The rise of the air fryer

The latest cooking gadget has made a splash in student kitchens, harnessing the power of convection to “fry” food without the need for hot oil.

The air fryer has become a beloved kitchen appliance for preparing revamped home-cooked meals, spiking in popularity in recent years. The domestic gadget has benefited from substantial marketing hype and endless social media mentions – but what is the appliance, and how does it work?

Although coined a “fryer”, this may perhaps be a slight misnomer, as it may be more accurately described as a small-sized high-intensity convection oven. An air fryer uses hot air, rather than hot oil, to cook food by convection and emulate traditional frying. Convection is the process by which food is heated by a moving heat source, such as the hot air in an oven, or even the motion of boiling water in a pot. It has a fan that circulates hot air more efficiently than in a large oven, allowing the dehydration of the surface of foods rapidly and with limited amounts of oil. Convection baking has been a popular cooking methodology since the origin of culinary arts, and air fryers (despite their name) use the same physics of hot air transferring heat to food. The key difference, however, is that food cooking in an air fryer sits in a basket that has special channels and vents in its bottom and sides. These channels and vents allow the heated air to rapidly circulate underneath, across and over your food, mimicking the effect of submerging it in hot oil.

Air fryers are a wonderful invention that aid in the process of making flavoursome and textured food without any additional oil. The cooking method used with the air fryer is significantly healthier than others, as there is notably less oil involved. Oil is a fantastic medium for cooking because it retains and transports heat so well, but it also substantially increases the calorie content of the dish being prepared. Oil is a type of fat which increases low-density lipoproteins in the blood. This is a form of bad cholesterol, thus having the potential to create an artery blockage, and can be harmful to heart health.

Concerns have been raised in the past surrounding air fryers and their indirect contribution to negative health problems, such as fostering types of cancers, and so forth. However, this assumption is false, as no scientific evidence exists to suggest that air fryers cause cancers. Therefore, the equipment is completely safe to use, unless any food is burnt. This can lead to the release of unsafe chemicals – which is the case with any method of cooking that is adopted and is not exclusive to air fryers. As long as any cooked food is not charred until its exterior is visibly dark all over, air fried food is perfectly safe and healthy.

Furthermore, a majority of Irish households are struggling with the cost of living crisis, with energy bills in particular a cause for concern. Optimising energy efficiency is an area in which costs can be cut, including within the realm of cooking food. Using an air fryer for 15 minutes uses over 40% less energy than one hour of oven use, as the smaller size tends to maximise airflow and heat food much quicker than an oven. Most air fryers also do not require any preheating time, making them even more efficient. One could pay in the hundreds for an air fryer, but many great quality air fryers are available on the market within a 50-200 euro price range, with the median price being 120 euros. While perhaps being more expensive than the typical microwave, its functions and range surpass those of a standard microwave; and they seem to be certainly cheaper than a majority of electrical and gas ovens on sale.

In recent times, the air fryer has begun trending on social media platforms, such as TikTok, time and time again, with many accounts sharing hacks about how to produce a wide variety of unique foods quickly and easily with an air fryer. Some unique trends of recent times include the reheating of baked potatoes, creating nachos, and preparing cinnamon rolls. The Shaba Kitchen, who created a step-by-step video of air fry nachos gained over 11.4 million views on that video alone.

There is a running list of reasons to invest in an air fryer: speed, convenience, energy conservation, and a healthier cooking method – all while still resulting in crispy and moist foods. TikTok trend or not – the air fryer definitely seems to surpass any myths and produce great results in the kitchen; and certainly seems like it is going to stay around as one of the most popular kitchen appliances of the decade.

Alice Matty

Alice Matty is a Sex and Relationships Deputy Editor and is currently in her Junior Sophister Year studying Economics and Business.