Home cooking has traditionally been a process carried out informally in a home or around a communal fire, and can be enjoyed by all members of the family, although in many cultures women bear primary responsibility. Cooking is also often carried out outside of personal quarters, for example at restaurants, or schools. Bakeries were one of the earliest forms of cooking outside the home, and bakeries in the past often offered the cooking of pots of food provided by their customers as an additional service. In the present day, factory food preparation has become common, with many "ready-to-eat" foods being prepared and cooked in factories and home cooks using a mixture of scratch made, and factory made foods together to make a meal. The nutritional value of including more commercially prepared foods has been found to be inferior to home-made foods. Home-cooked meals tend to be healthier with fewer calories, and less saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium on a per calorie basis while providing more fiber, calcium, and iron. The ingredients are also directly sourced, so there is control over authenticity, taste, and nutritional value. The superior nutritional quality of home-cooking could therefore play a role in preventing chronic disease. Cohort studies following the elderly over 10 years show that adults who cook their own meals have significantly lower mortality, even when controlling for confounding variables.
Many cultures hold some food preferences and some food taboos. Dietary choices can also define cultures and play a role in religion. For example, only kosher foods are permitted by Judaism, halal foods by Islam, and in Hinduism beef is restricted. In addition, the dietary choices of different countries or regions have different characteristics. This is highly related to a culture's cuisine.
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Cooking often involves water, frequently present in other liquids, which is both added in order to immerse the substances being cooked (typically water, stock or wine), and released from the foods themselves. A favorite method of adding flavor to dishes is to save the liquid for use in other recipes. Liquids are so important to cooking that the name of the cooking method used is often based on how the liquid is combined with the food, as in steaming, simmering, boiling, braising and blanching. Heating liquid in an open container results in rapidly increased evaporation, which concentrates the remaining flavor and ingredients – this is a critical component of both stewing and sauce making.
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Food safety and food security are monitored by agencies like the International Association for Food Protection, World Resources Institute, World Food Programme, Food and Agriculture Organization, and International Food Information Council. They address issues such as sustainability, biological diversity, climate change, nutritional economics, population growth, water supply, and access to food.