ST. GEORGE – For generations mankind has been fascinated and awed by the power of the sun. Ancient cultures have worshipped it as a god, while their modern counterparts seek to harness its life-giving light and convert it into cheap, clean energy. Much talk is made concerning the great potential for solar power and, in many instances, successfully applied.
A great example of how sunlight is turned into an inexpensive and environmentally friendly resource can be witnessed in the practice of solar cooking.
Of course, the question begs asking: Just what is solar cooking?
For starters, solar cooking is accomplished with specialized stoves called solar cookers. Solar cookers work by taking the UV rays in sunlight and converting them into focused heat energy that cooks the food.
“It’s Crockpot-style cooking,” said Nathan Parry, owner of Solar Cookers at Cantina West. Depending on what is being cooked, the cooking time can be just as fast or take longer than a conventional oven.
In a demonstration of a particular style of solar cooker called a Solar Parabolic Cooker (which resembles a shiny satellite dish), Parry displayed how quickly the heat could be applied to the food being cooked. He placed a wooden board on the stand in the center of the cooker, and within seconds it began to smoke. He remarked that that type of cooker was capable of reaching temperatures of 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
Other styles of solar cookers are the Solar Box Cooker and Solar Panel Cooker. Cooking times and how much temperature may be generated can vary from model to model, and are also dependent upon what is being cooked.
Now, just what are the benefits of solar cooking? According to Parry, there are many.
“It’s great for anyone looking to get off the [electrical] grid,” Parry said. As sunlight is free, it costs nothing to run the solar cooker. Using the cooker can also help bring the electrical bill down, Parry added, since electricity will neither be applied to the oven inside the house nor to any air conditioning unit that may be used to counteract the heat generated by the oven. Basically, solar cookers are clean and economical.
Many people enjoy solar cooking as a hobby as well.
Still, aside from the occasional family get-together or change-of-pace meal, solar cookers can also be used during times of disaster or financial strife, not to mention the occasional St. George summer blackout.
Parry shared the story of a woman whose family lost their home and business due to the current recession. Because of this difficulty, the majority of the woman’s cooking is now done with a solar cooker.
A big question remains however: Once cooked, how does the food taste?
“When you eat it, you can tell the difference,” Parry claimed.
According to the Solar Cookers at Cantina West website, using a solar cooker is healthier, because it doesn’t expose the food to the gas of a barbecue or smoke of a campfire, let alone the radiation of a microwave. Only the natural power of the sun is used. The website further claims that the cooker helps to preserve “more of the natural nutrients of the foods by cooking at slower and lower temperatures.”
For anyone who wants to learn more about solar cookers, Cantina West offers free cooking classes every third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon.
Supplies are also offered to intrepid souls who want to build a solar cooker for themselves.
Solar Cookers at Cantina West has been in business for three years, though it primarily existed as an internet-based company until opening a storefront in St. George a year ago. They are one of the largest suppliers of solar cookers in the United States and do business around the world. Two of their biggest customers outside of the United States are China and India, countries with traditions of solar cooking.
Solar Cookers at Cantina West is located at 500 East St. George Blvd., right around the corner from Lip Trix. They can be reached at 435-862-1708.
Much more information, as well as the history of solar cooking, can be found at the Cantina West website.
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