We’ve all heard of thermal cooking (with heat), convection cooking (boosting heat’s effects with hot air circulation), and microwave cooking (via electromagnetic radiation). But it’s a safe bet that relatively few of us so far have tried induction cooking – in which, according to Wikipedia:
“…a coil of copper wire is placed under the cooking pot and an alternating electric current is passed through it. The resulting oscillating magnetic field wirelessly induces an electrical current in the pot. This large eddy current flowing through the resistance of the pot results in resistive heating.”
I’d been dimly aware of induction stoves since the 1980s, but when the LA Times and NPR’s All Things Considered suddenly starting talking about them as being a small but important part of fighting smog and climate change, I decided it was time for some research. On a tip from an acquaintance, I picked up a $49 induction hotplate from the Lingonberry Longhouse in Burbank. As promised, it is cuter than a button… in fact, it utterly lacks buttons, going instead for the streamlined Star Trek look (see above).
After momentary confusion about how to turn the consarned thing on, and a brief detour to look up the appropriate temperature for frying eggs (since induction stoves – like gas and electric ovens – cook by setting a temperature), it did its job quite willingly, making some nice crispy bacon and a couple of fried eggs nimbly and without complaint.
The next test was macaroni and cheese, for which it boiled six cups of water in seven minutes on its highest setting…versus eight minutes on our trusty 1950s vintage O’Keefe & Merritt gas stove.
So it seems to do the job.
And it seems safer and easier to clean than either electric or gas burners, since only the pan gets hot. The only annoyances were a) it only works with pans a magnet will stick to (e.g. cast iron and some stainless steel), and b) it’s about as loud as a microwave oven. (Presumably, full-size, built-in induction stoves would be quieter.)
In short, the induction hotplate runs rings around the smooth glass electric stovetop my family had in the 1970s, despite the superficial resemblance. It even comes with a hook for hanging up on the wall when not in use.
Also, while I had been ignoring induction stoves for decades, they were apparently slowly building up a following. For instance, it seems guerilla chefs in London discovered them a few years ago, praising their ability to do everything a fancy gas stove could do and yet fit in a backpack. Evidence they’re healthier than gas stoves has been building up, too — scientists studying indoor air quality have found that gas stoves add significantly to indoor air pollution. Encouraging new buildings to be built with zero-emission appliances, which could include induction stoves, is a frequently mentioned tool to fight climate change… one which LA appears to be considering.
So…will Angelinos take to new homes with induction stoves? Well, if New York chefs could make the leap from coal, and London chefs can make the leap from gas, I’m pretty sure we can make this leap, too.