Cooking with Steam

By Douglas Weinstein
Published on: July 12, 2019

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I had a great conversation this week with Peter Weedfald who is the Senior VP of Sales and Marketing for Sharp Electronics of America about Sharp’s incredible super-heated steam ovens. If you’re not cooking with super-heated steam, you’re just not livin’ life my friends. It’s an incredibly healthful way to cook and the food that comes out of the oven is moist and tasty. But more on super-heated steam technology and Sharp’s vision of the connected kitchen in the Summer issue of Technology Designer Magazine. Today I want to talk about cooking with steam as it has been practiced since antiquity, with an eye on China’s legendary Yan steamer.

The Yan Steamer

The yan is a type of steamer that was used mainly for grain. It consists of a zeng, or deep upper bowl with a pierced bottom, which was placed upon or attached to a lower, legged vessel known as a li.

In this example the two parts are cast into an inseparable unit

Water contained within the li would be boiled, steaming the food in the upper bowl. Yan first appeared during the late Shang dynasty (c. 1300–1046 BCE), around the 12th to 11th century BCE, and was a popular form of steamer throughout the Western Zhou (c. 1046–771 BCE) and early Spring and Autumn (770–476 BCE) periods. The yan pictured above is from the early Western Zhou period. The decoration on the upper section is fairly restrained, with only a narrow ornamental band of animal masks below the lip. The three lobes of the li end in cylindrical legs decorated with buffalo heads: the ridges down the center of each lobe serve as the noses of the animal masks.


Pottery yan first appeared during the so-called Longshan culture (c. 3000–2000 BC, during the Neolithic Period), but the form became more popular during the Shang dynasty and the early Zhou dynasties.


The bronze yan of the early Shang dynasty was used as a ritual utensil. It often had two handles at the rim of the mouth; these were sometimes marked with inscriptions or cast patterns. Bronze yan of the Western Zhou dynasty and the Spring and Autumn period were usually square in shape, while those from the Warring States period were generally round. The yan was not usually elaborately decorated. It was increasingly rare after the later Zhou dynasty.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Steam cooking dates back to antiquity and it’s amazing that today we’re experiencing a revolution in cooking technology that revolves around steam. Only this time it’s not a double-boiler, but super-heated steam that is amazing for chefs to have in their kitchen arsenal. From proofing bread to cooking steaks that come out of the oven nice and brown on the outside and super moist on the inside, you’ll be hearing a lot more about this technology in the coming issue of TD.
Douglas Weinstein

Douglas Weinstein

Doug is the Editor and co-founder of the Technology Insider Group and Technology Designer Magazine. Previously, he was the Executive Director and co-founder of the Elf Foundation, a non-profit organization that created Room of Magic entertainment theaters in children's hospitals across North America.

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