Microwave ovens have been around for years. More and more food items are made specifically for these appliances. Popcorn, frozen dinners and steam bag vegetables are only a few examples. With microwaves constantly in the middle of a "safe or unsafe" controversy, how do you know if you should buy one or not? In this list we cover ten myths both for and against these handy machines.
All Metal Makes Sparks
Ever put metal in the microwave and watched the firework display? Though staples, CDs, light bulbs, tinfoil and twist-ties give off fantastic sparks, not all metal does. Thicker metal shows no sign of sparking (except for the occasional fork tine) and stays relatively cool. This is because metal repels the microwaves being emitted. Heating something in a metal bowl is pointless because the bowl acts as a shield. However, it still isn t a good idea, even if there aren t any fireworks to watch.
One of the most common reasons people avoid microwave ovens is because of lost nutrients. When using any method to cook food, nutrients are lost. The longer the food is cooked, the more the nutrients are lost. The microwave only does what every other heat source does: It cooks the food, which, by nature, is a chemical process.
Microwave ovens are not radioactive. It is just like using the sun or a fire to cook your food. The microwaves emitted excite water molecules which cause friction and then heat. No fluorescent colored test tubes and biohazard suits required. While it s still a bad idea to run a microwave with the door open, you don t have to worry about ingesting green glowing food.
The defrost button on the microwave oven is naturally used for a variety of foods, especially meat. However easy this button seems to be, it s not the fastest way to thaw frozen foods. Microwaves rely on water to create heat; ice does not react the same way water does. During a defrost cycle, the waves turn on and off periodically to try and heat the more liquid sections, which then transfer heat to the still frozen bits. The fastest way to thaw anything is to place it in a bowl of warm water on the countertop. This gently, and fairly quickly, thaws anything you need.
Oil does not have the same polarization water does and is not affected by microwaves the same way. You may wonder why it s easy to heat butter in the microwave oven. Though butter is made primarily from oil, there is enough water present to transfer heat to the oil. If you want to heat a cup of oil use a sauce pan on your stove; it works a lot better.
From the Inside Out
Ever looked at a cube of butter melted in the microwave? It appears to have melted from the inside out. In all actuality, food is cooked from the outside in. The heat from the edges is transferred to the center. If you want to see the limit of the microwave ovens ability, cook a large piece of meat. The microwaves only penetrate about an inch deep and the rest relies on heat transfer.
Uses More Energy
Cooking twenty bags of microwave popcorn uses less energy than baking brownies for half an hour. Despite their relatively high energy consumption, microwave ovens are in fact energy savvy. This is because they actually take less time to cook than other means. Now you re not only saving time but energy.
A common term for microwave cooking by is nuke. Though this sounds like microwaves destroy any and all type of bacteria, this is false. Since this type of appliance doesn t cook as evenly as other ovens, there is a chance the bacteria may not be destroyed because it can hide in cold spots. This is why it s recommended to periodically stir the food during the cooking process. The food will be cooked more evenly and it reduces the chance of harmful bacteria surviving.
Ever been told not to look through the microwave window for fear you ll burn your eyes out? How about that standing too close for extended periods of time will cause cancer? Both of these are false. The microwaves emitted are more like radio waves than any cancer-causing radioactive wave. It is important to note that microwave ovens can develop leaks, but this can be easily tested, and the oven can be replaced.
An Accidental Discovery
The most common story of the invention of the microwave oven revolves around self-taught engineer Percy Spencer and a melted chocolate bar. While this story is based on fact, it does not give the whole picture. It s true in the 1940s Percy Spencer was one of the determining factors behind the invention, but his discovery was not quite an accident. The company Raytheon worked with radar tubes for years, and during the winter months engineers would use the tubes to heat their hands. Even with the idea of using the microwaves to cook food, it took years of research and testing to actually make a product available to the average consumer. For specific information on the modern appliances, take a look at our reviews on compact microwave ovens.