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Solar Cooking: Solar Energy for Sustainable Cuisine

Did you know solar cooking can prevent over 30 million metric tons of CO2 emissions over its lifetime, which is equivalent to not burning over 3 trillion rupees of coal?

For many households today, daily cooking requires fire, fuel, and frequent attention to ensure food is cooked eventually. Depending on how you cook and where you live, solar cooking can save you time, fuel, and work. It is an innovative and eco-friendly culinary technique that offers a sustainable solution for cooking while reducing reliance on traditional energy sources. This article will explore the facts about solar cooking, different types of solar cooking, and its benefits.

What is Solar Cooking?

Solar cooking is often referred to as cooking in the developing world for its environment-friendly and energy-efficient methods. But at its core, it is a device that allows you to cook food using the sun’s energy as fuel. This fuel can be used to cook or bake any food.

The sun’s energy is harnessed using solar cookers, which are designed specifically to capture and concentrate sunlight. Solar cookers are typically made of box lined with reflective metal and covered with glass. This focuses sunlight onto a cooking pan. The interaction between light and pan with the reflective materials converts light into heat, which helps cook the food.

History of Solar Cooking

The concept of solar cooking dates back to ancient civilisation, but the first academic description was found in 1767 when a French/Swiss Horace de Saussure solar-cooked fruits in a glass-covered box made of three glass panes, two pine boxes, and wool insulation. The cooking process involves converting light energy into heat energy and trapping heat energy in culinary activities.

The first recorded use of solar cooking dates to 1881 in the United States, when Samuel P. Langley used it while climbing Mt. Whiney. In the 1970s, the Governments of India and China developed and promoted solar box and curved concentrator cookers to control the disappearing trees and growing fuel shortages. In the USA, Barbara Kerr and Sherry Cole developed simple-to-make box cookers, solar food dryers and sterilisers.

Now, according to Solar Cookers International, nearly 4 million solar cookers are in use across 142 countries by over 14 million people.

Types of Solar Cookers

There are over 10 types of solar cookers, but we are gonna delve into the 4 basic types of solar cookers,

Box Oven Solar Cookers

Box-oven solar cookers, also known as solar ovens, are the most commonly used solar cookers for households. In India, there are over 29 box-oven cooker manufacturers, with several hundred thousand impacted.

The Box Oven cooker consists of an insulated box with a transparent lid and reflectors. It is ideal for slow cooking and can reach temperatures up to 177°C (350°F). The sunlight enters the box through the lid, and the head is trapped inside, cooking the food.

Parabolic Cookers

Parabolic cookers, also known as curved concentrators, are derived from their curve-shaped structure. Their curved, parabolic shape focuses all attention on the central point where the cooking pot is placed. They are ideal for large-scale fast cooking and have a very high temperature, like fire, but require frequent adjustments and supervision.

Panel Cookers

Panel cookers are also known as combination cookers that incorporate elements of both box and parabolic cookers. Solar Cooker International’s ‘CooKit’ is the most widely used combination cooker. They are lightweight, portable, and foldable for easy transport. They consist of a frame with reflective panels that focus sunlight onto a dark cooking pot. These types of cookers can achieve temperatures suitable for steaming, stir-frying, and boiling.

Solar Cooking Techniques

Solar cooking techniques may vary depending on the type of solar cooker used. Here are some of them,

  1. Solar ovens can be used to cook fruits and tomatoes.
  2. Panel cookers are most efficient for preparing rice, vegetables, jams, and jellies.
  3. Parabolic cookers are ideal for grilling and frying.
  4. Retain heat: A transparent heat trap around the drak pot lets in sunlight and keeps the heat from escaping. This heat trap can be a large inverted glass bowl, a clear, heat-resistant plastic bag, or an insulated box with a glass window.

Benefits of Solar Cooking

Solar cookers offer a range of benefits, including reduced environmental impact, high thermal efficiency, and elimination of fuel costs. However, challenges prevail, such as limited use in cloudy weather and longer cooking times for some foods.

Here are some of the key advantages of solar cooking,

  1. Reduced environmental impact: The primary advantage of going for solar cooking is a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and reduced reliance on fossil fuels.
  2. Sustainability: Solar cooking promotes sustainable living and conserves natural resources by reducing dependency on non-renewable energy sources.
  3. Cost saving: Solar cooking can lead to significant cost savings on annual utility bills. It is free and inexhaustible, making it an economically viable option.
  4. Energy-efficient cooking: Solar cookers are the most energy-efficient sources, portable, and can be used anywhere. Food cooked in solar cookers retains about 10-20% more protein than conventional cooking.

Solar cooking is not just an innovative culinary technique but is gaining popularity as a symbol of sustainable living with significant environmental and economic benefits.

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