Cooking at high altitudes

A long walk

Picture taken: May 2005, about 10,000ft in Garhwal Himalayas. Here is the travelogue of my trip.

One of the interesting things about high altitude camping is the unique taste of the food. Above the tree line, water becomes more-or-less tasteless. Since Indian cooking involves generous use of water (from stewing vegetables to preparing dough), food cooked here does tastes funny. जेवणात चव उतरत नाही (the taste doesn’t sink into the food). Even before you hit the tree-line, cooking yummy food becomes increasingly difficult.

There are other operational issues:

  • Due to low atmospheric pressure, boiling point of water reduces. So, water boils at a much lower temperature, for example, at the place where this picture was taken the BP would be approximately 90° (Rambodoc would say: “Its cool to boil water”)
  • The only source of ignition is firewood. The three basic factors required for a fire are – (1) source of ignition, (2) Oxygen and (3) heat. The last two being less available, it takes long time to light a fire.
  • More water needs to be used to compensate faster losses (moisture in the air is very low).
  • Finally, food needs to be cooked for a longer time.

Why??

Consider boiling an egg. In the plains, water boils at 100° and it takes 5 minutes for an egg to boil (assume). At 10,000 ft however, water boils at 90°, and in order to equalize the heat (calories) gained by the egg, it has to absorb heat for a longer time. The cooks that I spoke to told me that it takes 25 minutes to boil one egg (boy! thats a hard-shelled egg).

Turning up heat will not make a difference. Figure out why 🙂

Baking food needs even more care, such as leavening gases in breads and cakes expand more, or an extra egg may be required to enhance bonding and strength. I have no knowledge about cooking meat though.

Can I cook the same taste food somewhere else? I tried using Distilled water once, but thats just one factor. Perhaps in a laboratory simulation, cooking few grams of high-altitude tasting food would be possible!