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Induction cooking: what is it and how does it work?

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Induction cooking heats a cooking vessel by electromagnetic induction, instead of by thermal conduction from a flame, or an electrical heating element.

For nearly all models of induction cooktops, a cooking vessel must be made of or contain a ferromagnetic metal such as cast iron or stainless steel.

Copper, glass and aluminum vessels can be placed on a ferromagnetic interface disk which functions as a conventional hotplate.

Induction cooking- what is it and how does it work

In an induction cooker, a coil of copper wire is placed under the cooking pot and an alternating electric current is passed through it.

The resulting oscillating magnetic field induces a magnetic flux, producing an eddy current in the ferrous pot, which acts like the secondary winding of a transformer.

The eddy current flowing through the resistance of the pot heats it.

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How does induction cooking work?

Induction cooking uses electric currents to directly heat pots and pans through magnetic induction.

Unlike traditional gas or electric cooking methods, induction heats the cooking vessel almost instantly.
Induction cooking is becoming more and more popular, and with good reason.

It is more efficient than traditional cooking methods with an almost 70% reduction in energy consumption – 90% of the energy produced is channeled into the pan itself.

As a result, food cooks faster and uses less power. Induction cooking is also safer, as there is no open flame or element to ignite fumes or cause burns.

Electromagnetic induction works exactly the opposite way an electrical generator works.

You see an electrical generator has a permanent magnet metal core spinning around a coil of wires with hundreds and even thousands of loops of copper wires around the core.

Each time the magnetic flux hits the coils electrons are excited (ejected) from the atoms of the magnetic core and are captured by brushes, which then becomes your household electricity.

With electromagnetic induction, however, the process is reversed and a coil of copper wires are assembled in a concentric circle and electrical energy is passed through it, thus creating a magnetic flux or field perpendicular to the coils.

Now the coils or the magnetic field itself will not produce any heat whatsoever; however, once you place a ferromagnetic metal plate (or in the case of an induction hob – an iron bottom induction plate), then the magnetic field will react with the iron in the plate.

But since iron is a poor conductor of electricity, then the electrons in the magnetic field from the coils – due to their very high excited state with the added high frequency charged through the coils – creates a lot of friction with the molecules on the iron bottom of the induction plate.

It is these frictional forces acting upon the induction plate that causes the heat and it heats up the food inside the plate much faster compared to a normal gas cooktop stove.

History of induction cooking

Induction heating comes from electromagnetic induction.

When famous Serbian genius inventor, Nikola Tesla, first discovered that the electric field from an electromagnetic field could be extracted using his AC machine (the AC generator), physicist Michael Faraday wondered if the reverse was achievable.

Indeed Faraday cracked the electromagnetic induction and thanks to him we now have the induction hob, the computer hard drives, electrical transformers, induction motors and generators, Eddy currents, back EMF (electromotive force) and other applications for it.

As early as the 1990s induction hobs had already been circulating the US Patent Office, but investors did not realize its potential yet.

One significant event in history that highlighted the amazing abilities of induction hobs was when back in the 1950s one of General Motors’ subsidiaries – Frigidaire – built prototypes tech platform demonstrators and was shown heating a pot of water with a newspaper placed between the stove and the pot, to demonstrate the convenience and safety.

However, this technology would not be fully appreciated until the 1970s and slowly induction hobs started flooding the US market until its success today.

What is an induction hob?

An induction hob is a large household electrical appliance that use electromagnetic induction heating to provide heat and cook food.

Often most induction plates are lined with iron at the bottom part and as such electromagnetic induction is able to heat up the whole bottom section of the induction plate or any other cooking utensils in mere seconds or minutes depending on how high you set the temperature at.

All other cooking hobs cook food through convection, but the induction hob’s ring does not radiate heat, instead, it emits electromagnetic flux.

So if you touch it while cooking your food you will feel nothing as the only thing that heats up is the iron plate.

Pros & cons of induction cooking

As with all kitchenware, the induction hob is not without flaws, but it has a lot of benefits also considering the amazing technology behind it.

One notable difference between the induction hob versus the other hobs like the gas stove is that it is safer to use as even if you accidentally placed a paper towel or other combustible items in its rings it will not ignite and start a fire.

If you keep reading below, you will actually find that all the pros are worth the cons of the induction hob.

Pros of induction cooking

Speed

The induction hob is probably the fastest cooking machine that can raise the temperature of water to its boiling point or 100° Celsius and this video proves it beyond any doubt.

It beats the gas burner by a mile when it boiled the water in the pan in just 2.5+ minutes on the cooktop.

Responsiveness

It’s a common incident when you cook something with water and boil it for a few minutes to a few hours and all of a sudden when you come back to check on your casserole and the water in it has overflowed spilling all over the hob.

This does not happen with induction hobs as heats the pan directly it is quite responsive to the rise and fall of temperatures as you make adjustments to it.

As a matter of fact, induction hobs are better than gas stoves in some aspects.

Energy efficiency

If you’re read the basics of thermodynamics, then you would know that energy transfer means energy converts into so many things all around us.

For instance, thermal energy like fire transfers heat via convection using air as a medium thus in almost all occasions the surrounding area near the heat source also becomes warmer than the general temperature outside of the influence of the heat source.

This warming of the surrounding is called “heat loss” and it is quantified as inefficiency in the production and use of energy (in this case the fire from the gas stove/gas hob).

However, when it comes to induction hobs very little heat is lost and therefore, by design, it is very energy efficient.

When you cook in the induction hob you will not feel any warmth in the surrounding area like you would with a gas hob and that’s because the induction ring of the hob will only heat the iron plate of the pan.

This means that you will only ever use as much energy as you need to heat your food and a much smaller amount of energy is wasted.

Here is a YouTube video demonstration with an induction plate cut in half where they tested to cook an egg in it:

It showed half of the egg that fell inside the plate easily gets cooked while the other half that fell directly on the hob remains gooey and never got cooked.

You’ll save energy and will be charged very little on your monthly electric bill for the induction hub, plus you’ll greatly reduce your carbon footprint too!

Easy to clean

As induction hobs are a flat surface, they are very easy to clean. All you need is some soapy water and a cloth. Job done!

Easy to use

Cooking food with an induction hob is as simple as pressing a button and depending on how much heat you’ll need for your stainless steel induction plate/pot/pan, then you simply need to adjust the temperature settings.

You can also cook multiple recipes in a flex induction or zoneless hob as almost the entire surface of the hob has active pads (with copper coils) that radiates electromagnetic flux.

Cons of induction cooking

Cost

If you’re the kind of person that sees a big difference between a $10 – $50 price variation when comparing brass burner gas stoves and induction hobs, then yes, you would equate this as a disadvantage in terms of your financial capacity.

However, if you’re an opportunist and weigh in all the benefits that the induction hob has, then you wouldn’t mind all those extra costs as you will save more money in the long run.

Pans

The only thing that’s not very likable about induction hobs is that in order for you to be able to cook your favorite dishes with it is that you’d need an induction-compatible pan set of cookware also.

However, your pan set may already be suitable for use with induction if it’s made from magnetic stainless steel or cast iron.

In case you’re unsure whether you have ferromagnetic pans or not, all you have to do is stick a magnet bar with them.

If they stick with the magnet, then they are induction compatible.

Installation

Since induction hobs not only use electricity to power themselves but also increase the frequency of the electrical current that they use, they need to be installed with a specific electrical requirement.

Induction hobs need to be connected to a dedicated line of 6mm cable that runs with a 31 amperes circuit breaker, or a 10mm cable with a 45 amperes breaker if the isolator switch does not come with a 13 amperes socket.

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.