Cell walls. Pectin. Texture. And how not to be too mushy about vegetables.
We like our cooked vegetables to look good and taste good. If we are not careful and cook the vegetables for too long, though, they not only lose their color, but they also lose their texture. They become mushy soft (which might explain why some kids and even adults dislike vegetables).
So what can we do? We have to make sure that enough pectin is in our vegetables when we put them to our lips. Pectin holds vegetables’ texture together, preventing them from turning mushy.
There are three main layers in plant cell walls. They provide physical strength to the vegetables and, as the name suggests, are a wall against the external environment. They can do so largely because of the pectin molecules found between the primary and secondary plant cell walls. Pectin acts as a glue to hold the cell walls together, giving the vegetables texture.
Pectin is a polysaccharide, i.e. a polymer of monosaccharides (the simplest form of sugars). Upon heating, the pectin breaks down. The cells walls lose their structure consequently, and liquids escape from the cells. The pectin then dissolves in the liquid. As a result, the hard vegetables soften.
Soft vegetables are great for some recipes and foods (unless you want to eat raw salads all the time!). But cook them for too long, and they become too soft as more pectin and cells walls break down.
The trick then is to cook vegetables just enough. One way to do this is to blanch the vegetables, which cooks and brightens the vegetables, and then dunk them into ice cold water immediately to prevent overcooking. The vegetables will look brighter, taste crisper, and feel softer without being mushy.
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photos: in order – depositphotos/ wavebreakmedia; voltan1