If there is one thing I love as much as good food – it’s technology and science. Whether it’s the latest iPhone, an exciting discovery in the cosmos, or some new fabric that lets you hang from a wall like Spiderman – science produces so many wonders, so frequently, it’s hard not to be amazed at what we are capable of.
Arguably, our most important discovery was the ability to control fire for heating and cooking. The ability to start a fire enabled us to widen our diet, stay warm, evolve faster (Yes I believe in evolution!) and spread all over the continents. There is not too much excitement there; this most basic premise of cooking didn't change much over the last 400,000 years, until about 10,000 years or so when we learned how to make charcoal.
We burn a fuel, or heat a surface and put a pot or pan on top and voila – our food cooks, our water boils, our meat becomes tender and our stomachs are satisfied.
One much more recent advance has been induction cooking, it’s now an affordable option for both domestic and professional installations and I want to discuss it in glorious detail.
First, a disclaimer – I have an induction hob and I adore it. When I was designing and planning my new kitchen I couldn’t decide between gas and induction but in the end I went with induction – the ultimate decider I will come to shortly – but the reason won’t quite be what you would expect it to be.
Gas hobs are common in most professional kitchens and I think most medium/high end domestic kitchens too. Gas hobs are very responsive to changes in temperature and this, together with the low running costs has made them a popular choice. So why did I choose an induction hob?
To really understand I should first explain how induction works.
An induction hob uses electricity to create a magnetic field to generate the heat for cooking. Unlike other forms of cooking, the heat is generated directly in the pot or pan itself – rather than coming from a heated surface or from the heating of burning a fuel underneath. With induction an alternating electric current is passed through a coil of copper wire underneath the glass/ceramic top, which creates a magnetic field to induces an electric current in the pan itself. This high current produces the resistance which heats the pan. For the magnetic field to induct energy into the pan, the pan needs a ferrous (iron or an iron alloy) base and be located close to the magnet itself (a few cm/inches at most). As the pan itself is heated directly through induction it's much more energy efficient; this has been estimated at 84% efficiency for induction, compared to 71% for a standard electric hob, or about 40% for a gas hob.
Although that was a (small) part of the decision, there are other key advantages in my mind, one being; because the pan gets hot - not the surface, there is less risk of someone burning their hands. Another major benefit is that induction hobs are easier to keep clean.
As the top isn't very hot, food doesn’t cook onto the surface; so the sauce from an overflowing pan doesn’t burn on I can also (and I do this!) cover the worktop in greaseproof paper if I am frying - to avoid the splashes of oil making the hob dirty.
As an induction worktop is completely flat it’s much easier to wipe clean too, and as a busy man who lives on his own – that was another benefit to me! Cooking wise induction responds even faster to temperature changes than gas, and it heats up much quicker so it’s not all just about laziness!
Personally I went for a top end Siemens induction hob; it’s still the same standard four ring hob you get in most kitchens, but it has an extremely cool segmented display for the temperature (16 heat levels) and an independent timer option for each ring. Which brings me to the final clincher - and its extremely geeky and almost shameful!
The hob has a touch slider to set the heat, it’s how a hob designed by Jonathan Ive at Apple would be controlled. I have an iPhone, and if you do - or have used one - you will be familiar with the swipe gesture that unlocks your phone. That swipe gesture is the exact same way you specific the heat level on this hob, just select the ring you want then slide your finger across the power bar in the middle; left to right increases heat, right to left lowers the power level – or you can tap the approximate heat level yourself and adjust from there. That is what clinched it for me, it’s so slick and intuitive it’s the first thing I show anyone in my kitchen!
So there you have it; it reacts faster than gas to temperature changes, it's safer for a busy kitchen, and it’s much easier to keep clean – but the real clincher as with so many technologies was the interface between man and machine - and to me it feels pretty damn good.