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How Do Microwaves Work?

They’re a staple in many American kitchens, whether for reheating leftovers or popping corn – but how exactly do microwaves work?

They’re a staple in many American kitchens, whether for reheating leftovers or popping corn – but how exactly do microwaves work?

We rely on them to quickly reheat leftovers, defrost meat, boil water, cook meals, and more, but most of us remain unaware about how microwaves work. Throughout the years, this lack of understanding has led to undue safety concerns, misuse of microwave ovens, and a general failure to take full advantage of their utility.

Below you’ll find our short guide to help you better understand the tech in a microwave and how it cooks food. As well as delving into the differences between cooking in a microwave and using built-in and tabletop convection cookers such as ovens and air fryers, we also reveal the reasons that the popularity of microwaves has waned in recent years compared to these methods.

How do microwaves cook food?

Microwaves cook by agitating certain molecules in your food – namely sugar, fat, and water molecules. This agitation results in the generation of heat, which cooks food evenly, from the inside out. A microwave carries out this process by using electromagnetic waves, issued from a part called its magnetron; these waves move back and forth inside the interior of the appliance, rebounding off the microwave’s metal walls and penetrating the food within. Many modern microwaves add extras that extend their abilities beyond standard microwave cooking, with grilling and convection cooking being common additional features.

How does convection cooking differ from microwaves?

Unlike microwaves, which use electromagnetic waves to generate heat on a molecular level, convection cookers such as ovens and air fryers operate in a more straightforward fashion. Convection cookers create heat by passing electric current through a heating element, which is then circulated around food by way of fans and exhausts. As a result of their larger interiors, ovens require more time and higher temperatures to cook food than countertop options such as air fryers, whose small interiors and powerful fans ensure food is quickly immersed in hot air.

Why are microwaves less popular than they were before?

Over the past decade, sales of microwaves in the US have either declined or remained flat from year to year. Although it’s difficult to pin this trend on any single factor, a similar decline in sales of pre-packaged frozen meals points towards a broader shift away from the ready-made style of cooking at which microwaves excel. Instead, consumers are increasingly valuing the idea of fresh foods and home cooking.

Another possible explanation is the increased proliferation of different kinds of countertop cookers. With a premium placed on kitchen space, and choices ranging from air fryers, multi-cookers, rice cookers, and toaster ovens to slow cookers, crock pots, and more, consumers may find it difficult to find room (and spare cash) to fit in a microwave alongside these other appliances.

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