Welcome to ‘Kagoo Explains’ - a series of short articles explaining some of the confusing terminology used to describe technology. This week we’re looking at air fryers, explaining how they work, and seeing whether they are actually healthier than standard oil fryers.
Traditional fryers heat large amounts of oil to achieve temperatures high enough to induce the ‘Maillard Reaction’, which is the chemical reaction that causes food to brown or caramelize. This reaction only occurs between 140-165°C - water cannot reach this temperature, which is why oil is traditionally used.
As you may expect, oil fryers aren’t exactly the healthiest cooking method - submerging food in oil leads to a substantial increase in fat, as good as they may taste! Therefore people started looking for a healthier alternative. Enter the air fryer - designed to allow you to fry chips that are reasonably healthy! At their most basic, air fryers are exactly what they sound - deep fat fryers that use air instead of oil.
The principle is similar to that of a convection oven: hot air is circulated around the inside of the fryer using a fan, effectively submerging the food in swirling currents of air rather than oil. So to use, you put the food into the fryer, coat it with a tiny amount of oil, then the air inside the fryer is heated as hot as 200°C. This superheated air cooks the food to perfection, achieving perfect browning with far less guilt!
Now, air fryers can’t be used without any oil - you need to coat the food in a thin layer of oil to help achieve the Maillard Reaction mentioned above. However this requires a very small amount - only a teaspoon versus a litre or more. This undeniably makes food cooked in an air fryer far healthier - containing up to 75% less fat than if you used an oil fryer.
Reports from people that have used air fryers suggest that air-fried food tastes mostly similar to their oil-fried brethren. The taste is somewhat different, but nothing bad - lighter, and with more emphasis on the food rather than the oil. Therefore, air fryers definitely seem like the way to go if you want to work on eating healthier - there are a whole lot of foods that are far more delicious when deep fried, and this way you can enjoy them without worrying about jeopardising your health!
Has reading that got you working up an appetite for tasty fried food? Check out our list of Best Healthy Fryers.