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I have eaten both boiled vegetables and steamed vegetables (e.g. broccoli, carrot, zucchini etc.), and I cannot tell the vegetables are cooked in one way or the other, whether by texture or by taste (unless they are boiled in broth; here, I refer to boiling in water).

Is there a reason why vegetables are preferred boiled to steamed, or vice versa?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

To boil vegetables, you add the vegetables to a pot of water, and boil the water for a short duration until the vegetables are sufficiently cooked. One may add salt or other flavorings (such as broth, as you mentioned) to the water prior to boiling.

Steamed vegetables are cooked in a steamer basket, where the vegetables are not in the water, but are instead sitting above the water, and are thus cooked by steam.

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Salt must be added to steamed vegetables after they are cooked rather than to the water prior to cooking, since salt does not evaporate.

Steamed vegetables can retain more of their original flavor and nutrients, since they do not leech out into the water during boiling. On the other hand, you cannot add additional flavors to your vegetables during steaming--since flavors cannot soak into the vegetables from the water, either.

Which taste/texture you prefer, of course, can be a matter of personal opinion.

In my experience, boiled vegetables are often mistakenly referred to as steamed vegetables. And often, many restaurants will sell "steamed vegetables" which are really just microwaved frozen vegetables, which may strictly be steamed (it certainly isn't boiled!), but really bears little resemblance to the true steaming process (and has relatively poor flavor, as well).

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+1 - very comprehensive answer.I think the key thing to highlight here is that they retain a significantly higher amount of their nutritional value. –  heathenJesus Mar 17 '12 at 13:47
    
Is it true that steaming veggies cannot absorb any added flavors? I often add garlic cloves and salt to my veggies once they start sweating, and notice a world of difference in the taste. –  mdegges Jul 12 '13 at 23:52
    
@mdegges: That depends on two main things: The flavor, and how it's added. Most flavors, added to the water, will not be absorbed by the steamed vegetables, because the flavors don't evaporate, and the vegetables never come in contact with the water (only the water vapor). Some "flavors" might evaporate (alohol evaporates, for instance... if you would consider that a flavor), so the vegetables might absorb some of that. –  Flimzy Jul 15 '13 at 4:24
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The only false information is vegetables cannot take on flavour from the water when steamed. I often use chicken broth to steam, and the vegetables TAKE ON THAT FLAVOUR. otherwise, decent article - although it seems the author wrote it without any homework done - so whos to say any of the rest is accurate. –  user20885 Oct 23 '13 at 0:44
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I think frequently when vegetables are steamed over water with aromatics, they're referred to as being "scented". They certainly can absorb some flavors, but it's totally different than if they're boiled with the flavorings. –  sourd'oh Nov 4 '13 at 20:39
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Steaming vegetables retain their natural flavor and nutrients. Boiling vegetables leave the vegetables tasteless and bland. Most chefs will then add salt and butter.

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Vegetables that are properly boiled can remain flavorful, just as vegetables that are improperly steamed can become bland. –  sourd'oh Jan 29 at 15:51
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The flavor does evaporate if they reach boiling point. It's the temperature at which molecules get enough energy to "fly" and circulate. For example, the flavour of many spices is given by volatile compounds that "fly" even at room temperature. There are many other examples of volatile compounds in liquids. In those cases, flavor can be given (or taken, depending on the point of view) by the steam formed in the process

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I don't understand what you are trying to say about the cooking results. How does the way the vegetables are heated affect the amounts of volatile compounds left or evaporated? I can cook my vegetables in 100 degrees boiling water on in 100 degrees steam, still all the compounds which evaporate below 100 degrees will fly away and all the ones which don't evaporate will stay where they are. –  rumtscho Nov 4 '13 at 19:20
    
I believe this answer was probably intended as a comment on the other answer. –  sourd'oh Nov 4 '13 at 19:39
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