Microwaves in the Green Kitchen: Efficient Cooking or Weird Science?

microwave baked potato photo

Image credit: KidsDish.com
Microwaves vs Regular Ovens: the Green Cooking Debate
I’ve never lived in a house with a microwave. Not out of any ethical or environmental stance – I’ve just never got used to using one, so haven’t felt the need to get one. I’ve also rarely tasted anything good that came out of a microwave, beyond heated up left overs. But while some folks worry about safety, there’s no doubt that microwaves can be an incredibly efficient means of heating. The Union of Concerned Scientists posted on TreeHugger about ovens versus microwaves before, and now Leo Hickman is taking up the argument over at The Guardian – making the case that microwaves are one of the most efficient ways of cooking, but points out that their utility is limited to certain tasks:
Barham, a long-time adviser to Heston Blumenthal, says microwaves are limited in what they can offer professional chefs and are probably best suited to people at home who regularly warm up pre-cooked or processed food. A 2006 study by the government's Market Transformation Programme into their energy-saving potential found that only about 20% of typical cooking tasks could be successfully transferred from an electric oven to a microwave. However, in the instances where a microwave was used, it showed an average energy saving of about 50%. Some of the test results were surprising, though: cooking new potatoes in 10ml of water in a microwave compared to in a pan containing one litre of water on an electric hob achieved a 70-75% energy saving, whereas the energy saving achieved by heating baked beans or porridge in a microwave rather than on the hob was negligible.

While Hickman certainly makes a good argument for reconsidering the microwave for specific cooking tasks, he concludes his case with the example of the baked potato – claiming that energy savings can be as much as ten fold compared to a traditional oven-baked spud. To my mind there is only one problem – surely the baked potato is all about the skin, and I have never, ever eaten a microwaved spud that has come even close to one of its oven crisped cousins. Am I missing something? I’d love to hear from folks who know how to get the most from their microwaves. (I'd also love to hear from folks who wouldn't go near a microwave for love nor money.)

And for those looking for more sustainable diet practices, why not experiment with solar cooking, raw food, or take a look at Planet Green’s top green eating tips?

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