The microwave has been an icon for fast, convenient living for the past 50 years, and a champion of students and young professionals alike. Cooking foods at a fraction of the time of a conventional oven, the microwave is able to provide hot food in an instant. But can something that makes life so easy also be eco friendly? Here’s a look at some of the facts about microwaves compared to conventional ovens.
One of the biggest benefits of microwave ovens compared to conventional ovens is their cooking time and overall energy efficiency. A 30 minute cooking time using an oven can be cut to just 5 minutes in a microwave. And although a higher level of energy would be expected to be used to allow this super-fast heating, the microwave is able to cook food efficiently, using far less energy.
Microwaves and conventional ovens work in completely different ways when cooking food. The oven relies on gas or electricity to heat the air surrounding the food, eventually cooking it to the core. The microwave instead, fires electromagnetic waves at the food, agitating the water molecules within it and generating heat. This allows for far more efficient cooking requiring less energy and a shorter cooking time.
Part of the reason that microwaves out-perform conventional ovens in terms of efficiency is the percentage of their overall energy consumption which is used to heat the food. Gas ovens direct a mere 6% of their energy use at the food itself, making them the least efficient and most wasteful of the ovens available. More modern electric ovens are marginally more efficient, directing approximately 12% of their overall energy consumption to cook food. In a vast contrast, microwave ovens use 60% of their overall energy on heating food, making them faster, less wasteful and overall more energy efficient.
One of the greatest concerns with using microwaves, especially using them everyday is the possibility of health risks. While the idea of electromagnetic waves being fired into your food may seem unnatural and potentially risky, microwaves, particularly today’s models are tested vigorously for safe levels and radiation leaks. If you are concerned about an older microwave, a number of companies are able to test for radiation leakage, and can even provide easy-to-use home testing kits.
One of the key factors in assessing your microwave’s energy efficiency compared to gas or electric ovens is to consider the portion size of the food you are cooking. Microwave cooking lends itself particularly well to cooking for one. A single portion of food (ie, a jacket potato) requires 9.5 times more energy to cook in an oven than a microwave. When increased to 4 portions, the energy required energy drops to 2.5 times more when cooked in an oven rather than a microwave. This could explain the popularity of the microwave within the “bachelor lifestyle!”
The energy saved when cooking small portions makes the microwave a sensible choice for cooking for one, however, with the energy-saving benefits decreasing as the portion size increases, cooking for dinner parties and special occasions is usually best left for the oven.
Microwaves aren’t just more efficient and energy-saving than conventional ovens. They have a number of other environmental benefits:
Less indoor pollution- microwaves won’t radiate heat around your home, making it easier to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature
Less need for cooking dishes- microwaved meals can be cooked on the plate they are intended to be eaten on, saving on washing up and therefore saving heat and water
Easy to clean- microwaves are smaller than ovens and are generally easier to clean, with no racking or grills to worry about. Microwaves may, however, need to be cleaned slightly more often to improve efficiency. Microwaves will direct some of their energy at any caked-on splatters, mistaking them for food, meaning that less energy is directed at the food you want to heat. This can be prevented with a simple wipe down after use.
Microwaved food may not have the same reputation for quality as food fresh from the oven. It is true that microwaves don’t have the ability to create the same variety of textures in food as oven cooking, and some foods can end up downright soggy after a brief spell in the microwave. While saving energy with microwave cooking is better for the environment and a great way to save money, any benefit can be undone through food wastage. Use your microwave to cook foods you know will cook well, and leave any more complex dishes to the oven. After all, green food is delicious food!
How make your microwave even more eco friendly
Your microwave is a great way to reduce energy consumption in the kitchen. Here are a few ways that you can improve your microwave’s efficiency and performance even more.
Limit cooking time- your microwave is the quickest way to cook food, and you can save the most energy by keeping cooking time as short as possible. Save energy by letting frozen food fully thaw before cooking in the microwave. A bit of forward thinking allows you to save energy by not relying on your microwave to defrost frozen food before cooking.
Use eco friendly bowls- plastic can release harmful chemicals when heated, which you don’t want coming into contact with your food. Eco friendly, microwave safe bowls are a safer alternative for heating and contain no plastics which can be dangerous for you or the environment. Many biodegradable plates and bowls are also safe to be microwaved for a short amount of time.
Recycle your microwave at the end of its life- microwaves can easily be recycled for their parts, so save resources and keep yours out of the waste stream by recycling it.
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