Induction cooking has been with us a long time – the 'miracle of cool heating' was put on display at the Chicago World's Fair in 1933 – but use of the technology has only grown modestly over the years. Until recently.
So what's changed?
Firstly, a whole new generation of induction cooking equipment has been launched in recent years. At the same time, costs to produce the technology have plummeted. Thirdly, and critically, energy costs have rocketed, making induction cooking an even more attractive proposition. In a nutshell, the equipment is better, it costs less to buy and it saves on running costs.
So it's no surprise that induction cooking is gaining in popularity – but there are still a few myths that need to be debunked.
Induction cooking isn't for me because…
…You need special cookware
No you don't. You just need cookware with a high ferrous content (i.e. magnetic) – many pans are equally at home on induction as on standard gas or electric hobs.
…You can't use your stainless steel cookware
Yes you can. Although, in reality not all stainless steel pans are created equal. If a magnet sticks to it though, you should be fine!
…The magnetic field is dangerous
Only if you have a pacemaker fitted! Otherwise all the research indicates that the magnetic fields created by induction units pose no danger to users. And in fact, the field is only projected about 2-3 cm above the hob's surface.
…Induction hobs are expensive
Induction hobs are more expensive to buy BUT they are so much more efficient than gas or electric hobs that you use much less energy, which means lower fuel bills.
Speed - It's faster than a standard gas or electric hob.
Precise control - Change temperature instantly and accurately.
Energy efficiency - It uses significantly less power than a standard gas or electric hob.
Cost saving - Lower running costs than gas or standard electric hobs.
Safety - It's safer than a standard hob.
Easy to clean - The flat surface is hygienic and easy to wipe clean, because the heat isn't generated in the hob, food never gets "burnt on".
Choice - A huge range of sizes and applications, from multi-burner island suites to table-top models.
How induction works
An induction coil or 'element' is basically a powerful, high frequency electromagnet. When switched on, it creates a magnetic field spreading over a few centimetres.
Place anything made of magnetic material (such as a cast iron pan) inside this field and it will heat up. That's because the field induces (or transfers) energy to the metal and the energy turns into heat. This means the heat is created INSIDE the pan, as opposed to under it (as with gas or standard hobs), which is why the system is so efficient. Nothing outside the pan is affected by the induction electromagnetic field. And as soon as the pan is removed from the hob, or if the element is switched off, heat generation (and energy consumption) stops.
Precise, instant temperature control
Changing the power level of the electromagnetic field changes the temperature of the pan. Just like a gas hob, this change is instantaneous and, again like gas, it's very precise. Which gives you complete control of the cooking process – even with very low cooking temperatures (unlike some gas hobs).
Because the energy goes straight to the pan, it's super-fast. A commercial induction hob can boil a pan of water more quickly than an electric kettle and can heat an empty (induction-compatible) pan up to 200C in less than a minute.
The hob or stove top barely gets warm, except directly under the pan (where the latent heat from the pan heats the glass), so its surfaces can be much safer than standard electric or gas hobs.
Induction is a very efficient way to heat pans, and because it is so fast there's no need to preheat or have the 'burner' switched on - it delivers instant heat. And even if you DO leave the element switched on, if there's no pan on the hob then it will only consume approximately .38 watts of power per hour – virtually nothing.
Which material is best?
Cast iron, steel, some enamelled steel, and stainless steel pans with an iron base or core are suitable, but glass, aluminium and copper generally are not. If in doubt, look for the induction-compatible symbol or try the magnet test.
Stainless steel is a popular choice for cookware because it's strong, hard and non-corrosive. In it's magnetic form it is induction compatible, but it's not the best conductor of heat, so is often combined with aluminium in multi-layered bases.
Cast iron cookware can be pricey, but is very durable if looked after properly. It gives very even heat transfer at low settings, but does take longer to heat up and cool down than other types of cookware.
Aluminium conducts heat very well, is lightweight, affordable and doesn't rust – but aluminium alone is incompatible with induction. Manufacturers overcome this by using a magnetic stainless steel plate on the base of an aluminium pan to make it compatible for induction. The plate generates the heat from the induction hob and passes it through to the rest of the pan.
Copper is an even better heat conductor than aluminium but is eye-wateringly expensive! Top end manufacturers, such as Demeyere and Mauviel, use it because it the most efficient, helping you to produce stunning results.