Air Fryers: How do they work, and what are the benefits?

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Air fryers are the hot new appliance for trendy chefs, thanks in part to some excellent marketing and a few celebrity endorsements. But despite their names, no frying is actually being done inside these countertop cookers. An air fryer is actually just a convection oven, which bakes food by circulating hot air, as opposed to a deep-fryer, which would immerse food in hot oil. So is air-frying food better for you than deep-frying the old fashioned way? Let’s examine.

What happens to food when you fry it?

One of the reasons deep-fried food is so delicious (albeit unhealthy) is that massive amounts of oil are used for frying. As you may remember from middle school science class, oil does not like water. When you fry something, you boil off the food’s water with hot oil, dehydrating its outside layer. But air fryers don’t dehydrate food in quite the same fashion.

Why are air-fryers so small?

Most air fryers have a small basket that holds food. To achieve that dehydrated “crunch” that comes from traditional frying, you can’t fill the basket with too many items. If you do, the hot air circulating won’t reach the food in the middle, resulting in inconsistent texture. (Some pieces will be crunchy, others will be soggy).

Baking vs frying

Both air fryers and traditional fryers heat up food to the point where a chemical reaction takes place. Known as the Maillard Reaction, it refers to the interaction of proteins and carbohydrates in the food, resulting in that “bakery smell” that makes your mouth water. Some researchers believe that cancer-causing chemicals also form during the Maillard Reaction, but with the air fryer, you won’t have the added carcinogens that come from heating up the oil.

So are air fryers healthy?

Yes, air-frying your food is definitely healthier than deep-frying. Since air fryers don’t involve huge vats of oil, you won’t be ingesting as much fat or as many calories as you would by eating deep-fried foods. 

Air fryers are also smaller and faster than regular ovens, so for busy single people, they are an excellent option for a hot, healthy meal. Easy to use and to store, it’s no wonder air fryers have become the must-have personal kitchen appliance of 2020.

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