In recent years, it seems like every cooking blog is raving about pressure cookers, specifically the Instant Pot. It is technically a multi-cooker because it can also function as a slow cooker and yogurt maker, but you can find thousands of recipes that use the pressure-cooking setting. Why do people love it?
You should first know that the pressure cooker is not a new invention. In fact, the very first one was created back in the 17th-century by Denis Papin, a French mathematician. He wanted to make a cooking device capable of transforming cheap meat into “marrow jelly,” so even the poorest of families could get enough nutritious food. The invention, which he called “the bone digester,” was basically just a giant pot with an air-tight lid. That air-tight lid trapped all the steam from the boiling liquid, which raised the pressure inside the pot. This actually raises the boiling point of water, too, so food cooks faster. However, this original pressure cooker had few safety precautions, so the pot ended up exploding all the time.
That was the issue for most pressure cookers when they appeared again hundreds of years later at the 1939 World’s Fair. These were smaller and easier for home use, but they still exploded food all the over the kitchen and ceiling if people didn’t watch them closely. An electric, more hands-off variation came out in 1991 and became very popular in Asia, but it wasn’t until 2010 when the Instant Pot brand of electric pressure cooker appeared that Americans started using pressure cookers again. There are other popular brands, too, but Instant Pot has the most name recognition.
These modern, electric pressure cookers use the same principle that Papin’s “bone digester” did all those years ago: trapped steam raises the boiling point of water. However, unlike older pressure cookers, these are equipped with safety features that prevent too much pressure from building up. It’s very, very rare for an electric Instant Pot to explode. I can’t say it won’t ever happen, but I’ve never heard of an example. They are as safe as a crockpot.
Why all the hype about pressure cookers? For one, it’s the healthiest cooking method. Studies have shown that between 80-95% of a food’s nutrients are preserved, and the digestibility of foods like grains and beans is improved. The cooking speed is also one of the most praised benefits. Not counting the time it takes for the pressure to build, rice and oats take just 6 minutes to cook, while chicken takes 15. What else can you make? There’s a trove of blogs online devoted to pressure cookers and Instant Pots, with detailed instructions. You can even make desserts like cheesecake!