Aug 8, 2013

How Healthy are Things Cooked in a Microwave? (Also, a Super Quick way to Husk Corn)

The other day during my perusals of the internet, I found a discussion of a super quick way to husk corn.  In an attempt to find out the veracity of the method, I did the thing that you should never do on the internet.  I read the comments section.  As the method includes cooking it in the microwave, there were several people who said that they would never cook corn in the microwave, because it destroys nutrients.  Boiling was much better.  My first reaction was a giant "Seriously? No, just... no". But I have been known to be wrong before.  Therefore, instead of just making assumptions and moving on, I decided to look into it just to make sure.

These days I think most people know how a microwave works.  The waves, similar to radio waves, are pointed at the food in the microwave, and interact with polar molecules.  Polar molecules are ones that have a positive and a negative end, kind of like a battery.  Water is a good example of a polar molecule, and is also found in most of our food.  So the microwaves will make the polar molecules vibrate and heat up, heating up the food.  This is why water will boil in a microwave.  So does this process damage the nutritional value of the food?  Yes, but only to the same extent that adding any form of heat would.  Steaming is often considered the best form of heating, although even then it's not 100% clear.  As I had thought, however, boiling a vegetable will remove more nutrients than microwaving it.  The water will leech some of the nutrients during the boiling process.  Therefore, if the water is thrown away, those nutrients are thrown away with it.

Ok, on the fun part!

When I was a kid, we used to cook corn in the microwave.  It was fast, easy, and tasty.  Not to mention that it got my sister and I out of her hair for a little bit when we were sent outside to husk the corn. But once the corn was husked, it was wrapped in wax paper and thrown into the microwave.  After learning the trick that I'm about to share (I can tell, you're super excited... or just want me to get to the point) the wax paper is just extra waste.

Step 1: Get your ear (or ears) of corn

Step 2: Cook the corn in the microwave for approximately 3 minutes per ear, with the husk on.  I have been told that this works if you cook the ears in the oven as well, but I have not tried it.

Step 3: Cut off the end. Ensure that you have a clean cut.  If the leaves are still attached to the cob, this method will not work.

Step 4: Grab the top of the ear by the leaves/silk. Careful, as the corn will be HOT!
Step 5: Give the corn a solid sharp shake. The corn cob will come out of the husk, clean, and free of silk.

You may want to use a glove or dishtowel for this part.
Nice clean ear!

All the silk left in the husk
Observations: If the corn is not fully cooked through, some of the silk will still stick to the cob.  I like my corn a little crunchy, so this will occasionally happen to me.  I have also found that precooking the corn before putting it on a grill is a good way to get both the caramelization from the grill and have the corn cooked all the way through.

As a final treat:  My favorite corn ever comes from Toro, in Boston.  It's grilled with cotija cheese, aioli, lime and cayenne.  It seems to be, I'm sorry to say, impossible to recreate at home.  However, with my heat gun, I can come somewhat close.  This recipe provides a reasonable combination of ingredients, especially for faking an aioli.  The preparation method, however, is a bit different. Both because I don't have a grill, and the recipe does not include adding a little bit of char to the kernels.

6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 medium garlic clove, minced
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 cup crumbled Cotija cheese (about 4 ounces)
6 ears corn, husks on
1 medium lime, cut into 6 wedges

Mix together the mayonnaise, garlic, salt and cayenne in a small bowl.  If you have any concerns about how spicy the corn will turn out, start with less cayenne and then mix to taste.

Microwave the corn, in the husk, until just cooked (you want it to be a little crunchy still, but not raw).

Remove the husk, and cut each ear in half.  Place the corn on a metal sheet pan, and use the heat gun to give the corn a little bit of grilled char.  Sorry, in this case, the broiler on your oven is not enough.  It will only dry out the corn.  The heat gun produces heat of either 750 degrees or 1000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Drizzle the corn with a little bit of the mayo recipe, a little extra cayenne, and a squeeze of lime.

You're welcome.

"Electromagnetic Fields & Public Health: Microwave Ovens." WHO. World Health Organization, n.d. Web. 08 Aug. 2013. <>.
"Is Microwave Cooking Healthy?" LIVESTRONG.COM. Live Strong, n.d. Web. 08 Aug. 2013. <>.
"Microwave Cooking and Nutrition." Microwave Cooking and Nutrition. Harvard University, n.d. Web. 08 Aug. 2013. <>.
"Shucking Corn--Clean Ears Everytime." YouTube. YouTube, 25 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Aug. 2013. <>.


  1. Yup, it works--although the corn was too long for the microwave, so I had to cut it before I cooked it.

  2. Sounds like a good plan to me! Of course, if you try it and the corn turns out a little dry, I'd recommend wrapping a damp paper towel around the end to help keep in moisture.