Steam ovens make it easier to cook healthy and fast. Here's the how, the why and the tasty benefits explained

Anyone can steam vegetables. But when it comes to steam cooking a whole chicken, well, the average consumer will likely not only ask “How?” but also, “Why would anyone want to steam a chicken in the first place?”

The why is very simple: Steaming locks in flavors, colors and nutrients, and cooks most foods in half the time required by regular ovens or stovetop cooking. And, thanks to a spate of new oven introductions from major appliance manufacturers like Miele Inc., Gaggenau, Sharp Corp. and Indesit Co. (Ariston), the how is easier than ever as well.

In concept, steam ovens function on principles similar to the old pressure cooker: They cook in a moist, hot environment. But today’s ovens offer much better control and much more versatility than grandma’s pressure cooker ever could.

The Sharp Superheated Steam Oven, for example, offers 20 settings in four cooking categories – roasting, grilling, steaming and “convenience foods” – as well as 10 manual settings for everything from proofing to baking.

The Miele DG 2661 steam oven goes even further, with more than 900 preprogrammed settings. You select the product being cooked (listed alphabetically) in a simple touch-screen menu, then are prompted on the size and desired finish texture.

“It takes the guesswork out of steaming,” says Miele spokeswoman Lori Dolnick. Users can experiment with settings or go all manual without the preprogramming.

Many of the new breed of steam ovens do more than just steam – so you can make sure that chicken not only stays juicy but also gets browned. Gaggenau’s Combination Steam and Convection Oven features a zero-percent humidity setting that the company says can even provide a crispy crust for bread. The Sharp oven owes its crisping capabilities to electrical heating coupled with steam.

Still, user-friendliness and versatility aside, the main feature kitchen experts cite in predicting the future popularity of steam ovens is the associated “healthy eating” benefits.

“Steam appliances are for people who enjoy healthy eating [but] who don’t have time to cook,” says Gail Drury, certified kitchen and bathroom designer with Drury Design Kitchen & Bath Studio, Glen Ellyn, Ill. “The more health conscious people become, the more you will see the use of steam ovens.”

CTW Features