Pros and cons of microwaves

The kitchen gadgets are convenient but one chef called them ‘world’s worst invention’

A hand touching a microwave oven's controls
Social stigma still surrounds microwaves
(Image credit: Ricardo Rubio/Europa Press via Getty Images)

Since their launch in the 1980s, when Dire Straits sang about having to “install microwave ovens”, the speedy cookers have become a staple in modern kitchens.

A survey has revealed microwaves to be the “nation’s number one must-have kitchen gadget”, owned by up to 95% of households, said Xanthe Clay in The Telegraph. Yet they continue to be disparaged because of their association with ready meals and other ultra-processed food.

While they can often save time in the kitchen, suspicions of uneven heating and various health issues linger. Here are the pros and cons of microwave ovens.

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1. Pro: saves money for owners

As well as saving you time, they can save you money. You can “trim real money from your energy bill by using the microwave more in place of the big oven”, said CNet, because it uses 1,200 watts of energy per hour, compared with an electric oven, which uses 3,000 watts.

They are usually cheaper up front, too. “Overall, microwaves are far cheaper to purchase than air fryers,” said Woman & Home. You should “never waste your money on an expensive microwave”, said USA Today, as “most microwaves are the same under the hood”.

2. Con: certain social stigma

A certain social stigma surrounds microwaves, as people feel that they “nuke” rather than cook food. Microwaves have been “portrayed by some chefs as singlehandedly dragging the art of cooking into the gutter”, said the BBC.

They are the world’s “worst invention”, said Scottish chef Graham Campbell. “The world is too fast and no one has time to cook healthy food any more,” he told The Times, adding that “the microwave oven is the worst invention ever” as it encourages people to eat “ready meals that are full of shit”.

3. Pro: reheating is easy

As well as cooking, microwaves perform a number of useful tasks, including reheating. “Reheat food until piping hot throughout,” said BBC Good Food, and “be aware they do not heat evenly throughout, so take your food out halfway through cooking time and give it a stir.” Microwaves can also “defrost food quickly and safely”, added the website.

Microwaves can also help with other tasks. For instance, they can heat up cold plates or bowls and even disinfect things like kitchen sponges. It’s also worth noting that there are an increasing number of recipes and pre-packaged foods designed specifically for microwave cooking.

4. Con: poor taste and texture

Some people find that food cooked in a microwave has a different taste or texture than it would if it had been cooked using old-fashioned methods. Because they “essentially steam your food”, said Woman & Home, microwaves can sometimes produce a meal that “feels a little wet or soggy”.

They also sometimes heat food unevenly, leading to hot and cold spots which are unpleasant to the tongue and a potential health risk with some foodstuffs.

5. Pro: environmentally friendly

Microwaves cook fast, so their energy consumption is almost always lower than other cooking options. This makes them more environmentally friendly, as does the fact they produce no fumes or other pollution.

They also heat only the food and not the whole oven or the surrounding air, making them much more energy-efficient than conventional ovens, which again makes them less of a climate-zapper.

6. Con: some health risks

Some scientists warn of the risk of ingesting phthalates when eating microwaved food, said the BBC. “When exposed to heat, these plastic additives can break down and leach into food”, it warned.

For instance, in a 2011 study, researchers purchased more than 400 plastic containers designed to contain food, and found that the majority leaked these chemicals that disrupt hormones.

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