Get ready, a culinary revolution is at the kitchen door. What the cell phone did for the telecommunications industry, the induction cooker is now doing for the food industry. While the technology has been around for decades, it has been greatly improved in recent years and is already taking hold in Europe and Japan. There is no doubt that magnetic induction promises to be the most attractive cooking option on the market. In this article, we’ll discuss how induction cooking works, how it differs from electric and gas cooktops, and explain the pros and cons of the new technology.
Until now, there have been two basic methods of cooking food. Both methods follow the same basic principles. In the chemical method, a combustible material, such as wood, coal, or gas, is burned to generate heat; while the electrical method accomplishes the same thing by passing a current through a coil, or more recently, a halogen-filled light bulb. (A third, oven-only option for generating the heat needed for cooking is the microwave, which generates the heat inside the food.) Magnetic induction is a completely different technology.
A crash course in basic physics explains how it works. When a conductor is placed in the presence of a changing magnetic field, electricity is produced in the conductor. The result is an electromagnetic. In induction cooking, an electromagnet is placed under the cooking surface. When turned on, an alternating current passes through the electromagnet, producing a magnetic field. A large metal object on the surface will collect the current and generate heat. Clever! Now we are cooking!
The biggest difference between induction cooking and its counterparts is where the heat is generated. Gas and electric stoves produce heat in a burner. The heat is then transferred, more or less efficiently, to a cooking vessel and its contents. In contrast, induction cookers generate heat in the pot itself, while the burner stays cool. Since there is no heat transfer from the burner to the pan, there is virtually no heat wastage. Studies have shown that induction cooking can be up to 90% energy efficient, compared to electric and gas cooking, which are 47% and 40% energy efficient, respectively. In addition to efficiency, induction cooking is the superior choice when it comes to safety issues. Because the cooktop stays cool (ie, at room temperature), there are no more burned hands or hot pads, and no open flame to send potentially dangerous vapors into the air. Best of all, with concentrated heat in the right place, the kitchen and chef stay cool and comfortable.
But the real luxury of induction cooking, the things that distinguish it like the Porsche of countertops, is the precision and control it gives the chef. By varying the strength of the magnetic field, the heat generated in the pot responds instantly. This means that water boils in half the time it takes for electric and gas stoves. Low temperatures work just as well as high ones, meaning you can throw away your double boiler. An experiment showed that chocolate chips melted at such a low temperature that they held their shape until spread with a spoon. Induction heaters are also great for catering services as they maintain low temperatures and keep food warm better than any of the alternatives.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of big downsides to induction cooktops. For the pan to conduct energy, it must be magnetic, that is, it must contain iron. Therefore, cast iron and steel pots and pans are necessary. Test your cookware by running a magnet across the pan. If the magnet sticks, the pan will work. Some cookware, made with layers of aluminum and copper for distribution, will still work beautifully on an induction cooktop, as long as the pan surface is steel.
The second disadvantage is the lack of availability. For whatever reason, induction cooking has taken longer to take off in the United States than it has across the Atlantic. Therefore, it is still difficult to find and the models are more expensive. (Prices start well above a thousand dollars.) However, as the market rises, expect prices to drop steadily. If you can’t wait, there are several websites where you can order an induction cooktop and have it delivered to your home. Installation is relatively easy.
After using an induction cooktop, it’s easy to imagine the day we’ll look back at gas or electric stoves with the same wonder and nostalgia that we looked at grandma’s old wood stove.