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Steam or Hot Water? Which Heating Source is Best for Your Operation?

Choosing a heat source is a key consideration for all food processing operations. For processors who use a jacketed kettle design, the choice comes down to steam versus hot water.

A jacketed kettle design can use either steam or hot water to supply heat for a cooking process. In fact, it’s not uncommon to use both steam and hot water in the cooking process. In some situations, food processors may switch between steam and hot water heat depending on the product being cooked.

But is one of them superior? And when would you choose to use one heat source over the other? Let’s consider some of the advantages of both steam and hot water while taking a look at some potential applications. 

Steam heating is fast and efficient

Steam’s inherent advantage over water comes down to efficiency. At the same temperature, steam transfers its heating energy much more efficiently than liquid water. Why? Simple physical science.

Gases have significantly higher kinetic energy than water. Since heating food for cooking involves transferring heat energy from a source to the food product, it makes sense that the heat source with the most energy would be the most efficient option for cooking.

Steam is that high-efficiency heat source. When steam cools from a gas to a liquid, it transfers an incredible amount of heat energy into your food product, allowing you to cook quickly and use less energy overall.

When — and why — water can be a better option

But efficiency isn’t the only consideration when it comes to cooking your food products. It’s also important to consider how your heat source can affect your final product. 

Since it transfers its heat more slowly, there are cases where water can be a better cooking option. Products at risk for scorching or burning, like cheese sauces, alfredo sauces and chocolate, are most often cooked with a hot water heat source. 

Heating these products with water allows the heat to be introduced gradually, slowly transferring the heat from the water to the sauce in the cooking vessel. Since steam heats much more quickly, it’s possible that using steam here could scorch the sauce near the outside of the cooking vessel, damaging your final product and reducing throughput.

Test your products to determine the best heat source

Both steam and hot water have their place in commercial food production and in the right circumstances, both can be great heating sources for your food production process. And thanks to portable electric steam and hot water generators, food processing operations of all sizes can have access to both steam and hot water for their cooking processes.

But if you’re wondering how changing your heat source could improve your food production process, consider arranging for a test in the Lee lab. Lee’s process engineers have steam and water available for heating and can help you work through your options to determine which is the best fit for your product.


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