Steaming or boiling – which is best? I’ve seen the question raised many times over the years and have read with interest the views of those who fall on either side of the debate. We’re told by food experts that we should steam much of the food we eat, as in doing so the food retains much more of its nutritional value, but can we apply the same thinking to a boilie? I fear that many of today’s advanced carp baits are a much trickier proposition than the humble brussel sprout… and probably a damn site tastier!
I think what’s clear at the outset is that neither method is perfect; an amount of denaturing is inevitable with either method, so it’s a case of trying to identify the lesser of two evils. Essentially, we’re trying to firm up the outer layer of the bait in order that we can fish it at length as a hookbait without it turning to mush as soon as it’s introduced to water, or crumbling to dust under the first bit of pressure on the cast.
So what’s involved with each option? To steam boilies, you’re looking at a steam time of around 8-10 minutes, with boiling you’re looking at an immersed boil time of around 90 seconds. Both cooking methods have their advantages and disadvantages, both in preparation and retention of core ingredients. Steaming can be a less messy affair in terms of the steaming itself and the drying afterwards, and when steaming on a commercial scale, the baits can often be steamed in greater quantities in one go. With regards to retention, as the baits aren’t actually in contact with the water, those in favour argue that the soluble ingredients and liquids come out of the process relatively unscathed in comparison to boiling, and in addition, those preferring steamed baits often claim the aroma of the flavours is much stronger and the leakage is better when in the water. That said, proponents of the boiling process fear many of benefits of the vitamin pack and aminos may be lost due to the bait being cooked for much longer.
Personally, I fall on the side of a boiled bait. Back in the days when I made my own, I did dabble with steamed baits, albeit for a short period, and whilst I found that they did look and smell pretty impressive, they lost their appeal quite quickly once in the water, effectively washing out in flavour and colour much sooner than I would have liked. I fished them side by side with my boiled baits, and whilst I appreciate it was never going to be the most scientific of tests, they did not appear to offer any noticeable advantages If anything, just the opposite, so I stuck with boiled.
The texture of the steamed baits put me off somewhat, too. At the time, I was boiling my baits for around 70 seconds, and when you cut through one of these baits, the outer edge was boiled but the inner was left relatively unharmed. However, when you cut through a bait that had been steamed for eight minutes, it was cooked right the way through, and had the same washed out pallor throughout, which, if I’m honest, never filled me with much confidence!
What’s more, with all of the reactive enzymes and such like that are in our baits today, most of which are incredibly temperamental to the effects of heat, I’d be scared to death of killing the bait of before I’d even started! At standard atmospheric pressure, water will boil at 100 degrees Celsius, so you know your baits aren’t going to get any hotter than that, however, the whole point of steaming is that it’s the vapours that do the business, and for their mass, they contain much more heat than boiling water and when put under pressure can easily double the temperature of boiling water – which, for me, has the potential to do more harm than good to the bait.
I think it’s also worth remembering that there could well be a whole world of difference between the methods, equipment and ingredients one might use knock up some boiled bait at home, compared to the advanced equipment and techniques employed by some of the leading bait makers. They know exactly what’s good and what’s not about the processes they use, and thus apply their full knowledge in the making process to combat such problems. Many now use advanced mineral binders which help to protect the bait during the boiling process and as a result, when boiling, boil times can be significantly reduced to as little as forty seconds which reduces the chances of denaturing even further.
What can’t be ignored though is the confidence factor using baits cooked in either manner. If you use one, the other, or even both, and catch well on them, then what’s the problem? Stick with whichever gives you the most confidence.