Have you been seeing more and more air fryer recipes lately? Many people are falling in love with air fryers these days because they can recreate some classic (yet not very healthy) favorites … think chicken wings, onion rings and french fries … at home without a massive amount of oil.
An air fryer is about the size of a toaster oven and can be used for all kinds of recipes from meat main courses to roasted veggies and more.
A major plus of the air fryer is that it doesn’t’ require all of the heat and cooking time of a full-size oven. But wait, is this cooking device actually healthy in addition to being convenient and cost-effective? Let’s take a closer look!
What Is an Air Fryer?
An air fryer is a cooking appliance that can be used to heat food. It’s often described as a smaller version of a convection oven. Air fryers can fry foods without oil, which is one of their most popular uses. They can can also bake, roast and grill what you put inside of them.
These kitchen devices come in a variety of sizes ranging from two liters to six liters. How much do they cost? They typically retail somewhere between $70 to $400. The cost can be on the higher side when it comes with additional features such as a skewer rack, pizza pan or cake barrel.
Compared to deep frying (which uses large quantities of oil), most air fryer recipes only require 1–2 teaspoons of oil, while others don’t require any oil at all. For breaded air fryer recipes, you may need 1–2 tablespoons of oil, which is still a lot less oil than what is commonly used for deep frying. Many deep frying recipes using a pan recommend 4–6 cups of oil. Meanwhile, the use of an actual deep fryer can require 2 quarts of oil just to reach the “minimum” line.
Air Fryer vs. Other Common Cooking Appliances
How do air fryers compare to other cooking devices such as an oven, microwave or pressure cooker? As mentioned earlier, it can be used most similarly to an oven, but it’s smaller, so it takes less time to heat up … but also fits less food.
An air fryer can reheat food like a microwave, but it’s not as fast a microwave. On the plus side, air fryers don’t use questionable electromagnetic radiation like microwaves.
While a pressure cooker uses high pressure to cook food, an air fryer uses the circulation of dry air. Both pressure cookers and air fryers can cut down on cooking time. The major difference is that an air fryer is typically used for foods that you would normally fry, grill, bake, roast, toast, dehydrate or reheat. A pressure cooker is used in situations where you would typically boil, steam or cook something on a stovetop, such as a soup or stew.
How Does an Air Fryer Work?
You’re probably wondering how air fryers cook food. Air fryers are like tiny ovens with a convection feature. Air fryers have a fan inside that disperses hot air around food at a high speed. Food put inside of an air fryer gets cooked from all sides by a consistent flow of heat.
The way that an air fryer cooks food results in a crispy, browned layer similar to conventional frying techniques. Like traditional frying, an air frying induces what is chemically known as the Maillard reaction. This is the interaction between sugars and the amino acids found in proteins, which results in that browned appearance and flavor so many people love.
But the big difference is that an air fryer creates that crispy brown texture and taste with just a small amount of oil rather than completely submerging food in massive amounts of hot oil.
Wondering how to use an air fryer? Each air fryer comes with easy-to-follow instructions unique to that machine. Some air fryers will have settings for air frying different types of foods such as fries, pizza, wings, etc. as well as settings for baking and roasting. Other air fryers simply have time and temperature settings.
What Do You Cook in an Air Fryer?
An air fryer can substitute for a larger oven in most cases, but there are some foods that people especially love using air fryers for, including:
- Previously fried and frozen items such as tater tots, french fries, fish sticks and chicken nuggets
- Homemade versions of typically fried foods such as french fries, fish sticks, chicken wings, chicken nuggets, potato chips
- A whole chicken (if it’s small) or parts of a chicken (like legs and wings)
- Roasted veggies such as garlic and cubed sweet potato
- Crispy chickpeas
- Pastries and brownies
- Small pizzas
There are so many air fryer recipes to choose from. An air fryer can help you to make healthy recipes, but not all air fryer recipes are good for you. Be sure to look carefully at the ingredients used in any recipe, because an air fryer recipe isn’t automatically healthy.
Speaking of ingredients used in air fryer recipes, avoid highly refined oils like canola oil and use healthier options such as coconut oil or avocado oil.
What You Don’t Cook
While an air fryer can take the place of a traditional frying device to create healthier versions of fried foods, you can’t make food that involves a liquid batter unless you freeze it first.
Of course, due to its smaller size, an air fryer is not ideal for making large quantities of food or doing meal preparation for an entire week.
If you have more than a few mouths to feed, you can still use an air fryer, but you’ll have to cook in batches.
Are Air Fryers Healthy?
Some air fryers and/or their accessories have non-stick coatings and chemicals like PFOA, so read product labels carefully. Some air fryers use stainless steel baskets or even glass bowls so there are many options to choose from, and you can always ask manufacturers for additional information on the materials they use in their air fryer.
Aside from chemical concerns, air fryers can be a healthier alternative to deep fryers. There are a few main reasons why air fryers can be a healthier cooking option:
Decrease Fat and Calorie Consumption
In general, fried foods are known for their higher fat and calorie content in comparison to other ways of cooking.
Some makers of air fryers claim that the devices can reduce the fat content of fried foods from 70 to 80 percent.
While the percentage may vary, an air fryer certainly reduced the amount of oil used to cook foods compared to deep frying. When foods are deep fried, they are completely submerged in hot oil, while an air fryer only requires a light coating of oil if any at all.
Reduce the Formation of Harmful Compounds
In addition to high calories and fat content, fried foods also have a bad reputation for containing trans fats and harmful chemical compounds that form as the result of deep frying. One of the most well-known harmful chemicals is acrylamide, which can form in some foods during high-temperature cooking like deep frying.
According to the FDA, “Acrylamide caused cancer in animals in studies where animals were exposed to acrylamide at very high doses. In 2010, the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) concluded that acrylamide is a human health concern, and suggested additional long-term studies. ”
Air frying may cut down on the acrylamide content of foods compared to deep frying. A study published in 2015 in the Journal of Food Science found that air frying decreased acrylamide content by around 90 percent compared to conventional deep oil frying.
Possible Weight Loss Aid
Foods made in an air fryer are inherently lower in fat and calories compared to the same foods made in a deep fryer.
A cross-sectional study of over 30,000 people in Spain highlights how an increased consumption of fried foods was associated with a greater risk of obesity.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s a good idea to avoid deep-fried foods. If you opt for air-fried versions of your favorite foods instead, you can easily trim calories and fat content off of those traditional recipes, which can be helpful for weight loss.
You can also simply use air fryers to more quickly bake or roast healthy foods. So if you’re trying to lose weight and are challenged by the time aspect of cooking healthy meals for yourself, an air fryer can help you to make recipes like roasted veggies more easily and on a more regular basis.
- Air fryers are often purchased by people who want to eat their favorite fried foods but cut down on the fat and calories of those foods, which may help some users to lose weight.
- Air fryers can also help to decrease the harmful trans fats and chemicals like acrylamide that are found in many deep fried foods.
- In addition to air-frying, you can use air fryers to bake, roast, grill, dehydrate and reheat food.
- Many people also love air fryers because they are a quick and convenient way to heat food, which can make cooking healthy homemade meals more attainable.