Induction stoves: The technology, the politics and why much of the world is on board

And the reasons America doesn’t feel the need to move to induction cooking.

TikTok celebrity chef Jonathan Kung, with an audience of 1.6 million, did not plan to fall in love with induction cooking; it happened by chance.

Detroit-based, Kung was cooking at an event at the city’s Museum of History about a decade ago. There was no kitchen — just a room with little ventilation and no source of gas. So Kung bought an induction cooktop and had it installed.

Right away, he was smitten and has never looked back. “I fell in love with the convenience of it,” he said, adding that induction cooking has an “insane” level of precision that you just can’t get with gas or electric.

“I’m doing things on my induction that I don’t even think about anymore,” Kung said. “I was just simmering a pot at 190 degrees, which I know to be level six on my induction cooktop, which is that perfect poaching temperature for really good chicken.”

A white-hot trend — everywhere but the U.S.

Kung says his preference for induction over gas still makes him an outlier in the chef world and beyond. But, he adds, it’s really just the U.S. that’s holding fast to their gas and electric stoves; it’s a very popular kitchen appliance in Asia and Europe.

“The rest of the modernized world had been clued in on this technology,” he said. “Induction has been around since the ’70s. It’s not some newfangled spaceship technology.”

Lisa McManus, executive editor at America’s Test Kitchen, said that it’s understandable why there might be some holdouts: Our affinity for gas stoves is related to humans’ primitive relationship with fire as an essential resource.

“Flames are very primal,” she said. “Cavemen ancestors probably cooked on flame over the millennia, so we are very tuned to flame.”

Another reason people seem to love gas over induction, McManus said, is that there is a tactile feel to cooking with a flame. You can turn the heat up and down on an induction cooktop, but you can’t see the immediate change in flame level that you can see on a gas stove. She added that induction cooktops might seem a “little cold” or overly “futuristic” to some.

And why America specifically doesn’t see the need to move to induction cooking? Unlike Europe, Richard Young, director of outreach for the Frontier Energy Food Service Technology Center, hypothesized, America has not been compelled by circumstance to adopt and popularize induction cooktops.

The U.S. has not grappled with the same type of population density as some European countries, he said. Europe, he added, also has expensive energy and real estate, so they have naturally been more inclined to adopt fuel-efficient cooking methods.

Another factor? Architecture. European homes tend to be more insulated and airtight than homes in the U.S., making them incompatible with running a large gas burner in a tight space.

A political debate boils over

Beyond a disagreement based on culture and circumstance, the induction verses gas or electric cooking has also gotten ridiculously political.

The commissioner’s suggestion caused an uproar amongst Republicans and those defending the fossil fuel industry.

And despite the Biden administration emphasizing that it does not support a ban, some Republicans didn’t want to let the talking point go. Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas), the Washington Post reported, went as far as promoting a petition “to stop Biden from banning our stoves.”

But the gas versus induction cooktop debate continues to rage on social media and television news.

Induction cooktops have been simmering in the market for over a century

The first patents for induction cooking were granted in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that Frigidaire came up with prototype models — and even then, they were never produced.

Flash forward to the Cool Top 2 (CT2) in the 1970s, introduced by Westinghouse electric corporation — the first company to produce the modern induction stove at a very hefty 1970s-era price of $1,500. But production stopped when Westinghouse sold its consumer products division in 1975.

And what makes induction cooktops so deliciously appealing?

Safety is a big draw as well.

Induction stovetops do not use an open flame, so there is little risk of anything catching fire. Also, because induction heat is made in the pan and not through the cooking unit, the stovetop itself will not get hot unless there is an induction-compatible pan on it. (Glass, aluminum and copper are not induction compatible.)

Lastly, there is no danger of gas leaks because induction stoves run on electricity.

And then there’s why amateur and celebrity chefs alike love them: speed, control and power. Rachelle Boucher, owner of Kitchens to Life and cooking appliance trainer, said some induction stoves can boil a pot of water twice as fast as gas. Boucher also pointed out that you have more control over temperature. (Some models allow you to set a specific temperature.)

There have been recent style and technological updates to induction stoves too.

To name just a few, Boucher said some brands have made the technology quieter, eliminating the loud noises and vibrations of earlier models. She added that Samsung now offers induction cooktops with a virtual flame that reflects on the bottom of the pan, mimicking the look of a gas flame to satisfy that primal need for fire. Some induction cooktops also have a “cook anywhere surface,” which allows you to cook on the entire surface of the cooktop.

Kung is confident that even though induction technology has not fully caught on in the U.S., it will soon.

“Regardless of what anybody really says out on the internet, people just want the best of what is available,” he said. “And they’re going to find that this technology [induction] is what that is.”

How an induction stove gets cooking

How does an induction stovetop work? It’s all about magnets.

The stove uses a magnetic field to produce heat. “Induction is an advanced cooking technology that uses a copper coil to create a magnetic field, which excites the molecules in the cookware, causing it to heat up,” explained Young.

An induction cooktop, which has an electromagnetic heating surface, simply looks like a piece of glass without coils or burners. But, as Young said, underneath the glass top there is a coil, which electricity runs through, creating a magnetic field. He emphasized that the magnetic field on its own cannot create heat. But if you place a ferrous pan on the cooktop in the magnetic field, the pan will interact with the magnetic field and become the source of heat.

“All of the heating when you are cooking with induction happens in that pan,” Young explained. “There’s no heat being generated by the cooking unit itself, everything’s in the pan.”

Induction cooking, unlike gas cooking, directly heats the pan using electromagnetic energy. Per reporting from USA Today, induction cooktops give about 80 percent to 90 percent of its electromagnetic energy to food in the pan, while gas cooktops, which heat indirectly, only convert around 38 percent of its energy.

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