Look what's cooking in the kitchen! Appliance breakthroughs this year will have homeowners rewriting their kitchen appliance wish list. To start with, in July, Thermador will unveil groundbreaking kitchen appliance innovations.
For many, the kitchen is the heart of the home. The kitchen is the key feature that sells a home. It is command central, where family members stay close and where guests congregate. So not surprisingly, homeowners often identify their most important or expensive appliance as the range or cooktop. Until recently -- and regardless of whether you cooked out of enjoyment or necessity -- you only had two choices of cooking surfaces at home: gas or electric.
The debate between gas and electric has been simple. Proponents of gas like being able to raise or lower the cooking temperature quickly with an infinite number of settings. Electric proponents don't like having an open flame and are concerned about C02 gas generated from the gas burner. They also feel the smooth surfaces available on new electric stove tops are easier to clean.
However, an alternative is beginning to take hold in the kitchen -- induction cooking. An induction cooktop combines the best of gas and electric. Temperature adjustments are made quickly, even faster than with gas. Temperature settings are numerous, from simmer to full boil. The induction cooktops, like those of new electric stoves, are smooth glass -- easy to keep clean, but with the added benefit of no residual heat that can burn unwary fingers. Induction generates no gas flame or carbon monoxide.
An actual demonstration of induction cooking is needed to show the more subtle benefits in energy efficiency and safety. But here's a description.
Cooking with conventional stovetops, whether gas or electric, occurs when heat travels from the energy source to stovetop, to the cooking vessel and the air around, and finally into the food. Induction cooking eliminates the middle steps; heat travels directly from the induction element into the pan via an electromagnetic field. The heat is produced by the interaction of the metal pan and the localized magnetic field. Bypassing all the steps in conventional heating makes the induction cooking process much quicker. Energy is not wasted heating around and outside the pan, so an induction unit is more than 80 percent efficient compared with only 40 percent in a gas cooktop.
The localized magnetic field provides another benefit of safety; the induction element turns itself off as soon as the pan is removed, because heat only occurs through interaction with a metal pan surface. Also, even after immediate use, the heating element is comparatively cool; it is not hot enough to burn on spilled food or skin, if your hand touches it briefly. This feature alone should help eliminate a parent's fear of a toddler accidentally burning his fingers by reaching up to a hot stovetop.
If you are concerned that your favorite pots and pans won't work on an induction range, simply place a magnet on the bottom -- if it sticks, it will work. Additionally, a silicon-baking mat (Silpat) can be slipped between abrasive cast iron pans and the smooth cooktop to prevent scratches. These baking mats can handle high temperatures, yet won't disrupt the electromagnet field.
The biggest change in induction technology is how easily the surface adapts in three ways. Thermador's induction debut features a "zoneless" cook surface where almost the entire top becomes a giant cooking surface that adjusts to any size or shape of cookware in any position. Previously, a griddle that spanned two cooking elements left a cooler spot in the gap between the elements, or an oblong pot would be cooler along the edges.
Secondly, the zoneless surface allows you to move and change the position of cookware in any direction -- yet the heat and cooking still works! Cleaning up a mess is easy; spills won't burn on, and you can keep cooking. Third, similar to timed cooking in an oven, you can set a timer to turn off a specific pan.
The biggest challenge is still the cost. Induction cooktops are more expensive than either electric or gas. As demand increases, prices for induction units should come down.
Anytime a product can make meal preparation faster, easier and safer, it will get people's attention. In a future column we will update you on a few other kitchen innovations that have caught our attention.
Clair and Barbara Ramsey are local associate brokers specializing in residential real estate. Their column appears every month in the Anchorage Daily News. Their email address is email@example.com.