If you’ve never heard of the air fryer, you may not have realised you’ve been missing out on the must-have appliance of 2019.
These high-tech cooking machines fry food to a crispy golden brown by swirling hot air around it rather than dousing it in hot oil. Oil is still involved – you coat the food with it – but the oil itself isn’t what’s cooking the food. You can fry up basically anything that you would normally plop into a pan of oil, whether it’s chicken, french fries, meatballs or asparagus.
But do air fryers really live up to the hype? Love Wholesome decided to take a closer look at whether you really need an air fryer – and we’ve thrown in some of the best air fryer recipes going around.
Pros: Air-fried food is faster to cook and healthier
Air fryers cook your food with hot air – really, really hot air. The space within the air fryer heats to about 200 degrees Celsius, twice the boiling point of water. But unlike an oven, which bakes the food in pure heat, air fryers swirl the air around, which evaporates the oil and spreads it around too. Basically, air fryers blast food with super hot, oil-infused wind.
This produces the same brown, crispy, frying effect you get with pan-frying and deep-frying, known as the Maillard effect. This effect causes a special chemical reaction in food that gives it that unique, delicious, fresh-from-the-wok flavour. Best of all, an air fryer achieves this with vastly less oil – and therefore less fat – than other frying methods. How much less fat depends on what you are cooking and how much oil you add, but estimates usually range from 50 to 80 per cent.
Better yet, air-fried food is fast and convenient. Cooking with an air fryer does require a bit of work. You have to allow the oil to heat up and then stir the food once in a while during cooking to ensure a nice, even crisp. But compared to ordinary frying, air fryers are a cinch to use. You can whip up a batch of french fries in less than 10 minutes, with far less post-cooking clean up than a pan or deep fryer full of dirty, hot peanut oil.
Cons: Price and taste
So if air frying is fast, easy and healthier, why don’t people throw out their frying pans altogether and use an air fryer for all their frying needs?
First of all, to put it simply, people aren’t used to using air fryers. Foodies tend to sniff at high-tech cooking methods (as if a roast baked in a dutch oven is any better than one cooked in a Croc-Pot©), and air fryers haven’t yet made it into many cookbooks.
Next, air fryers are expensive. A Phillips TurboStar, one of the more popular models, will put you back around SGD250. Others are more affordable, but don’t expect to spend less than SGD100 on a quality machine.
But most of all, food fried in an air fryer simply doesn’t taste the same a lot of the time. When you deep fry or pan fry food, the ingredients soak up a lot more oil than air frying, especially if you’ve coated them in batter. All that oil is part of the iconic taste of many fried favourites. Your fried chicken breast might be leaner, but it probably won’t taste quite as delicious as how your grandmother used to make.
Is air frying actually healthy?
With less oil and thus less fat, air-fried food is certainly healthier. But even in an air fryer, the food will take on more fat than if it were boiled, grilled or roasted. And air frying, like grilling, broiling and traditional frying, still produces the chemicals that some fear are carcinogenic, giving rise to the theory that scorched food causes cancer. Whether or not burned food really does make people sick has yet to be definitively proven – the latest research suggests that it is probably safe – but if you still want to avoid those cooking methods, air frying is not a good alternative.
On the other hand, if you like embracing new technology and don’t mind the taste, an air fryer can be a great way to cut down on the saturated fat of classic fried dishes. Plus, it makes cooking simpler and easier.
Ready to give air fryer cooking a whirl? Forbes has a great list of the best air fryers on the market. Meanwhile, here are six of our favourite air fryer recipes.
Air-fried chicken wings
These extra-crispy wings from Kitchn are air-fried in two phases, making them crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
These air-fried donuts from Cooking Light are not exactly healthy, just healthier. They’re still full of sugary, carby goodness, but at least they have much less fat–only four grams the recipe claims.
Air-fried chicken tenders
Chicken tenders are an air fryer classic. Although these might not be “totally healthy” as the recipe claims, the parmesan and buttermilk batter makes them absolutely delicious.
Air-fried french fries
French Fries are both one of the simplest dishes to air-frying and hardest dishes to replicate that dunked-in-oil deep-fried taste. But potato-tastic recipe from Skinny Taste comes pretty close.
As it turns out, the little basket on most air fryers is perfect for personal, perfectly baked pizzas.
Air-fried avocado wedges
These breaded and fried avocado wedges are a mashup of flavours, but the breading mixed with the warm avocado flavour is perfect for those seeking an air-fried challenge.