Time was when cooking implied the use of charcoal fires, and later, gas cylinders. There was no question of cooking procedure, simply because there was only one. In the 21st Century, however, there are many cooking methods, with infrared cooking being perhaps the latest and the least understood of them all. Perhaps the best representatives of infrared cooking today are infrared ovens, and these ovens are often marketed using complex terminology that obscures more than it elucidates. Add to them the recurrent fears of “infrared radiation”, and you have the perfect combination for confusing and scaring away homemakers who stand to gain the most from the adoption of this new technology. Now there is no reason why homemakers should be either swayed by peculiar jargon, or repelled by them from actual benefits of infrared cooking. To this end, we have compiled below a short guide to understanding the mechanism behind infrared cooking and how the different infrared oven parts play different roles in infrared cooking. Once we have understood the basics, we shall try to see whether the oft-cited fears about infrared cooking hold any water. 

What Is Infrared Radiation?

Before we ask ourselves “what is infrared cooking”, we need to know what infrared radiation is. As you would have learned in science class, infrared is one of the three types of heat conduction mechanism, which transmits heat in the form of electromagnetic waves across space (and some media). Once this heat reaches a surface which does not easily conduct heat (most foodstuffs fall in this category), or reflect it, this heat is absorbed by the molecules of the substance, and transmitted to its core, thus heating it from the inside out. This heating system, is in fact the most common, with everything from the sun’s rays to the electric fireplace heater heating the surroundings by transmitting rays to the surroundings, which in most cases, includes us human beings.  

But How Does An Infrared Oven Use Such A Heating System?

Infrared ovens typically include three major components:

  1. Heating element, usually a far infrared heating element

  2. A glass or plastic container

  3. Metal racks and base

The heating element, as expected, produces the infrared rays, which vary in waveband depending upon the temperature. Such rays are, as a rule, always confined within a container of glass or plastic, which is called the Dome in industry parlance. Inside it, the metal rack(s) are placed on the base, which completes the infrared oven setup. The food is placed either on the base, or as is more common, on the metal racks.

Now when infrared rays hit the sides of the container/dome, they are bounced back at acute angles by the material of the container. They may undergo multiple such “bounce backs” before hitting the food, where they combine with rays directly transmitted from the heating element to heat the molecules of the food, eventually causing the food to be heated inside out.

Since the rays are striking the food from all directions, it follows that the food will be heated evenly, regardless of the position in which it is kept (unless of course a part is covered by tinfoil, since this metal foil tends to reflect rays back). Such even and endless application of infrared rays causes the food to get cooked thoroughly, evenly and quickly. This, as many nutritional experts argue, allows infrared cooking to lock the juices of the food inside, while preventing excess or undercooking, which is known to leave or produce undesirable elements in the food.  

But What About The Fears Raised About Infrared Cooking?

Any discussion on infrared rays, electromagnetic waves and suchlike is sure to turn off the average person’s appetite, making him/her wonder if the cooked food will turn out to be some monstrosity. Some may still be willing to take the “risk”, but many simply continue with the more inefficient (and sometimes downright harmful) conventional cooking methods. Below we have studied the various claims/fears about infrared cooking, and tried to see if they should be factored in when considering an infrared oven.

  • Infrared rays are radiation after all – True, but radiation is everywhere, as our example of the sun and the fireplace heater illustrated. Everyday we are exposed to radiation when we move into the sun, etc, and even our conventional ovens use radiation (albeit very inefficiently) to cook food. The bottom line is, infrared is safe.

  • Staring/being near infrared cooking appliances for long periods is dangerous – Merely being near infrared ovens is not harmful at all, since infrared ovens (provided they are not malfunctioning) do not emit infrared rays outside the containers. However, staring at any bright source of heat for long can be harmful to your eyes, so it is advisable not to stare at the heating element (as opposed to the infrared oven in general) for prolonged periods.

  • Infrared ovens reduce taste – Food science is yet to fully decipher the exact reactions which go into cooking food, and how various cooking technologies affect such reactions. However, this applies as much to your traditional oven (or other cooking appliance) as to infrared ovens. However, it is known that fast and thorough cooking ensures better taste by ensuring that the intermediary components of the chemical reactions in the foodstuffs are not lost through delay (or overheating), and this ensures better taste.

  • Infrared cooking is for non vegetarians – Most of us have had nightmares cooking poultry or meat in conventional ovens, so it is natural to hail infrared ovens’ superior cooking abilities as a solution to our headaches. However, this excessive focus on meat often obscures the fact that most of us cook a substantial amount of vegetables as well. Infrared ovens are equally capable of handling vegetables and vegan recipes, with similar improvements in quality of the dishes and reduction in the time taken to cook the foods. However, since vegetables tend to take even less time than meats, it is important to set the right time and keep a close eye when preparing a vegetable dish for the first time. Once one gets used to the cooking times and procedures, cooking any dish, vegan or non veg, will be a breeze.

As this short guide shows, infrared cooking is merely the most efficient way to use radiant heat to cook food. It can be regarded in a way as a natural successor to the various heating conventional heating technologies, and not any newfangled invention from a sci-fi movie. Though this implies that infrared cooking is safe, it is necessary to understand exactly what is true and what is mere fallacy. Hence, we devoted a separate section to handling the specific concerns of various homemakers, so as to drive home the point that while precautions may be needed (like they are with any electrical appliance) infrared cooking is surely safe, and coupled with its many benefits, superior to conventional cooking procedures.