The air fryer is a hoax

The air fryer is just a little oven that blows, and the idea that air frying is a new cooking technique is a myth….

The air fryer is the hottest kitchen appliance in America right now. Many of us discovered them during the pandemic, as recipes went viral on social media claiming you could fry without the oily mess. This brilliant new device seemingly popped up out of nowhere, or did it?

The idea that air frying is a new cooking technique is a myth. Your air fryer is just a little convection oven with a fan system that really blows.

“I would say that an air fryer is a miniature version of a convection oven, where one has specialised the design of the air movement,” said Kevin Keenan, an engineering professor at the University of Guelph who studies food technology. “There’s roughly five times faster air movement through an air fryer compared to a convection oven.”

Besides the wind, and the crisping tray, it’s really more of an optimised convection oven than a new technology. Inside your air fryer, a large fan sits above a hot metal coil, blowing air upwards and around the machine. Specialised channels underneath the food basket direct the hot air back at your food – creating a hot wind tunnel, with your food right at the center of it all. It’s a great design, but it’s nothing new.

Many modern homes have convection ovens, which have existed since 1967. Their designs vary, but many convection ovens simply utilise the hot coils above and below your food, with a fan in the middle that circulates air around your oven. You can pick up a crisping tray for $12 on Amazon to put in your convection oven, instead of a $200 air fryer, to create something pretty close.

Negating its benefits with foil or paper

Now before we go further, many of you out there are putting parchment paper or foil below your food in an air fryer. For this group, your air fryer is really just an oven. By blocking the air flow’s direct path to your food, you are completely eliminating the ingenious part of an air fryer. For the rest of you, your air fryer is also still just an oven — but there is greater airflow.

The air fryer is not frying anything. Oil has a significantly higher “heat flux” than air, which measures how quickly heat transfers to your food. Oil frying occurs between 10 and 30,000 watts per square meter, but air frying doesn’t even get close. High heat flux means a crisp crust will develop quickly before water escapes – the ultimate enemy of browning and crisping.

“[Air frying] doesn’t have the capacity to fry like how you would in oil,” said Keenan. “When you put food in hot oil, your rate of heating is about 100 times higher than what it is using hot air.”

So air fryers are just little, windy ovens that sit on the counter, but the industry has grown to be worth $760-billion globally. Air fryers have become the biggest kitchen appliance since the microwave, but have we all been sold a lie?

Origins of the myth

An inventor from the Netherlands named Fred Van der Weij created the modern air fryer in 2005. He was looking for a way to invent crisp homemade french fries without an oil fryer. Phillips bought his prototype and released its first model in 2010. It was dubbed an “air fryer,” for its crisping abilities, but it’s really much closer to an “air oven.”

As with many product myths, names are important. The name “air fryer’ leads you to think of this as something new. The logic behind buying one is that you can’t deep fry at home, but an air fryer allows you to do the next best thing. It’s really a genius marketing tactic more than anything, but it’s misleading.

In 1945, an inventor named William Maxson created the “Whirlwind Oven.” It’s widely considered “the original air fryer,” but with a much worse name. First sold to the military, the Whirlwind Oven used high-speed fans to blow hot air at frozen foods, reducing cooking times and energy required to heat up a meal. However, the era’s limited technology meant it could only reach 200ºF before the fan’s motor blew out.

That device failed to take off with a consumer audience, and convection fans simply became a tucked-away feature on traditional ovens. Maxson’s death in 1947 meant he wouldn’t be around to push his advice into the consumer market. Besides the limited technology, “whirlwind oven” just doesn’t sound as good as “air fryer,” even if it’s more accurate.

Why it’s pervasive 

We’ve all decided to go along with the misleading “air fryer” story because it feels true enough. There are several benefits to air fryers that make them a useful kitchen tool. They’re quicker to heat up, great for small portions, and overall just less intimidating to cooking novices than a regular oven. The high-velocity air flow also translates to better crisping than a convection oven. It’s useful for sure, maybe just not a completely new cooking technique.

The air fryer community is also uniquely strong. There are entire recipe books and website blogs purely dedicated to air fryers. This culture just doesn’t exist for other kitchen appliances like a microwave or a toaster oven, but for some reason, the air fryer has grabbed ahold of the American psyche.

Perhaps the messaging around air fryers just really resonates with people. Yes, we all love fried foods, but there’s considerable difficulty and mess with deep frying in oil at home. Not to mention, deep-fried foods are one of the most unhealthy things you can eat. Baked foods are much healthier and easier to make, and air frying is really just baking, though it’s sold to us as something else.

I’m not advocating that you not use your air fryer or don’t buy one. But the myth about the technology seems to be everywhere. The world clung to our air fryers during the pandemic, and it seems to be more than just a trend. Just know that your air fryer is not so different from a typical convection oven.

Source: Quartz

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