Natural food: 4 reasons why hydroponics is good for your health

Vertical hydroponic farming has lately  gained popularity as an innovative method for cultivating vegetables, small fruits, herbs, edible flowers, and ornamental plants. This soilless cultivation system offers multiple benefits for both farmers and consumers. In this article, we will explore the reasons why vertical hydroponic farming can improve everyone's nutrition. Towards the end, we will share Chef Luigi Cassago’s vision, chef and owner of our partner Ecooking World. Chef Cassago will teach us how to best handle the freshness of hydroponically grown vegetables, preserving all their nutritional qualities and enhancing their full and appetizing flavour. But let's go step by step and see the benefits of vertical hydroponic farming.

  • Healthy and Genuine Food: One of the main concerns associated with traditional agriculture is the use of pesticides and herbicides. In hydroponics, plants grow in controlled nutrient solutions without the addition of pesticides. This provides the foundation for a healthier and safer diet;
  • Fresh Vegetables All Year Round: Whether in large facilities or at home, vertical hydroponic farms offer better insulation from external weather conditions, ensuring year-round production. No spoiled crops, just fresh vegetables;
  • Maximum Nutritional Value: Home hydroponic farms provide locally grown vegetables. They are harvested and brought to table, ensuring the preservation of 100% of the nutritional values. Only what you want to consume is harvested, minimizing waste;
  • Eco-Friendly Cultivation: Yes, because vertical hydroponic farming doesn't require soil occupation or exploitation. Water usage is reduced by 80% compared to traditional farming. It prevents soil, atmosphere, and groundwater pollution.

Hydroponic farming offers numerous advantages for human nutrition. By incorporating hydroponic products into the diet, one can easily experience an improvement in the quality and variety of meals for a healthier lifestyle.

Now that we know the benefits of hydroponic cultivation, we want to ask Chef Luigi Cassago of Ecooking World how to enhance its properties and flavours.

The meeting between Novafarm's mission and Ecooking's gave birth to a "healthy" collaboration. Chef Cassago and his team test daily with Novafarm's farm  products in their laboratories.

Chef Luigi Cassago

Chef, can you provide us with guidance on handling vegetables delicately?

Vegetables, besides being delicate, are among the most diverse and flavorful foods. Therefore, the processing technique should first and foremost respect their water content, and cooking plays a fundamental role. Let's take a step back from the classic boiling method used by grandmothers. In this case, the dispersion of microelements and nutrients is about 70%. Today, thanks to experimentation, we can use steam, which reduces the dispersion to 30%. Moreover, with sous-vide cooking, it's possible to decrease this percentage even further to 7%. At Ecooking, we prepare leafy vegetables  we season and we steam cook them. It's easy to understand the advantages of this cooking method: less seasoning is used, and therefore less salt; it significantly enhances the flavour structure of vegetables, and, what’s important, it allows us to work with seasonal vegetables, preserving them thanks to the cold chain and having them available at other times of the year.

Another very valid and appreciated technique is sautéing. I love fusion cuisine, and I believe the Chinese are masters of sautéing. Vigorous cooking in the wok gives vegetables a super-crispy texture and vibrant colour. The wok retains much more liquid, allowing vegetables to sauté more effectively. Another important element is temperature, which needs to be carefully monitored. For example, cooking leafy vegetables at 100/110 degrees in a pressure cooker for a couple of minutes risks damaging them very quickly.

I would like to connect to this topic of handling techniques to express a concept that is dear to me, that is, waste. The old saying that nothing of the pig is wasted can be applied confidently to vegetables and fruits as well. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the green leaf of the tomato that is not consumed. However, many vegetables have excessive waste, even though much of it can be used. For example, the peel of the pumpkin, the carrot peel, or even the zucchini bush, which is a hollow body from which I create vegan penne. Vegetable seeds can be used to make chips. Handling, therefore, involves not only the right cooking or temperature but also the cleaning and peeling phase to make the most of every part of the product. I cannot overlook emphasizing that hydroponic farms, both at home and in restaurants, are of great help to avoid waste. Only what is consumed is harvested, avoiding not only waste but also large quantities of unconsumed food.

In your opinion, are there particular varieties of vegetables that require special care?

Every herb or vegetable has its characteristics. It's important to understand the family origin to which they belong, such as pome fruits, tubers, etc. Each of these families has specific processing needs. For example, tubers, if processed, cooked, and vacuum-sealed, develop resistant starches and can, therefore, be consumed by those with diabetes or blood sugar problems. There are more delicate vegetables, such as leafy greens, which, due to their wider and thinner exposure, spoil more easily; spinach and cabbage, for example, are often spoiled when overcooked, becoming nutrient-deprived.

Are there methods you prefer to preserve the freshness and intensity of vegetable flavours?

The best method is undoubtedly to have a home farm and be able to harvest the freshest and most genuine veggies when needed, avoiding waste by harvesting only what is needed. In addition to using farms, I add what I mentioned before: for seasonal products, combining vacuum-sealing with low temperatures. Today, there is still the belief that frozen products are not of high quality. Actually, it is one of the best ways to preserve a fresh product even out of season. What I advise against is buying fruits and vegetables out of season. It is unthinkable to have an apple that doesn't oxidize or a vegetable that doesn't mold; it means that the product is not healthy, natural, but an industrial product, treated and full of additives that should stay out of our plates. For this reason, at Ecooking, we chose to have our farms  in collaboration with Novafarm, with a clean cultivation environment and without "additives."

How do you skillfully integrate vegetables into dishes that incorporate various culinary influences without losing their identity?

I return to the concept of expanding knowledge boundaries. We are not the only ones cooking vegetables, so we also discover how they are treated in the rest of the world. Some pair them with sweets, some with spices, some combine fruits with vegetables. For example, onion with star anise is an enhancement of the onion scent, garlic with vanilla. Be creative; vegetables always provide great satisfaction and, above all, allow you to experiment with completely different textures and consistencies.

Do you have any suggestions for creating balanced combinations that best match the scents and flavors of vegetables?

Let’s go back  to the concept of macrocategories or families. Sometimes the pairing is accidental, sometimes it is studied. "Studied" experimentation is possible today thanks to a vast literature provided by portals indicating correct pairings. As I mentioned, I work a lot on belonging families. For example, my pairing of peaches and buffalo mozzarella came from tasting tomato and buffalo mozzarella; tomato and peach belong to the pome fruit family, so why not try it? Our gorgonzola and peach risotto in the experimentation phase is an evolution of the pear and gorgonzola risotto.

Any advice for young chefs approaching this world?

Emerging young chefs don't need my advice; I am excited about the new energies that are revolutionizing the mindset of older entrepreneurs and chefs with full drawers at the end of the day. The lack I often find among us young people is a certain extremism of thought and the inability to create a sense of community. We should aim to unite to create a significant impact. Gastronomy is the link between the producer and the final customer. Currently, we are a weak link due to our past of excessive consumerism. Today, the new generations find themselves facing producers who have had to change their business model due to its poor economic sustainability. But they have also changed their vision and do not intend to sell a product they wouldn't personally want to eat. Even the final link in the chain, the consumer, has changed: it is now more educated and informed, possessing deep knowledge not only theoretically but also practically. Sometimes, I talk to people who seem like my colleagues, even though they have different jobs.

Can you tell us about the green soul of Ecooking World?

The "E" of Ecooking comes from the union of "L" and "C"; the "E" in Greek represents the tree of life. We combined the "E" with the ear of wheat, which is the basis of nutrition. The circle around it represents the world of services we offer to our customers. Furthermore, in the world of Ecooking, there is the vision passed down to me by my grandparents: food as a gesture of love. My grandfather broke his back farming, while my grandmother worked wisely not to ruin my grandfather's work and effort. At my house, there was always a place at the table for everyone. The Ecooking bistro format was born with the aim of being accessible to many; we prepare everything in our laboratory because being "green" for us means controlling all processes. The first significant investment was the laboratory to have complete control over the supply chain, to know every supplier, give them product purchase security, and avoid waste as much as possible. Personally, I adopted the bag of wet waste at the end of the day as my measure. In our bistrot in the hearth of Milan, we serve 6,000 people per month in 60 square meters and fill only one bin of wet waste; we work on waste and portioning. Ecooking's mission is to improve people's lives through nutrition. From here comes a new project that I share with my brother Luca, an architect, to bring our mission into people's daily lives and create a philosophy of life. Nutrition is an important moment of the day, but there are many others. This gave birth to Ecosystem, a space that enhances the "green" aspect, adapted to a domestic environment where many activities take place, including dining. Luca is incorporating a selection of partners into this space to allow the design of people's living environments with zero impact. From construction to furniture, including Novafarm farms, which have captivated us by opening a door we thought was a refrigerator and showing us a riot of colors and scents. Tomato plants, vegetables, herbs, and fresh, genuine strawberries.

Ecosystem is a space dedicated to people's well-being with mindfulness courses, mindful eating, yoga, and cooking classes that will not only be cooking lessons but convivial moments with the presence of the producer. We will cook together with people; there will be themed evenings.

And what's cooking regarding the collaboration with Novafarm?

The collaboration we have defined with Novafarm is a "touch of green" mode. We love the use of sprouts, which are a fundamental element and the roots of the plant; a very small part but the richest. With Novafarm's farms, you can eat everything, including the little root, which is the most powerful part. So we decided to include Novafarm farms in our spaces to show the magic of something that grows in the space where a person lives. In our restaurants, we want the possibility of adding  our distinctive "touch of green" with healthy and tasty products. The goal is also to install a large farm in our new laboratory to have our entire line of mixed greens. We want to produce our baby leaves, from arugula to cabbages, curly kale, mustard leaves, and baby spinach. We would like to create our mix by producing it from seed.

Chef, thank you so much for what you have shared with all of us. Of course, you cannot refrain from delighting us with a video recipe for the Christmas menu.

Discover the perfect Green video recipe for Christmas

Greetings to all Novafarm & Ecooking & Ecosystem!

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