What is a microwave and how does this kitchen appliance work

What is a microwave and how does this kitchen appliance work

Toshiba EM131A5C-BS Microwave Oven

What is a microwave?

Open the door, bring in the food, set the time, wait, take it out, enjoy – if you need to be quick in the kitchen, the microwave is the perfect helper. Whether it’s heating up yesterday’s cold stew or thawing frozen meat. In just a few minutes, the cold dish becomes a steaming hot culinary delight. The soup, which is just cold, can be stirred while it is steaming hot. Even au gratin is not a big challenge for some microwave ovens. No wonder that microwaves can be found in around three quarters of US households.

The better models can even do much more than just warm up. With their grill , hot air or steam cooking function, they are almost all-rounders. In no time at all, a juicy steak, a crunchy roll or the finished pizza lands on the plate. Especially practical for single people: The purchase and electricity costs of a microwave are lower than with a classic oven . And the food to be cooked is even faster.

The microwave is an electrical kitchen appliance, also known as a microwave oven. In addition to a refrigerator, dishwasher and an electric stove with oven, the microwave is part of the basic equipment in a modern kitchen. Today, around 75 percent of all households in US use a microwave to defrost, heat or cook food.

The first devices used to generate their microwaves with an iron-core transformer. The heart of today’s microwave is the magnetron – a generator of microwaves . Microwaves are electromagnetic waves in the frequency rangebetween 0.3 and 300 gigahertz. Standard microwave ovens use waves with a frequency of around 2.455 gigahertzand a wavelength of 12 centimeters. Heat is generated because the electromagnetic waves set water molecules in motion. This movement causes friction. And friction creates heat. Since microwaves only move water molecules, they can only heat food that contains moisture.

The magnetron emits electromagnetic waves into the cooking chamberinside – i.e. the area in which the food is located. The electric field of the waves acts on all molecules that have a dipole moment. In these molecules, the electric charge – plus and minus – is stored in different places, which means that the dipole molecules rotate under the influence of wave radiation. The molecules pass on the torque to their neighbors. Within a short time all molecules oscillate with a dipole moment. It is these vibrations that create the heat in our food.

Inside are microwave ovens with a roller ringequipped with a plate made of glass or plastic. To ensure that the food is heated as evenly as possible, the plate rotates continuously during operation. Many microwave ovens have metal plates inside that ensure that the microwave radiation generated does not escape to the outside.

What are the advantages of a microwave?

Many people don’t have the time to cook because of their hectic everyday life. Microwaves are the right everyday helpers. They can be used to bring fresh food to the table quickly and without much effort. With a microwave you can not only heat up the food from the day before, but also cook, cook and – depending on the model – grill food. Our comparison has already shown this. They offer the possibility of heating portions of dishes directly on the dinner plate. Many microwaves have additional functions, such as convection or steam cooking.

Microwaves save space and are ideal for small kitchens or one-room apartments without a cooking area. Most microwaves work with less than 1,500 watts and are therefore more energy efficient than classic stoves. Strong power connections are not required. Microwaves can be plugged into ordinary sockets.

If you want to benefit from the advantages of a microwave, you have to accept some disadvantages. It is important that the cooking times are adapted to the food. If meat or vegetables are heated for too long, the micronutrients they contain can be lost. The food should be evenly distributed on the plate, otherwise it may be heated unevenly. Anyone who is not familiar with the use of such a kitchen helper should note that not all dishes are suitable for microwaves.

What types of microwaves are there?

Depending on the planned location of the microwave, the different designs should be taken into account. The kitchen appliances can be divided into three different types:

Free- standing microwave: The classic are the free-standing microwaves, which can be placed anywhere in the kitchen. After connecting to the power supply, the free-standing devices on the work surface are immediately ready for use. It is important that the ventilation slots of the microwave are unobstructed. It is advisable to keep a distance of around 10 centimeters from nearby walls and cupboards.

Built-in appliances: If you are looking for a microwave that blends harmoniously into the kitchen, you should opt for a built-in appliance. These have a “bare” housing. Only the front is paneled. Built-in microwaves are designed to be built into a kitchen cabinet. The prerequisite is that there is a cupboard in your own kitchen that is suitable for the integration of a microwave. For this, the dimensions of the cabinet should be compared with the dimensions of the microwave. The ventilation slots of a built-in microwave are on the back. There should be at least 10 centimeters of space between the back and the wall unit. It would be better if the wall unit was open at the back.

Undermount Microwaves: For kitchens with limited space, an undermount microwave can come in handy. Such built-under microwaves can be installed underneath a hanging cupboard and thus offer the possibility of space-saving accommodation

Microwave types according to the scope of equipment
Microwaves differ not only in their design, but also on the basis of their equipment. In addition to classic solo microwaves, there are combination devices that come with useful additional functions.

Solo microwave: Solo microwaves are the cheapest of their kind. They have no additional functions. With such devices, food and drinks can be heated or thawed. The performanceand running time can be set variably.

Microwaves with a grill function: Microwaves with an additional function are referred to as 2-in-1 microwaves. Combination devices with a grill function are often used. The combination offers the advantage that food can not only be heated, but also cooked. A microwave with a grill function can, for example, prepare a juicy steak or an aromatic grilled chicken with a delicious crust during the cooking process, as well as bake rolls, pizzas and other pastries.

Microwaves with hot air and oven function: Some microwaves are equipped with a hot air fan. These are compact convection ovens that reach temperatures of up to 250 degrees Celsius. Anyone who frequently prepares pizza or cakes might enjoy such a device.

Microwaves with a steamer function: Microwaves with a steamer function offer the advantage of being able to prepare food gently. When cooking with hot steam, most of the micronutrients contained are retained. This function can prove useful for preparing vegetables quickly and gently. Microwaves with a cooking function are almost exclusively found in the upper price range.

How much is a microwave?

The price of a microwave depends mainly on its equipment. Microwave ovens that are small and have no additional functions are available for a price in the mid double-digit range. If you are looking for a large microwave and value grill, convection or steam cooking functions, you should plan a three-digit investment. In general, the following costs can be expected when buying a microwave:

Microwave oven from the lower price segment – price 30 to 70 USD
Mid-range microwave oven – price 70 to 120 USD
Microwave device from the upper price range – price from 120 USD

Internet versus specialist shops: where should I buy my new microwave?

Microwave ovens are available at electronics stores, kitchen and home supply stores, or department stores. Every now and then supermarkets sell microwaves. The advantage of local trade lies in the personal advice. How helpful this is in the supermarket depends on the knowledge of the advising employee. The disadvantage is that the selection of devices available in specialist shops is usually just as limited as the options for comparing the individual microwaves with each other. In the worst case, it takes a lot of time and visits to several stores to find a suitable microwave.

The Internet offers better conditions for buying a microwave cheaply. There are almost all available models and many helpful articles in which consumers can find out about the properties and purchase criteria of microwaves. As soon as the best microwave has been found, the order can be placed conveniently and quickly from the sofa at home. Ultimately, the advantages of the Internet outweigh the disadvantages. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find a suitable microwave with more effort in local shops.

What is there to consider when buying a microwave?

You should pay attention to thisIn order to find a microwave that is optimally tailored to your own needs, there are a few factors to consider. In order to make it easier for our readers to make a purchase decision, we have compiled the most important points to note in the following section. These include:

size
perfomance
service
child lock
Interior lighting and viewing window
door mechanism
automatic programs

The size

When looking for a new microwave, the first thing to do is to determine how big the device should be and what capacity it should havehave to bring it. From mini microwaves with a capacity of 13 liters to 42 liter models with the dimensions of an oven, the choice is large. The size of the microwave determines how big the dishes can be and what quantities of food can be heated in the device. Most microwaves are between 20 and 25 liters.

The performance

The performanceof a microwave determines the intensity with which the microwaves enter the cooking compartmentto be directed. The higher the power, the faster the food will warm up. It should be noted that higher performance is always accompanied by higher power consumption. Solo microwaves have an output of between 700 and 900 watts. A higher power may be required for microwaves with additional functions. Microwaves with a grill function often work with up to 1,300 watts. For models with a recirculation function, a power of up to 2,000 watts may be required.

Not every microwave offers the possibility of setting the power in watts with pinpoint accuracy. In inexpensive models, the power is often regulated using a rotary control with different intensity levels. Normally, you can read in the operating instructions which wattage the individual levels correspond to.

The service

The operating concept differs for many manufacturers and microwave series. Inexpensive microwaves often have two dials – one for power and one for cooking time. Combination devices are equipped with additional buttons that allow you to switch on the additional functions. New operating concepts are used in modern microwaves, such as touchscreens or large displays with several buttons. If you want a microwave that can be operated intuitively, you can choose a model with rotary controls. Microwaves with an integrated display offer more precise setting options.

The child lock

To prevent objects from ending up in the microwave that do not belong there, children should not be able to operate a microwave. For this reason, many models are equipped with a child safety device. On most devices, this is achieved by pressing a button, whereby the keyboard must be pressed for several seconds to unlock the microwave. Alternatively, a child safety device can consist of two buttons that have to be pressed simultaneously.

Interior lighting and viewing window

It can be beneficial to be able to see the food inside the microwave. That is why almost all modern microwaves are equipped with a viewing window. For example, the user can see whether a liquid food or drink is boiling over. Most models are equipped with interior lighting so that the contents of the microwave can be seen more easily.

The door mechanism

Inexpensive microwave ovens usually only have one handle that can be used to open the door with muscle power. A key mechanism for opening the microwave door proves to be more convenient. A door that can be opened from top to bottom like an oven is an advantage for large microwaves.

Additional functions – defrosting, keeping warm or self-cleaning

Those who do not place high demands on their kitchen appliances can use a solo microwave without any special additional functions. Many devices are equipped with practical additional functions for greater convenience. Almost every model can thaw. Warming functions can prove to be practical. Food can be kept warm for hours without having to be reheated. The cleaning effort can be significantly reduced by a self-cleaning function. We go into more detail on this in our How do I clean my microwave section.

Automatic programs - grilling, cooking and defrosting

Many microwave ovens are equipped with automatic programs for the preparation of certain foods. These can be found more often in models with a grill or hot air function. In particular, the grill function for the chicken on the grill rod should find many fans. With an automatic program, the microwave works at the touch of a button with the power values ​​and cooking times set by the manufacturer. For example, bread rolls can be baked or frozen food can be defrosted at the touch of a button. This saves time and makes using the microwave easier. Even more, by the way, with serialization. Several programs can run one after the other here.

What needs to be considered when using a microwave safely?

Microwaves work with a mature technology and are generally considered to be safe household appliances. Since electromagnetic radiation can cause burns, microwave ovens cannot be switched on when the door is open. In order to ensure the safest possible use of the microwave, a few points should nevertheless be taken into account.

We have summarized the most important safety tips below:

1. Order a microwaveObserve the minimum safety distance of 10 centimeters from kitchen furniture and walls and do not operate the microwave near flammable objects.

2. Note that not only the food is heated, but also the dishes. For long cooking times, plates or bowls should be removed with oven mitts.
Do not use metal dishes or cutlery, except for microwaveable items, as a short circuit may occur.

3. Tableware with a silver or gold rim does not belong in the microwave as the decorative rim could melt.

4. Do not reheat unopened tin cans as they may explode. Do not close plastic containers tightly, just put the lid on loosely.

5. Do not allow children under the age of 10 to operate the microwave.

What is there to consider when cleaning a microwave?

Most microwave ovens are equipped with an easy-to-clean layer on the inside. For light soiling, only a cloth with water should be used. There are suitable cleaning agents that can be used to remove oil residue and grease. Dishwashing detergent with water-based cloths can also be used. To avoid stubborn dirt, a microwave splash guard should be used. This is placed over the food to be heated and catches any splashes.

Many high-end microwaves have a self-cleaning program that works with maximum power consumption and burns out or loosens the leftovers. After that, the leftovers can be easily removed. This cleaning is easy and does not require the use of chemical agents. It should be noted that such a self-cleaning function generates additional electricity costs.

In order to gently clean a microwave without self-cleaning, a bowl of water can be placed on the turntable and heated for a few minutes at high power consumption. The steam loosens the leftovers in the cooking compartmentand makes cleaning easier.

Which dishes are suitable for microwaves?

Microwave dishes are available in almost every imaginable size and shape. If you want to heat up or prepare your food or leftovers quickly, you do not necessarily have to use special dishes for the microwave. Most households have matching plates and bowls. It is important to know which dishes are not suitable for the microwave.

A microwave does not heat the food by converting electric to thermal field energy, but by using electromagnetic waves that set water molecules in motion. Since the microwave oven cannot distinguish between dishes and food, any dishes that contain small amounts of moisture are unsuitable. This applies, for example, to porcelain, ceramics or earthenware. When dishes made from these materials are heated in the microwave, cracks may form or areas may flake off.

There are ceramic dishes that have a special coating and are therefore suitable for use in the microwave. This can be recognized by a print on the underside.

Dishes made of metal – for example stainless steel or aluminum – are also not suitable for use in the microwave. These can cause flashes or electrical arcs in the microwave, which could damage the dishes and the microwave. Metal crockery shields the food it contains from the microwave’s electromagnetic waves, causing it to heat up more slowly. If you want to be on the safe side, only use glass or plastic dishes in the microwave.

What are the characteristics of microwave dishes?

Microwave dishes are mostly made of heat-resistant and food-safe plastic. Heat-resistant plates and bowls for the microwave often withstand temperatures of up to 200 degrees Celsius.

Which plastic is suitable for the microwave?

There are various plastics that are suitable for use in the microwave. It is important that these are temperature-resistant and do not warp when heated. Homo-polypropylene withstands temperatures of up to 120 degrees Celsius and is therefore suitable for short-term use in the microwave. Tableware made of polysulfone or polyethersulfone is more suitable. These materials can withstand temperatures of 160 and 200 degrees Celsius, respectively.

How can microwave dishes be identified?

Microwave dishes must be marked with a special symbol. This symbol is not only found on the packaging, but also on the plates and bowls – mostly on the underside. It is a rectangle with three waves lying one below the other.

Who invented the microwave?

Before and during World War II, several engineers conducted experiments with electromagnetic radiation as part of defense research. The American inventor Percy Spencer, who worked for the armaments company Raytheon in the 1940s, took part in these experiments. Coincidence gave him a groundbreaking invention: when he was near an activated radar, he noticed that a candy bar was melting in his pocket. Although Spencer was not the first to notice this effect, the engineer knew how to use this effect for his research. His idea was to use electromagnetic waves to heat food.

It was several years before Spencer’s idea became a marketable product. The first microwave came on the market in 1947 and was almost 2 meters high and weighed 350 kilograms. With 3,000 watts, the original microwave was more powerful than today’s models. The first compact microwave came on the market in 1965. Due to the high acquisition costs, this was of no interest to private households. It was only in the 1970s that a compact, reliable and inexpensive device was able to be brought onto the market. The first compact microwave ovens quickly convinced millions of consumers. Today they are part of the standard kitchen equipment.

FAQ - frequently asked questions about microwaves

Which microwave is the best?

Since every user has different requirements for their kitchen appliances, there is no such thing as “the best” microwave. While many people are satisfied with an easy-to-use device without additional functions, others want a microwave with a grill, steamer or convection function. Anyone who takes all the advice from our guide to heart has a good chance of finding the best microwave for their personal requirements.

How should microwaves be disposed of?

If you want to dispose of your old appliance after buying a new microwave, you can go to the local recycling center. Disposal is free. Dealers are now obliged to accept old microwaves again. This only applies to the store where the device was originally purchased.

Are nutrients lost when reheating in the microwave?

Yes, when food is heated in the microwave, it loses nutrients. This also applies to heating in the oven, saucepan or frying pan. The extent of the nutrient loss depends on three factors – the cooking time, the temperature and the liquid contained. The longer the cooking time and the higher the temperature, the greater the loss of nutrients. Another aspect is the liquid it contains. Since moisture escapes from food when it is heated and nutrients are lost in the process, the more water a food contains, the greater the loss of nutrients.

Contrary to what is often assumed, the loss of nutrients in microwaves is no higher than with other cooking utensils. In fact, microwaves have advantages in this regard. Because the cooking times are often shorter and the temperatures are usually lower.

Are microwaves harmful?

Like all electrical devices, microwaves harbor a certain potential for danger. Apart from the risk of short circuits or cable fires, which also exists with an electrically operated oven, there is no proven health risk from microwaves – as long as the appropriate safety measures are observed. In order to protect your body from the electromagnetic waves, you should leave the room during operation. Closed containers should not be heated in the microwave. Otherwise there is a risk of explosion.

Microwaves work with radiation in the 2.45 gigahertz band. This is the area that is used by transmission technologies such as WLAN or Bluetooth. Learn more: what is comfee?

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