People across the world have been steaming their food for thousands of years and when you consider the advantages of this simple cooking method - and how well they align with our increasing fixation on eating ‘clean’ - it becomes hard to argue with our ancestors’ choice. Steaming is a quick, effective and nutritionally beneficial way to cook. When fruits and vegetables are steamed they far better retain their flavour, colour and texture. They do not sit directly in water so nutritional value is maximised and, given correct cooking time, they will rarely be broken apart.
The possibility of cooking meats, fish and vegetables without the need for oil or of allowing the food to sit in fat immediately increases the health attributes. Flavour may be added by seasoning the steaming water or stock or by directly seasoning the food you cook. Wine or juice may be added to savoury dishes and sweet, retaining the indulgence in a more moderate way. Making steaming an invaluable method for users looking to lower their cholesterol or to make a lifestyle change for weight loss, diabetes or the like without impacting the taste, affecting their enjoyment in or materially altering the character of the food they are eating.
Electric steamers are space efficient by virtue of the way in which multiple layers or compartments (for a horizontal machine) may be stacked or timed. This allows more than one type of food to be steamed in the same machine and all to be cooked to perfection simply by arranging the layers or boxes accordingly. The need for straining is also removed allowing you to produce perfectly fluffy rice, using minimal water, and serve it within seconds of the cook time running out. Clean up time is also pleasingly reduced as soon as you remove the needs for multiple pots and pans.
Less washing up, more vitamins, AND an end to soggy cabbage? Let’s look at our contenders:
A perfectly cooked and well balanced meal for 4 can be produced entirely within Morphy Richards’ extremely swish 48781 food steamer. The flexibility of multiple compartments and a clever memory function mean the Intellisteam will not only individually time each component to finish in unison, it will also do the thinking for you with its variety of presets AND (should you like a little more bite to your beans) remember your personal preferences for the next time you cook.
Separate times can be set for each compartment and a sauce tray, rice tray and food plinth are all included with purchase allowing a genuinely full meal to be laid out inside. Containers, accessories and drip tray are all fully dishwasher safe, taking all the hassle out of cleaning up. While that boil dry alert and safety cut out are a reassuring option for those newcomers to cooking with steam.
Features: 8.2 litre capacity - Boil dry safety cut out - Dishwasher safe - Horizontal layout
Pricing: High end
The Tefal Simply Invents VC101616 looks like a steamer. Where the Intellisteam above was a veritable celebration of innovation and high tech, this is a far humbler machine. But it does the job. Extremely efficiently. Compact, simple to use and coming from a brand whose name is synonymous with reliability at reasonable prices, this stacking silver steamer combines a manual timer with an automatic keep warm function. Making it a fine choice for those with a little more knowledge of steam cooking or for users who prefer their gadgets with fewer bells and whistles.
This is very much a back to basics machine. With a presupposition that you are either familiar with steam cuisine or willing to learn. The manual timing function does allow users to control the cooking process but again requires an understanding of timing and which foods to place where. Perfect rice can easily be cooked in the Tefal Simply Invents using the rice basket provided and, after a period of trial and error you will find this to be a jolly competent machine.
Features: 3 bowls - Automatic warming - Mechanical timer - 9l capacity - Compact storage
Pricing: Mid Range
The VonShef Electric Food Steamer is a lovely illustration of how, with some careful prioritising, a simple idea may be replicated at a low cost without sacrificing function or style. This appealing machine has a contemporary chrome finish, a blue back-lit LCD display and 7 digital steam programmes. Once you grow in confidence as a user you may also like to utilise the pre-setting function. A built in bell will alert you to cooking completion and auto shut off safeguards against the water reserve running dry so you can trust the machine to keep your food (and itself) safe even while you’re experimenting with something new.
The one key function that has been lost is the keep warm option. Your own priorities as a user will determine how much of a deal breaker this is but as one of the great advantages of steaming lies in the retention of vitamins and minerals within the food (and as half the pleasure of eating steam cuisine comes from the freshness of the end product) we’re not marking this down as a massive negative. Residual heat will slow the cooling process and the combination of plain old hunger and your own anticipation ought to ensure that nothing will ever sit inside long enough to grow cold!
Features: Extended 2 year warranty - Dishwasher safe - 7 digital programmes - 8l capacity
The intrinsic beauty of steamed food lies in its simplicity. And we rather think that the device you use to steam your food ought to be simple, to match. Echoing the stacked cypress and bamboo steamers from which this undeniably modern digital device has evolved, the VonShef Electric Food Steamer is a simple and effective update to an age old idea. We were impressed by the generous cooking capacity, the flexibility of use, the easily understood LCD display and the exceptional pricing.
This is a one step ‘plug in and cook’ style machine which would be an excellent purchase for a first time user while still retaining the functionality an experienced steam cook would seek. It would also be a pragmatic, cheap and healthy alternative to a mini oven for someone with limited cooking facilities. The compact design further reduces for ease of storage and registering the free warranty brings you 2+ years of problem proof experimentation. Let the VonShef chef for you and you may never put cabbage to pan again!