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Cooking with steam has long been a preferred method for certain vegetables and meat selections. There are a number of products that allow one to steam nearly anything. Until recently though, no one has considered cooking virtually everything by steam. Recently, however, Miele, Sharp and other manufacturers have each launched several varieties of the steam oven.
The steam oven can be either a countertop stove, sized about the same as a mid-size microwave, or it can be installed in a kitchen. The price is prohibitive for some. These ovens range in price from about $1,500 to over $5,000 US dollars (USD). The device comes equipped with a reservoir that is filled with water to begin the baking process. Even installed ovens do not need to be hooked up to a water supply, like an ice-making refrigerator, because in most cases the reservoir is detachable or easily accessible.
Temperatures of steam ovens vary. Different systems can cook food at temperatures of 212° to more than 572° F (100° to more than 300° C). Cooking a chicken in a steam oven set to 212° F (100° C) would take about 20 minutes to cook rather than the two hours it'd take in a traditional oven.
Steam oven manufacturers claim that their ovens not only reduce cooking time, but also lower the fat content of food. Dry heat cooking tends to rely on added fat to keep meats from drying out. With steam, meat needs no supplementary fat, and will definitely not be dry because of the constant injections of steam. Steam cooking also retains more vitamins than other cooking methods and is therefore touted as a far healthier way of preparing foods.
A steam oven cannot brown items, and this may be one drawback for people considering the purchase of one. Most meat needs to be grilled or browned prior to cooking in the oven, or the result is a rather pallid-appearing meat, much like meat cooked in the microwave. Breads or pies cooked by steam will also appear quite pale, and may need to be browned in a conventional oven. This drawback results in an extra step and extra time added to the cooking process.
Some oven suppliers have combined steam with convection. The convection process employs a fan to circulate the steam around items being cooked. This increases the speed of cooking time but does not aid in browning foods.
Though the term "oven" suggests that one can only bake with a steam oven, manufacturers also recommend using this type of oven for quickly preparing pasta or soup, or even for sterilizing baby bottles. A new product based on an ancient theme in cooking, the steam oven may well be poised to become the next great kitchen appliance.