By the amount of buzz it has generated in the past several months, you would think that the air fryer is a recent invention. The truth is it’s actually been around for a decade now. Dutch conglomerate Philips patented the “Rapid Air Technology” used in air fryers back in 2010. But what does that mean? Let us demystify this cooking method for you.
A typical convection oven cooks food by using heated air (via gas or electricity) inside its chamber. To help speed things up and make sure that the food is evenly cooked, a fan is used to circulate the air. It’s the same process inside an air fryer, except the air circulated is much faster, and sometimes, also hotter. This is why an air fryer can produce that crunchy deep fried-like texture without oil.
Its ability to deliver this crunchiness sans oil is one of its biggest selling points, poising it as a healthier alternative to traditional deep-frying. When you take the convenience it promises into consideration, you’ll understand the hype behind it. But what if you already have an oven? Should you still buy an air fryer? Is this trendy kitchen gadget just a passing fad or a must-have? Ahead, the answers.
What are the benefits of using an air fryer?
It’s healthier and safer than deep-frying
Let’s start with the biggest promise of air frying: a healthier option than deep-frying. The truth? Yes, it is generally healthier. It can help lessen the fat content and decrease the amount of acrylamide (a probable carcinogenic compound generated when cooking at high temperatures) from the food you’re cooking.
Potential injuries related to deep-frying like accidental skin burns are also eliminated. “There’s no risk of getting burns from splashes of oil! It also needs less attention. I simply put the food inside, push the right buttons, and then the food is ready. You can leave and do other things and not risk causing a fire,” Foodie and Clozette Philippines Country Manager Geoff Ledesma shared.
It’s very convenient and versatile
Air fryers are very compact and it’s great for small spaces. With all the cute and elegant designs available in the market right now, an air fryer can also double as home decor. Married couple Shermaine and Gary purchased their air fryer when they moved into their own place in Singapore and it proved to be worth the hype. They shared that they can cook a lot of recipes with this mini but mighty kitchen gadget. “Our favourites are chicken wings and roast pork,” Shermaine said.
But savoury meals are not the only thing you can cook in an air fryer. You can also cook snacks in just five to 10 minutes. “We love using it to cook siomai (a dim sum snack), french fries, and sausages. Basically, anything that requires deep-frying we just opt to use the air fryer instead,” Features Writer Alyana Olivar shared.
But what you may be surprised to know is that air fryers can also be used to bake pastries. You can even bake a cookie!
What are the drawbacks to using an air fryer?
Before you buy an air fryer, you might want to consider these factors first.
Some health concerns
Yes, air frying is healthier than deep-frying but that doesn’t mean it’s free of health concerns. People may be lured into a false sense of security that anything you cook in an air fryer is automatically good for you. Cooking french fries in an air fryer may be healthier than deep-frying but it doesn’t mean eating air-fried french fries every day is healthy.
There’s also the danger that people with air fryers will be more likely to consume more fried foods because it’s now more convenient. Remember, air frying is still frying and there are still a number of risks associated with it like a higher risk of developing cancer, diabetes and heart failure. In the end, it’s still a balanced diet that counts.
You might still need to use a little oil
Air fryers can cook food without oil, but it doesn’t always deliver that scrumptious taste without it. “Flavour-wise, there’s really a limitation with using air fryers,” said Chef Nathaniel Lu. “The texture, flavour and crust formed when you deep fry something is still different. And you can taste that difference.”
Alyana shared that she experienced this the first time she tried to cook gyoza (dumpling) in her air fryer. “I admit, it wasn't as satisfying since the crunch was relatively non-existent,” she said. The solution she had was to add cooking oil to it to achieve that deep-fried taste and texture. Geoff had the same experience but instead of putting oil in the air fryer, he went back to doing it the traditional way. “I realised that some food still tastes better when fried with oil,” he said.
It’s hard to clean
One con to air frying shared by those we spoke to is maintenance, particularly the cleaning. “It's a bit of a pain to clean, to be honest. If you cook fish in it, the smell clings to the pot and you have to let it soak a bit to remove the odour,” Alyana said. It’s not just the fish smell that can stick to the air fryer; Gary and Shermaine shared that meat fat sometimes sticks to the metal pan. Gary has found a solution to this dilemma, though. Use a silicone pan. “My colleagues have recommended that I use a silicone pan which you place into the air fryer tray so that after using it, you simply need to wash the silicon. This makes it easier than washing the metal pan,” he said.
Should you buy an air fryer if you already have an oven?
This is a heated debate and both sides have merit. Admittedly, the term “air fryer” is a genius marketing label. Air fryers work almost the same way as a convection oven, and they’re basically optimised tabletop ovens. So, should you buy an air fryer even if you have an oven? Here’s our take.
Yes, if you still don’t have a permanent place...
If you’re renting and you move from place to place frequently, owning an air fryer could be beneficial. You never know if the place you’re gonna live in next will have an oven or just a single cooktop, so having an air fryer will be beneficial. It’s also easier to move an air fryer than a big oven.
Yes, if you live with yourself or only a few people…
The compact size of an air fryer is a double-edged sword. While it’s space-saving, it’s not the ideal gadget if you’re living with a big group of people because you can only cook small portions of a recipe in it at a time. But if you only live with yourself or a few people, it’s a good choice to have one. “It’s more economical than using an oven in terms of electric use and also for the unit price,” Chef Nathaniel Lu said. So if you don’t have a budget for an oven and you’re just cooking for yourself, go for an air fryer.
Geoff, who lives alone, shared that it’s super handy. “I live alone so it’s important for me to have tools that make cooking easier. It’s perfect because I don’t have a lot of space at home so having one appliance that can accommodate all my cooking needs is definitely a life-saver,” he said.
Yes, if you’re not familiar with handling ovens...
Although air fryers are harder to clean than frying pans, it still has much easier upkeep than a standard oven which may need a more thorough cleaning, gas line replacements, filter replacements and more. “On the context of usefulness, it is a matter of what the user is knowledgeable in using. I personally think that all new kitchen equipment creates that hype in both home and professional kitchens because it introduces a novel way of making food. But before you buy one, you should consider your cooking skills as well and if you’re more familiar with doing the old way then stick to it,” Chef Nathaniel Lu said.
Air fryer recommendations
If you’ve made the decision to buy an air fryer all things considered, here are some recommendations from air fryer lovers.
Geoff: “I love the De'longhi Multifry Multicooker (PHP 22,800/~USD475). When I learned that Delonghi has a multi-fryer that can not only air-fry, but also bake, steam, roast, and many others, I wanted it right away."
Shermaine and Gary: “Mayer Air Fryer. We bought it for around only SGD100/~USD75. It’s been two years since and it’s still working well. Sturdy and worth the price!”
Alyana: “The one that I have is a generic air fryer from Shopee. Despite its cheap price (PHP1,999/~USD42), it works well and we were able to cook a lot of recipes with it. But I see this air fryer as a stepping stone. When I already have a budget, I’ll buy a bigger one with more functions.”
Air fryers have their own pros and cons. They’re compact and great for small spaces but not fit for cooking large quantities of food. The way it cooks food is healthier than deep-frying but may encourage more intake of fried food. But no need to “fry” your brain to make a decision, just go with what you think is best for you.
(Cover photo from: Mehrshad Rajabi via Unsplash)
Next, check out these other must-have kitchen gadgets to level up your cooking.