9 Nov 2009

Low-temperature cooking might save restaurants money

Last year, I had the pleasure to act as a co-supervisor for two students at in their final project for the Food and beverage management study at the University of Stavanger. The focus was low-temperature cooking.

The students, Eirik Nestavoll and Martin M. Stokkan (both chefs), attended this as a continuing professional development study. The aim of their experimentally angled final project was whether "new cooking methods" might give economic gain to hotels.

More juicy = reduced water loss?
New cooking methods, such as sous vide, low temperature cooking and "gourmet salting" are known to give more juicy (and tender) meat. Eirik and Martin's idea was: "more juicy" = "lower water loss"? If so, a restaurant might use less meat per serving, and thus save money (late addition: ...since the size of meat servings are commonly measured by weight). Mentioning this to my colleagues, the first response I got was "typical; restaurants always look for an extra profit". However, saving money might also mean that the restaurant can afford to use higher-quality meat while at the same time keeping the prices at an affordable level (I guess this might apply to cases such as the Little Chef - Heston Blumenthal collaboration, numerous links).

The methods chosen were combinations of low-temperature sous vide cooking and "gourmet salting" (before cooking) as compared to high-temperature cooking and salting after cooking. When cooking at lower temperature (at longer cooking times), the muscle fibres and proteins contract/denature to a lesser degree, resulting in more juicy meat, hence lower water loss. Also, what is referred reported by the Danish Meat Research Institute as "gourmet salting" (pdf, via this link), a mild and rapid dry curing before cooking, is shown to result in more tender and juicy meat.

The meat used was striploin/boneless strip (no: ytrefilet) and several parallel experiments were conducted under identical conditions for valid comparison.

Comparing gourmet salted meat sous vide cooked at 65 °C to unsalted meat cooked at 200 °C resulted in almost 10% lower weight loss between the two extremes. For a hotel serving thousands of guests each year this might build up to a considerable amount if one can reduce the amount of meat for each serving accordingly (of course there are many factors to take into account apart from the mere water loss). I guess it's up to the hotels to choose what these resources might be spent on. Higher quality produce? Hiring more people, giving less of a workload to those working in the kitchen? ...or money in the pockets of the shareholders?


  1. Wonderful! Thanks.

    I have just started teaching a food production and operations class in a Hotel and Restaurant Management program. Seeing the way you approach things has been very helpful.

  2. What about cooking time and energy cost?

  3. Yes, there are loads of parameters to tweak and consider. That is why I wrote might rather than will. Keeping temperature baths will of give additional energy cost (and equipment investments), but keeping temperature lower will also save energy in terms of lower heat loss.


Please add your comments