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.
Vegetables are a second type of plant matter that is commonly eaten as food. These include root vegetables (potatoes and carrots), bulbs (onion family), leaf vegetables (spinach and lettuce), stem vegetables (bamboo shoots and asparagus), and inflorescence vegetables (globe artichokes and broccoli and other vegetables such as cabbage or cauliflower).
For some foods alternative ingredients can be used. Common oils and fats become rancid relatively quickly if not refrigerated; replacing them with hydrogenated oils delays the onset of rancidity, increasing shelf life. This is a common approach in industrial food production, but recent concerns about health hazards associated with trans fats have led to their strict control in several jurisdictions. Even where trans fats are not prohibited, in many places there are new labeling laws (or rules), which require information to be printed on packages, or to be published elsewhere, about the amount of trans fat contained in certain products.
A particular diet may be chosen to seek weight loss or weight gain. Changing a subject's dietary intake, or "going on a diet", can change the energy balance and increase or decrease the amount of fat stored by the body. Some foods are specifically recommended, or even altered, for conformity to the requirements of a particular diet. These diets are often recommended in conjunction with exercise. Specific weight loss programs can be harmful to health, while others may be beneficial and can thus be coined as healthy diets. The terms "healthy diet" and "diet for weight management" are often related, as the two promote healthy weight management. Having a healthy diet is a way to prevent health problems, and will provide the body with the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
Several studies published since 1990 indicate that cooking meat at high temperature creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are thought to increase cancer risk in humans. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute found that human subjects who ate beef rare or medium-rare had less than one third the risk of stomach cancer than those who ate beef medium-well or well-done. While avoiding meat or eating meat raw may be the only ways to avoid HCAs in meat fully, the National Cancer Institute states that cooking meat below 212 °F (100 °C) creates "negligible amounts" of HCAs. Also, microwaving meat before cooking may reduce HCAs by 90% by reducing the time needed for the meat to be cooked at high heat. Nitrosamines are found in some food, and may be produced by some cooking processes from proteins or from nitrites used as food preservatives; cured meat such as bacon has been found to be carcinogenic, with links to colon cancer. Ascorbate, which is added to cured meat, however, reduces nitrosamine formation.
Most wines are sold in glass bottles and sealed with corks (50% of which come from Portugal). An increasing number of wine producers have been using alternative closures such as screwcaps and synthetic plastic "corks". Although alternative closures are less expensive and prevent cork taint, they have been blamed for such problems as excessive reduction.
Proponents of raw foodism argue that cooking food increases the risk of some of the detrimental effects on food or health. They point out that during cooking of vegetables and fruit containing vitamin C, the vitamin elutes into the cooking water and becomes degraded through oxidation. Peeling vegetables can also substantially reduce the vitamin C content, especially in the case of potatoes where most vitamin C is in the skin. However, research has shown that in the specific case of carotenoids a greater proportion is absorbed from cooked vegetables than from raw vegetables.
German research in 2003 showed significant benefits in reducing breast cancer risk when large amounts of raw vegetable matter are included in the diet. The authors attribute some of this effect to heat-labile phytonutrients. Sulforaphane, a glucosinolate breakdown product, which may be found in vegetables such as broccoli, has been shown to be protective against prostate cancer, however, much of it is destroyed when the vegetable is boiled.
Generally regarded as the most pleasant taste, sweetness is almost always caused by a type of simple sugar such as glucose or fructose, or disaccharides such as sucrose, a molecule combining glucose and fructose. Complex carbohydrates are long chains and thus do not have the sweet taste. Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose are used to mimic the sugar molecule, creating the sensation of sweet, without the calories. Other types of sugar include raw sugar, which is known for its amber color, as it is unprocessed. As sugar is vital for energy and survival, the taste of sugar is pleasant.
Certain cultures highlight animal and vegetable foods in a raw state. Salads consisting of raw vegetables or fruits are common in many cuisines. Sashimi in Japanese cuisine consists of raw sliced fish or other meat, and sushi often incorporates raw fish or seafood. Steak tartare and salmon tartare are dishes made from diced or ground raw beef or salmon, mixed with various ingredients and served with baguettes, brioche, or frites. In Italy, carpaccio is a dish of very thinly sliced raw beef, drizzled with a vinaigrette made with olive oil. The health food movement known as raw foodism promotes a mostly vegan diet of raw fruits, vegetables, and grains prepared in various ways, including juicing, food dehydration, sprouting, and other methods of preparation that do not heat the food above 118 °F (47.8 °C). An example of a raw meat dish is ceviche, a Latin American dish made with raw meat that is "cooked" from the highly acidic citric juice from lemons and limes along with other aromatics such as garlic.
Fermentation of the non-colored grape pulp produces white wine. The grapes from which white wine is produced are typically green or yellow. Some varieties are well-known, such as the Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Riesling. Other white wines are blended from multiple varieties; Tokay, Sherry, and Sauternes are examples of these. Dark-skinned grapes may be used to produce white wine if the wine-maker is careful not to let the skin stain the wort during the separation of the pulp-juice. Pinot noir, for example, is commonly used to produce champagne.
In whole grain foods, the higher fiber content effectively displaces some of the starch component of the flour. Since certain fibers have no food energy, this results in a modest energy reduction. Another technique relies on the intentional addition of other reduced-food-energy ingredients, such as resistant starch or dietary fiber, to replace part of the flour and achieve a more significant energy reduction.