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Cooking food at home may have just gotten safer and easier, thanks to the help of an induction cooktop that controls and intensifies heat using electromagnetism. However, this is no new phenomenon. Induction cooking has been around for decades but until recently never made it past a restaurant's kitchen.

How does it work?

Traditional electric cooktops use some form of electric resistance to create heat, which is transferred to the saucepan and its contents. Induction cooking is based on magnetic fields: each ‘element’ (an induction coil) generates a magnetic field that induces heat in steel cookware placed on top of it. In essence, the pot becomes the element that cooks the food, so the cooktop surface doesn’t get as hot as other cooktops. Induction cooktops have the same instant control as gas and are the fastest of all cooktop types to heat and cook food.

The only stipulations include:

  • pots and pans must be made of steel, cast iron or other combinations of metals that will react with the magnetic field.
  • a kitchen must be wired for 220 volts (which is not likely if you are using gas).

What’s more, the induction cooktop is more energy efficient:

  • Induction cooking uses 90% of the energy produced compared to only 55% for a gas burner and 65% for traditional electric ranges.
  • Induction provides extremely fast boil and re-boil, over 50% faster than gas or electric

The surface of the cooktop does not heat up, so overflows and spills do not stick. The cooking surface stays cool even during the cooking cycle.

The Magnetic Factor

Induction cooking uses the transfer of magnetic energy (magnetic coils) — rather than flames or electric elements — to generate heat. Within this magnetic field, molecules in the pan jumble around at very high frequencies; the friction creates instant heat.

Induction cooking uses 90% of the energy produced compared to only 55% for a gas burner and 65% for traditional electric ranges.

If consumers are curious if the pans they already own are capable of induction cooking, all they have to do is hold a magnet to the bottom of the pan. If the magnet sticks, the pan will work with induction.

Cleaning

Induction cooktops are easy to clean. They have a continuous surface with no dirt traps, and the controls are touch-sensitive, so there are no knobs to clean around. Because the surface doesn’t get as hot as other electric cooktops, most spillages won’t bake on, although you do have to be careful with sugar because it can still pit the surface. On the downside, some models don’t have a lip around the edge to contain spills, and you may have to buy a special cream to keep it streak-free.

Cost

Induction cooktops are expensive. Typical price: Twin-element: around $1700; two radiant ceramic and two induction elements (as one unit): $1800–$2500; four induction elements: $3000–$4000+.

More information: Induction Cooktops