Asked by: Donna Kiddie, North Ayrshire

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Yes. When you microwave a piece of chicken, energy from the microwaves causes the protein molecules to vibrate faster. This can break the hydrogen bonds and sulphur bridges that give the protein chains their specific three-dimensional shape. With a piece of bread, a high enough dose of microwaves will cause the starch and protein molecules to break down and react with each other to create dozens of complex organic molecules.

When you put food under the grill, you are cooking it with infrared waves, which are part of the electromagnetic spectrum – just like microwaves. The difference is that infrared rays don't penetrate as far into the food. Most of the energy therefore gets deposited at the surface of the food, which gets brown and crispy. Microwaves tend to spread their energy more evenly throughout the food, so it cooks before the outside becomes brown, but the basic chemistry is much the same. There are no chemical reactions unique to food cooked in a microwave.


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Authors

luis villazon
Luis VillazonQ&A expert

Luis trained as a zoologist, but now works as a science and technology educator. In his spare time he builds 3D-printed robots, in the hope that he will be spared when the revolution inevitably comes.

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