When did “I don’t have a microwave” have the same cultural cache as “I don’t have a TV”? We’re all so proud to avoid those little boxes that somehow manage to unevenly heat the heat of food … and yet microwaves may be overdue for a comeback, according to some experts (including superstar boss David Chang).
But a bit of myth-busting first: microwaves don’t give you a spidey sense … nor do they give you cancer.
Microwaves stimulate molecules in food, especially water molecules, and make them vibrate. This energy is converted into heat. And yes, microwaves use radiation to do this, but it’s low-frequency, non-ionizing radiation, the BBC reports, as do lightbulbs and radios. For additional protection, microwaves are equipped with metal shields and screens over the windows that prevent radiation from leaving the oven.
The final result? When used correctly, microwave radiation is completely safe according to the World Health Organization.
When should you avoid the microwave?
Even so, microwaves are not perfect – at least not in all cases. There are some cases when you should avoid using the microwave.
1. With plastic
Plastic take-out bins, food-safe storage boxes, and even plastic wrap are big no-nos in the microwave. Microwave plastic causes the endocrine disrupting phthalates to break down and leach into food (a little less than ideal, don’t you think?). A 2011 study found that the majority of more than 400 different food-safe plastic containers tested leached phthalates for food in the microwave, even if only the lid is made of plastic, as condensation will build up and on your leftovers drips.
Instead, transfer your food to glass in front of the microwave (or, better yet, get rid of plastic entirely in the kitchen). Do you need some tips? Read our guide to 15 plastic alternatives for all of your kitchen storage needs.
2. With too much water
A common mistake when using a microwave is heating water yourself, which can gush out of the container and create a messy (and potentially dangerously hot) problem. However, this isn’t the only time you need to be wary of microwave water.
When vegetables arrive in our kitchen, they are just about to have healthy potential. It is our cooking method that degrades these rich nutritional benefits. Eating raw or lightly steamed vegetables is the ideal way to maintain these health benefits. Cooking or microwaving in too much water can negatively affect flavonoid levels, according to Xianli Wu, lead researcher on a 2019 study of the effects of various forms of cooking on broccoli flavonoid levels.
3. Cook meat
Microwaves are a lifesaver for warming up, but not great when it comes to cooking from A to Z (despite some TikTok recipes). Because of the way they work, microwaves often heat up unevenly and lack the ability to brown meats like steak and chicken, which gives the nice caramelization that a good pan roast brings to the table. Microwave raw meat is at best something gummy and far from tasty. Worst case? It cooks unevenly and opens the door to pathogens.
In summary? Best not.
When should you use the microwave?
However, aside from these cases, microwaves can actually be your best friend in the kitchen. Recent converts include Ken Albala, Professor of History at the University of the Pacific and co-author of The Lost Art of Real Cooking.
“I grew up with this fear and thought that you shouldn’t stand in front of the microwave,” he says. “I’ve always told people that I thought it was the devil’s work.”
More recently, however, he’s found that there are certain kitchen chores that “work really, really well in the microwave,” and this inexpensive kitchen gadget can be a huge time saver.
1. Cook certain vegetables
The microwave’s fast heating capacity means that some vegetables, especially those that you want to enjoy lightly steamed, will cook very well in the microwave – and research shows that this approach is very healthy.
While some research shows that microwaves could remove a whopping 97 percent of the flavonoids in broccoli, Wu’s study pods holes in that argument, claiming that cooking broccoli al dente (just a minute in the microwave) leaves broccoli nutrient levels uncompromising. In fact, researchers write, microwave broccoli may even be better at preserving flavonoids than steaming for such a short period of time.
And that doesn’t just apply to broccoli. A 2010 study found that microwaving Brussels sprouts increased their polyphenol levels by 90 percent.
That said, other vegetables do less well in the microwave: One study found that microwaves and steaming caused a loss of phenol levels in pumpkin, peas, and leeks.
One vegetable that definitely doesn’t suffer in the microwave is the potato, one of Albala’s favorites for ease and speed. Potatoes cook much faster in the microwave than in the oven or on the stove, which means a “baked” potato or sweet potato is only minutes away.
Albala also uses the microwave to pre-cook potatoes and fry them at the last minute to give them a golden sheen.
“It would take you an hour to cook a crispy fried wedge potato unless you have a deep fryer,” he says, “but if you just put it in the microwave, cut it into wedges and then dip it in olive oil in a coated pan and it’s the best. “
2. Cook the bacon
While the microwave isn’t the ideal way to cook most meats, bacon is an exception. Bacon normally forms harmful nitrosamines when cooked, but one study shows that microwave cooking is the least of these carcinogenic compounds. (Since nitrosamines are a by-product of nitrites and nitrates, opting for bacon with no artificial nitrates is of course an even better option.)
3. Heat ready meals
Whether you’re heating up your own leftovers or ready-made meals, the microwave is a lifesaver.
“The microwave enables people to prepare meals more easily and to minimize the daunting task of cooking a meal every day for some,” said Mike Wystrach, CEO and founder of Freshly, a Nestle brand that provides healthy ready meals that can can be reheated in just three minutes.
Just make sure you reheat microwave-friendly meals or leftover food! While things like stews and sauces heat up well, other foods like french fries, bread, or pizza lose texture, which food scientist Nick Sharma The Spruce Eats has to do with how microwaves work. By vibrating the water molecules, the pizza crust becomes moist and cardboard at the same time. And at high temperatures, the sugar in bread and pizza crust melts and briefly softens before recrystallizing into a hard, tough mess. Not super appetizing!
But for the right kind of leftovers or ready-made microwaveable meals, microwaves can be a real time saver – and unlike urban legends, a completely safe option for you and your family.
Based on bio-authority
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