Cooking, Cleaning and the Way Water Works!

Hello Dear Heart!

I was thinking, as I was cooking and cleaning, that we take water so much for granted in our homes. We actually know so little about the precious stuff! I thought that this month, I will give a sort-of mini science lesson about the properties of water. Not to bore you all to the point of tears, mind you, but to help all of us understand why some things work so well and others don’t. Stay with me on this one, Hons, knowing a little about how water works will make sense of a number of things around the house!

To begin with, Dear Hearts, lets look at something called solubility. In dreadfully dry technical terms, this is the ability of water to dissolve things like sugar, salt and dry laundry detergents, and its ability to clean. The hotter the water is, the faster things will dissolve in it and, likewise, the colder the water is, the more difficult it is to dissolve anything in it. This has enormous relevance to cooking and cleaning. Some of us remember when, some years ago, all detergent commercials talked endlessly about their ability to work well in cold water. Why this was such a breakthrough is that these products were finally able to clean in both cold and hot water. Yet even these new products work slowly in cold water. This is because dirt and grease is less soluble (able to dissolve off of clothing and dishes) in cold soapy water than in warm or hot soapy water. Another step forward in cleaning products was the development of liquid detergents, rather than dry powders. How well, Hons, I remember the old-era dry laundry detergents! In cold wash water, sometimes flakes persisted into the rinse and dry cycles. Not good! Liquid soaps and detergents do away with the problem of dissolving dry powders into water of any temperature.

The same is true of sugar, dry sweeteners, salt or any other thing you want to dissolve into water during cooking. A quick example is found this time of year when you sit back to enjoy an iced tea with lemon and sugar. If the drink is already cold before adding the sugar or dry sweetener, it will lay on the bottom of the glass in defiance while you sip away at the top. Then the last few ounces are like syrup! This sort of thing can be seen in a number of situations and is easily overcome if you dissolve the sugar or sweetener (or dry laundry soap) in a little warm water first, then add to the drink (or machine).

Another important property of water is its “heat of vaporization”. Basically, this is the temperature when water turns to steam. It is a fixed temperature and liquid water cannot be made hotter than this (under most circumstances). This is important when cooking with water. When you heat water, the temperature will continue to rise until you reach the boiling point (the “heat of vaporization”). Any additional heat you add will go into converting the water to steam, but the temperature of the water will not rise above the boiling point (212 degrees F.). However, after the liquid has been converted to steam,  the steam temperature can rise higher than 212 degrees as long as you keep adding heat. This is important, Hons, when you are cooking vegetables in boiling water. The amount of time it takes to cook them is the same if the water is boiling slowly or feverishly! Both are cooking at the same temperature (212 degrees); the only difference is that water is being converted to steam faster when the water is boiling faster. If you need to cook the vegetables sooner, steaming them will provide you with a higher temperature and a shorter cooking time.

Until the next time we get together for our chat, please take care and my kisses to you!


An earlier version of this article appeared in the publication New Directions for Better Living in the June, 1997 issue.

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