That was our top criteria for selecting the best food steamer.
If you want to cut to the chase the Gourmia GFS Steam Tower scored high marks above the rest and is our top pick.
Food Steamer Comparison
Food Steamer Buying Guide
What is a Food Steamer?
Bold, colorful, and flavorful vegetables that are bursting with nutrients? This is possible with a food steamer, and though most steamers appear to be quite similar, there are some key features that differentiate them. For instance, when purchasing a steamer, ask yourself if you want to control the duration of the cooking or if you would prefer a timer to do it for you. It is suggested that you find a device with a good timer, as this prevents vegetables from becoming overcooked or soggy.
Before delving into some key features of the most successful food steamers, lets take a look at the unique history of food steaming, and why this is one of the most popular methods of cooking around the world.
There’s something incredibly sensual and fascinating about steam. We use it for all kinds of things, such as luxurious bathing, cooking, and powering trains and boats. There’s a mystique to steam, and it has been used for centuries to cook amazing dishes. In particular, steaming has played an instrumental role in Oriental cooking to prepare their staple rice dishes. For over 3 thousand years the Chinese have been using steaming devices, and remnants have been discovered in archeological digs that date back to the Yunnan period.
By the 8th century the Chinese had already mastered the fine art of making steamers from very thin cypress strips, but today their sophisticated devices are made from bamboo. Steaming food has also been popular in India for centuries, and the famous dish known as modak is a steam cooked preparation of rice flour dumplings that are filled with grated coconut and jaggery. And over in Africa, couscous is a famous dish made from steamed semolina, and has become popular across the globe in the past few decades.
Why Steam Food?
Steaming is not only delicious and nutritious, but it’s also incredibly easy when you have a high quality steamer to help you. Most steamers are circular-style containers that are either made of metal or bamboo. A steamer usually has a lid that is tightly fit onto the container so that none of the steam is released, thereby thoroughly cooking the food. If you don’t have a steamer then you’re missing out, because a specialized steaming device makes the process so much easier. However, those who don’t have one will usually fill a wok half way with water and then place a metal frame over it, where the food will sit. There are even some modern microwaves that have a separate water container and steam setting.
You can use alternate methods, but there’s really no better way to steam than with a specialized food steamer, and there are certainly a lot of them to choose from. Steaming provides so many benefits, including prevention of overcooking or burning your food. Steaming is a gentle method, and really maintains the natural flavor and moisture of your food. This is also an amazing way to cook when you’re seeking to not add extra fat to your food. There is no necessity for oils or butter when you’re steaming.
There was a great study done in 2007 by the USDA which looked at the difference between steaming and boiling vegetables. They marked key levels of folic acid and vitamin C, and discovered that boiling removes more of these nutrients, by an increase of as much as 15%. Not only that, but steaming helped to maintain the firmness and texture of vegetables, whereas boiling made these foods limp and mushy.
Considering the health benefits, and how easy a steamer is to use, there’s no reason why every household shouldn’t have one of these handy machines in their kitchen. There are a number of different steamers on the market to choose from, and all of them provide key benefits and features. However, some really are of a higher quality than others, so let’s explore those steamers that have the best reviews and are known for their superior durability and longevity.
Today, steaming is not used as much as it should in the United States. With popular and flashy cooking methods such as microwaving and deep frying, the steamer gets set aside and considered to be too bland. This could not be further from the truth, as steaming manages to preserve the texture, nutrition, and natural flavor of food. Our taste buds are so accustomed to rich sauces and marinades, as well as processed foods, that we’re simply not as accustomed to the natural flavors of food, which the steamer manages to keep intact.
When you steam food, you’re basically cooking it in its own juices, and food maintains its texture because the heat from the steam is gentle and slowly diffuses through the ingredients for a uniform heating environment. Other cooking methods will agitate the food and therefore roughen up the cellular structure of the food tissue. Food steaming avoids this agitation.
All this being said, that does not mean that you can’t add extra flavors while steaming. In fact, you can add herbs and spices such as ginger, pepper, or coriander to the water. You can also put bouillon cubes, wine, or fresh stock into the steamer, and all of this will infuse the steam and flavor your food. For instance, when cooks are making couscous they will use a double layer steamer and place the spices, onions, and meat in the lower compartment where these flavors will infuse the water and rise to cook the semolina on the second tier.
What is Steaming, Exactly?
Some people will confuse steam cooking with pressure cooking, but these methods are not the same. The main difference here is that boiling water will not come in contact with the food when you’re steam cooking, but in a traditional pressure cooker the food is completely immersed in water. Of course the advantage to using a pressure cooker is that it’s incredibly fast, but there are some key advantages to steaming which make this method better than pressure cooking.
Methods of Steaming
- Suspension: The easiest way to steam food is to suspend it over boiling water. This method can be implemented to cook anything from meat to fruits and vegetables.
- Sealing: A very traditional method of steaming food involves sealing food in pleated wax paper or bamboo leaves, which is the Chinese method, or in plantain leaves, which is the Indian method. You secure this with string and place on a perforated vessel that rests over boiling water. When you steam the food this way, it cooks in its own juices, and tastes amazing.
- Immersion: This is basically the most popular way of cooking rice. In fact, the traditional oriental method of steaming rice involves immersing the rice in water or stock and then cooking over steam until the liquid is fully absorbed and the rice is cooked.
- Preserves Nutrients: As we’ve already mentioned, steam is great for preserving the water soluble vitamins that naturally occur in food, such as Vitamin B1, Vitamin C, and various nutritional mineral salts.
- Maintains Texture: Each fruit and vegetable has its own unique texture, and these can often be lost when boiling a food. Steaming, however, maintains the unique textures of these foods.
- Great for Purees and Syrups: If you love juice or fruit mashes, then simply add grapes, cherries, plums and currents to your steamer and create sauces from the finished product. With juicers you need to do a great deal of messy squeezing and straining, but a steamer helps you to avoid this.
- Easy Flavor: There are so many ways to add flavor to your steamer by simply putting spices in the water. When you add anything to the bottom compartment of your steamer, it will infuse the top compartment with aromas without even coming in direct contact with the spices below.
- Saves Energy: Steaming your food also saves energy. When you can place multiple ingredients on various different tiers, you’re saving energy, time and effort, by only cooking with one appliance. For instance, Indian housewives are famous for being able to cook dal and shawl (rice) on different layers inside the same cooker.
Now when you think of steam, you’re probably not just thinking of a health spa. It’s time to associate steam with rich and watery steaks, puddings, dumplings, aromatic couscous, and so much more. Once you embrace the steam you’re going to be amazed by what mouth-watering dishes you can prepare with ease.
There are a number of new and sophisticated steamers on the market today, and many of these are designed to take out the guess work of steaming, so you don’t have to watch the pot constantly to prevent over cooking.
- Steamer Baskets: This is the least sophisticated form of steaming, but in a pinch, it always works. A quality stainless steel steamer basket will fit into any larger vessel and keeps food out of contract with the boiling water below. Once the lid of the pot is closed, the food will become heated by the creation of steam. The steam time will need to be monitored by you to prevent overcooking.
- Bamboo Steamers: Bamboo steamers are usually tiered to accommodate the steaming of more than one dish at the same time. This is the fundamental cooking method in Asia, and similar to a steamer basket, the bamboo steamer is placed in a cooking vessel and uses very little water. The steamer uses a lid, so it’s possible to place this in any style of cooking vessel that is large enough to accommodate it.
- Electric: Electric steamers are the latest and greatest when it comes to steaming in your own home. They work to manage the steam time for you, so there’s much less guess work involved. These steamers tend to look like crock pots, and they come with removable pots or bowls that hold the various vegetables and other ingredients. There are also three tier steamers which include warmers that keep the steamed vegetables at the ideal temperature while the rest of the meal is prepared.
- Microwave: The majority of microwave steamers are made of plastic, and are shaped like a cake pan. They include a lid for steaming, and because they function in the microwave, they steam food incredibly quickly and the timing is easily regulated.
There are some things that you should consider before you purchase a food steamer, and this will help to narrow down your search. For instance, ask yourself how often you plan to use your steamer. If you plan to cook vegetables daily in your steaming device, then you definitely want to find a quality steamer that can stand the test of time. Invest in a machine that is built from the most durable materials, and gets the best overall reviews from consumers.
If you steam only on rare occasions, then you can feel free to purchase a less expensive option such as a simple steam basket. However, an electric or microwave steamer does free you up to have more stovetop space.
If you’re purchasing a simple steamer basket, you’ll find that these are designed to expand and collapse to fit various sizes of pot. There are also some that are designed to fit a specific sized pot. Bamboo steamers, on the other hand, come in a few different sizes and have multiple tiers which allows you to steam more than one type of food at a time. Electric and microwave steamers are fixed in size, and tend to take up the most storage space. Ask yourself how much space you have to give-up to your steamer, and this will help to narrow down your search.
When you have limited storage space you probably want to go with a collapsible steaming basket. There are also some electric steamers that will break down in various ways, making them easy to store.
Any steaming basket that is meant to fit into a cooking pot is either made of stainless steel or bamboo. These are both incredibly durable materials that have proved to be effective. The major difference between these two materials is that a bamboo basket will begin to change color with time, while a stainless steel one will appear to be the same. Microwave steamers are always made from plastic, and electric steamers are made in a wide variety of materials, commonly with plastic inserts for the actual steaming process.
Process of Steaming
Consider what kind of steaming process you’re most interested in. For instance, cook times and water amounts will be different based upon the size, quantity and type of food that you’re going to be cooking, and what method you’re using to cook them. Times will vary dependent upon whether you’re using an electric or basket steamer, and realizing what method is best for you depends upon how much time you want to spend.
Purchasing a food steamer is a wonderful choice when you want to expand your options for flavorful and nutritious cooking in your home. There are a number of methods for steaming food, but the most convenient and efficient is to purchase an electric steamer that helps to take out much of the guess work.
There are many great electric steamers available, so choosing the right one for you comes down to determining what size you’d like, and what style of design. There are a variety of different colors and configurations, but one of the most popular is a transparent steamer that allows you to see the delicious and colorful food that is cooking within.
Steamers come with a number of different price tags, so determine how much you’re willing to spend. If you’re a frequent steamer, then it makes sense to spend a bit more and treat your food steamer as a kitchen investment. Most steamers are easy to clean, but try to find one that also has dishwasher safe components for the ultimate in convenience and ease. All in all, you can’t go wrong when you purchase a quality food steamer.
- T-fal: http://www.t-falusa.com/
- Oster 6 Quart: http://www.oster.com/
- Oster 5 Quart: http://www.oster.com/