What Are Air Fryers?
Last Updated on by Gabriel Goddy
Air fryers are must-have kitchen appliances. If you don’t have one, you might want to consider getting one after reading this review. In this guide, we’ll tell you all you need to know about air fryers, and their benefits too.
Air fryers are sold as a healthy alternative to deep-frying, but do they live up to the claims? A nutritionist explains the health benefits and drawbacks of air frying.
What Is An Air Fryer?
An air fryer is a kitchen appliance that cooks by circulating hot air around the food, by convection, to create a crunchy, crispy exterior, making it convenient for foods such as chips or fried chicken. They have been seen as a healthier alternative to deep-fat fryers – but are they?
Air fryers do use a lot less oil than deep fat fryers, and a 2015 study demonstrated that food cooked using an air fryer was substantially lower in fat. Less fat also means fewer calories.
However, they do still have some negative effects on food, and health. For example, one study showed that cooking sardines in an air fryer decreased the good fat content (poly-unsaturated fats) and slightly increased the cholesterol oxidation products, which can negatively affect cholesterol levels. However, some of this negative effect was further reduced by adding parsley and chives to the sardines, which act as natural antioxidants.
There is also evidence that using an air fryer reduces a compound known as acrylamide by up to 90%, compared to deep fat frying. Acrylamide is a chemical substance that is formed when starchy foods, such as potatoes, are cooked at high temperatures (above 120C) and it is a known carcinogen.
How Does an Air Fryer Work?
First of all, air fryers don’t actually fry. Instead, the food goes into a perforated basket and the machine cooks the food by blowing hot air around it. The force of the air produces a convection effect that cooks and browns the exterior of the food in the basket. As long as the temperature of the air reaches more than around 320 F, breaded foods like frozen chicken tenders or unbreaded starchy items like french fries or tater tots, will in fact turn brown.
What’s the difference between an air fryer and a deep fryer?
Air fryers bake food at a high temperature with a high-powered fan, while deep fryers cook food in a vat of oil that has been heated up to a specific temperature. Both cook food quickly, but an air fryer requires practically zero preheat time while a deep fryer can take upwards of 10 minutes.
Air fryers also require little to no oil and deep fryers require a lot that absorbs into the food. Food comes out crispy and juicy in both appliances but doesn’t taste the same, usually because deep-fried foods are coated in batter that cooks differently in an air fryer vs a deep fryer.
Battered foods need to be sprayed with oil before cooking in an air fryer to help them color and get crispy, while the hot oil soaks into the batter in a deep fryer. Flour-based batters and wet batters don’t cook well in an air fryer, but they come out very well in a deep fryer.
Is air-fried food healthy?
The taste and texture of air-fried food are comparable to the results of a deep fryer: Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. However, you only need to use a tiny amount of oil, if any at all (depending on what you’re cooking).
So yes, compared to deep-frying, air frying is “definitely a healthier alternative if you commit to using just 1-2 tablespoons of a plant-based oil with seasoning, and you stick to air-frying veggies more than anything else,” says Good Housekeeping’s Nutrition Director Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN. “Any appliance that helps you and your family up your veggie game is key to weight management, reduced risk of chronic disease, and improved long-term health as we age.”
Benefits of air fryers
When used properly, air fryers offer many healthful benefits:
- Using air fryers can promote weight loss
A higher intake of fried foods has direct links with higher obesity risk. This is because deep-fried foods tend to be high in fat and calories.
Switching from deep-fried foods to air-fried foods and reducing regular intake of unhealthful oils can promote weight loss.
- Air fryers can be safer than deep fryers
Deep-frying foods involves heating a large container full of scalding oil. This can pose a safety risk. While air fryers do get hot, there is no risk of spilling, splashing or accidentally touching hot oil. People should use frying machines carefully and follow instructions to ensure safety.
- Air fryers reduce the risk of toxic acrylamide formation
Frying food in oil can cause dangerous compounds to develop, such as acrylamide. This compound forms in certain foods during high-heat cooking methods, such as deep-frying.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, acrylamide may have links to the development of some cancers, including endometrial, ovarian, pancreatic, breast, and oesophageal cancer. Additional studiesTrusted Source has also suggested a link between dietary acrylamide and kidney, endometrial, or ovarian cancers, though the results are uncertain.
By switching to air frying, people can lower the risk of a trusted Source of having acrylamide in their food.
- Cutting down on deep-fried foods reduces disease risk
Cooking with oil and consuming traditional fried foods regularly has links to many adverse health conditions. Replacing deep frying with other cooking methods can reduce a person’s risk of these complications.
Do Air Fryers Make Tasty Food?
What’s more meaningful is whether the food cooked in an air fryer tastes good. The answer? It depends. If the food that goes in is tasty, it’ll be tasty. But again, the issue with foods like french fries, chicken wings, and tater tots is never that they don’t taste good enough.
The issue with those foods, to the extent there is an issue, has more to do with health, as well as convenience. Deep-frying might be the best way to cook conventional fried foods, but mucking about with oil isn’t all that convenient.
Are Air Fryers Convenient?
So, let’s look at the convenience. One issue with air fryers is their capacity. Because they work via the principle of convection, there has to be adequate space between the individual items for the hot air to flow evenly around them. Therefore, to get nicely browned food, you won’t be able to fill up the basket. And that means cooking small batches at a time.
That’s not necessarily a problem unless you need to feed more than two people at a time. Also, depending on the food, cooking time can approach 30 minutes per batch (with frequent shaking of the basket to ensure even cooking), so hopefully, those two people aren’t super hungry (or at least have something else to snack on while they wait).
One task that air fryers seem to be well-suited for is reheating previously fried foods. Unlike the oven or the microwave, which will turn crispy things soggy, the hot, convection effect of an air fryer is just the thing to reheat crispy foods so that they stay crispy. Is that reason enough to own one? That’s up to you. Even if its actual cooking capabilities might not amaze you, it’s reassuring to know that there is at least one thing that an air fryer does well.
What can you cook in an air fryer?
Air fryers are fast, and once you understand how they work, they can be used to heat frozen foods or cook all sorts of fresh food like chicken, steak, pork chops, salmon, and veggies. Most meats require no added oil because they’re already so juicy: just season them with salt and your favorite herbs and spices. Make sure you stick to dry seasonings — less moisture leads to crispier results. If you want to baste meats with barbecue sauce or honey, wait until the last couple of minutes of cooking.
Lean cuts of meat, or foods with little or no fat, require oil to brown and crisp up. Brush boneless chicken breasts and pork chops with a bit of oil before seasoning. Vegetable oil or canola oil is usually recommended due to its higher smoke point, meaning it can stand up to the high heat in an air fryer.
Vegetables also need to be tossed in oil before air frying. We recommend sprinkling them with salt before air frying, but use a little less than you’re used to: The crispy, air-fried bits pack a lot of flavors. We love air frying broccoli florets, Brussels sprouts, and baby potato halves. They come out so crispy! Butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and beets all seem to get sweeter, and green beans and peppers take no time at all.
Overall, air fryers are a healthier alternative to deep-fat frying, but cooking food in an air fryer is still classed as fried food. Fried food has been shown time and again to contribute to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, so if you use an air fryer, use it on occasion as part of a balanced diet, rather than every day.