Air fryers are one of the wonder appliances of the last decade or so. Alongside multi-cookers such as Instant Pots, they have sold in their millions. While Philips launched the original version, there are now many options on the market for consumers to choose from, and they come in many sizes.
They have been praised as a way to make fried food into something that could be described as healthy. People have used them to balance their diet more evenly while still enjoying some naughty snacks such as French fries.
Air fryers can be used for some great recipes. Indeed, one of the best uses for Vermont’s maple syrup could be to make glazed salmon in an air fryer. But would that be truly healthy?
Are air fryers as good as they are being made out to be, and could there actually be something rather harmful going on in your cooking?
What actually is an air fryer?
If you are reading this article then there is a reasonable likelihood that you either own one, are thinking of making a purchase, or at least know what an air fryer is.
Nevertheless, in case you don’t understand what an air fryer is, here is a brief description. An air fryer works something along the same lines as a convection oven.
It has a heating element that sits above the food, and this reaches high temperatures. Up to 400 Fahrenheit in most cases. The air fryer is airtight, and thus the air inside soon builds up to the required temperature. An in-built fan circulates the air rapidly, and this cooks the food.
The process allows food to be prepared with a similar taste, texture, and appearance to fried food.
How popular are air fryer appliances?
Air fryers are extremely popular and show no signs of disappearing. They are similar to Instant Pots in that they have built up a huge online following. Websites such as Cooking School Dropout, show users how to make dozens of different recipes.
Other blogs let air fryer fanatics share their own ideas, and methods of cooking. There are also a lot of blogs and videos dedicated to healthy cooking with an air fryer. Many people will swear that air fryers have allowed them to improve their diet, and lose weight.
Why could air fryers be bad?
The cooking method used by air fryers is one of the reasons that people believe that they are healthy. However, it is this very same method that is causing alarm with some people.
When food is cooked at or above a temperature of 120°C, acrylamide can form. This compound appears in food during certain cooking methods and is believed to be carcinogenic. Studies with animals have shown that high doses of acrylamides can cause cancer.
The temperature needed to create acrylamide is usually said to be 120°C. However, the NCBI produced a study on acrylamide which showed it could form at below 100°C.
Air fryers can cook up to 200°C. Herein lies the concern. Also, the type of food that is typically cooked in an air fryer is more susceptible to acrylamide production.
Potatoes, plant-based food, and grains, all create acrylamides when cooked at high temperatures. Breaded meat, French fries, and other foods that are typically cooked in an air fryer are therefore most at risk from developing acrylamides.
Are air fryers healthy for people to use?
As a means of cooking healthy food, they are certainly better than deep frying. Deep or shallow frying is generally linked to unhealthy food and snacks, which lead to obesity and other health problems.
WebMD says that using an air fryer can reduce calories by up to 80%. This is obviously a good thing, especially for anyone looking to reduce the amount of fat or calories in their diet.
The reason that there are fewer calories in food from air fryers is due to the lack of oil used. And this is important to understand, as this may be why acrylamides might not be a problem.
The same WebMD report noted that acrylamide production can be cut by 90% if an air fryer is used. But why is that?
Do air fryers not form acrylamide?
The worrying compound acrylamide can come from many different cooking methods. It doesn’t just appear in fried food, it can be found in cookies too.
Acrylamides are a compound that can be found in food when it is fried, baked, or roasted. They are rarely caused by steaming or boiling food. Even pressure cookers that use high temperatures are not thought to produce acrylamides.
Air fryers rarely use cooking oil. If they do, it is used extremely sparingly. Technically, air fryers aren’t actually frying, but they are still using high temperatures that are the cause of acrylamides.
The lack of oil though, and perhaps pertinently, the lack of reused cooking oil, helps to lower the chances of acrylamides forming.
It could also be that due to the food in an air fryer being cooked faster than by other methods, this also helps to avoid acrylamides. While the temperature inside an air fryer can reach 400 Fahrenheit, the food doesn’t stay in the appliance very long.
Perhaps the short cooking time reduces the chance of acrylamides forming.
There are some kitchen appliances that you need to have. Some swear by their blenders, and others by their multi-cookers. All some people need is a toaster and a good coffee maker.
However, if you are considering an air fryer, or already have one, you can probably feel relaxed about using it. It would appear that not only do air fryers reduce calorie intake, but they may be cutting out dangerous chemicals that other cooking methods create.
Using an air fryer in moderation, or with healthy ingredients, could actually be beneficial if your diet already consists of fried food. You will be lowering the amount of fat you consume, and you will also be helping the environment by producing less waste cooking oil.