I won’t sugarcoat it: I am anti-microwave. I’ve lived without one for long enough to know it’s not only possible, it’s really pretty easy. Still, I have moments where I miss those instant results. I’ve spent many an Internet search session trying to find hard facts to back up my hunch that microwaving is an inferior cooking method, but the truth is it isn’t so clear-cut.
Here are a few of the high and low points I’ve found for zapping.
- Super-speedy results. Microwaving is by far the fastest of standard cooking methods, reheating leftovers in as little as 30 seconds and massively truncating lengthy cook times. Don’t have an hour to wait for your baked potato? The microwave gets it done in just a few minutes. You can also significantly speed up the defrost process in a microwave if you forgot to pull something out of the freezer ahead of time.
- Energy efficiency. Volumetric heating (wherein microwaves penetrate into the food rather than working from the inside out like a conventional oven) not only shrinks cook times, but it also requires a much lower overall temperature and consequently, energy usage. I’ve seen some figures as high as 70 percent in energy savings when using a microwave.
- Convenience. Let’s face it, microwaving is way easier than most “true” cooking methods. No preheating, little clean-up. It can be turned off and on in a matter of seconds and fits into even the coziest of kitchens. For many culinarily-challenged folks out there, microwaving is really the only way they’re able to eat at home. No other methods require so little prep or know-how.
- Health concerns? While there seems to be a lack of recent, conclusive studies and data on the effects of microwave cooking (both on the food and the consumer), the question of health concerns has been explored by a number of researchers between the 1950s and 1990s. In this DIY Weekender article, Ann Alexander offers a thorough look at the potential health effects (as presented in Natural Life Magazine, which summarizes the various studies and their findings).
- Plastic. Plastics have health concerns all their own, so I’m a big fan of weeding plastic out of the kitchen when possible. It happens to be the go-to material for microwaves, though, housing most packaged microwave dinners. While many plastics are labeled “microwave safe,” they still release some level of chemicals into your food. Avoid plastics in the microwave if you can help it, including plastic wrap.
- Uneven heating. You’re eagerly licking your chops, ready to dig into that scrumptious spaghetti dinner, only to find that the meat sauce on top is scalding and that the noodles on the bottom are still ice cold. Different foodstuffs heat differently in the microwave, but generally, you’ll find hot spots and uneven heat to occur more frequently in a microwave than in a conventional or toaster oven.