A microwave or microwave oven is a common part of most kitchens around the world today. These simple but effective devices are a quick and reliable way to cook food, defrost ingredients, and more. However, there are still many people who don’t understand how microwave cooking works.
There’s more to this mysterious metal box than meets the eye. If you’ve ever wondered what’s really happening when microwaves cook your food, then we’ve got you covered.
Microwaves are all about unique collections of electrons, molecules, and atoms. You can use these products to cook a significant amount of food products in a short space of time. But how does a microwave work using these molecules?
Here’s everything you need to know about the modern microwave.
What is Microwave Radiation?
One of the most important terms to know when you start looking at the way microwaves work is “microwave radiation”. The word “microwave” isn’t just a name for the box in your kitchen that helps with preparing various foods. Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation.
Electromagnetic radiation spans a broad spectrum of waves, including long radio waves, and shorter gamma waves. The human eye can only perceive a small portion of this spectrum, known as visible light. Microwave energy is a form of non-ionising radiation. This means that your microwave doesn’t have enough energy to knock electrons from atoms or to damage organic matter.
Aside from their use in cooking chamber technology, microwaves also have a range of other applications. It’s possible to use microwave energy to detect speeding cars and send television or telephone communications. Companies use microwaves to cure and dry plywood, resins, and more.
Understanding the Microwave Oven
The microwave oven was originally created by a man named Percy Spencer. The invention of the microwave began like any other scientific discovery. In the 1950s, the electrical engineer Percy Spencer was experimenting with a magnetron filament at the Raytheon Manufacturing business where he was working. The discovery of the microwave as a solution for heat was purely accidental.
Microwaves cook food using a specific kind of electromagnetic radiation. When you place food in the food compartment of the microwave, your microwave generator creates enough energy to heat the item. Microwaves have several characteristics that allow them to be effective in cooking.
First, microwaves can create heat energy that is essential for heating up the molecules in your food. The microwaves can also pass through various materials like plastic, paper, and similar materials, which make them ideal for moving through bowls and plates.
Microwaves can also be absorbed, displacing water molecules and providing heat energy. When microwaves are absorbed into your food, they don’t have any dangerous impacts on the molecules within, so you don’t have to worry about a toxic response.
Cooking With Microwaves
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As scientific information confirms, the microwave oven is named after the kind of electromagnetic spectrum energy that the appliance produces. When you turn the microwave on and shut the door, microwaves are created within an electron tube known as a magnetron. These microwaves are reflected within the cooking compartment of the oven.
The microwaves move through the filament and other materials within your microwave and are absorbed by your food. When the food in your microwave absorbs the microwaves, they cause the water molecules to begin vibrating. These vibrating water molecules move against each other to create heat, which eventually cooks the food.
The importance of the water molecule for the heat transfer process in a microwave is why you may have heard stories that certain things with higher water content cook faster. For instance, fresh vegetables may cook more quickly than other foods in the microwave.
Although the water molecule reaction in the food means that heat is produced directly within your meals, microwave ovens don’t cook your food from the inside out. When dense foods are placed in the microwave, the outer layers are heated and cooked by microwaves.
The inner layers of your food items are usually cooked from the heat that passes through the outer layers of the food cooking.
How Efficient is Microwave Cooking?
Many families today have their own microwave oven or similar device for home use. In many cases, microwave cooking can be more efficient than conventional cooking. That’s because the microwaves that cook your food heat the food alone, rather than filling the entire compartment of your oven, and the metal surrounding the food, too.
When it comes to the flavour of food, microwave cooking might produce a slightly different outcome than that with an oven. However, most scientists agree that a microwave oven heats food without reducing the nutritional value of the item. Indeed, when a microwave cooks food, it may allow items to maintain more minerals and vitamins because the oven cooks quicker without increasing water content.
The precise details of how your food cooks in a microwave oven depend on what the item is made of. Remember that the electromagnetic waves of your microwave can generate more energy back and forth within the food item if there’s a lot of water content. This is why it’s so important to be careful about the length of time you use to heat foods with a lot of liquid.
It’s also worth noting that the liquid components of a food will often heat faster than the solid elements. The inside of an apple pie, for instance, may be boiling hot, even though the surrounding crust is only a little warm.
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What Can You Cook in a Microwave?
Plenty of foods are microwave safe, but it’s worth checking the instructions on any item before you put it in the microwave. Microwave ovens can be more or less effective depending on the shape and size of what you’re cooking. Usually, the waves from your microwave oven will only be able to penetrate around an inch or so into food.
The waves inside your microwave lose energy as they cook food and push deeper into the layers. This means that if you’re cooking something large, it’s likely that only the outer layers of the item will cook properly. You may need to consider using a standard oven to cook food with a lot of density.
Most items suitable for cooking via microwave ovens come with a specified cooking time, as well as a standing time. After you cook food in a microwave, leaving the food to stand ensures that it can effectively continue to cook. The hotter parts of the item will pass heat via conduction into the colder parts.
When you are cooking with microwave ovens, remember that the containers you use are important. Plastic, ceramic, paper, and glass containers are commonly used in a microwave oven because microwaves can pass through the magnetron and these materials.
Though these containers are unlikely to be “cooked” by electromagnetic waves, they can get very hot, so be careful. Some very thin plastic containers should not be used in microwave ovens because they can melt.
Metal pans and aluminium foil aren’t safe to use within a microwave. That’s because the microwaves from the magnetron will reflect from the metal and cause potential damage to the oven itself.
Are Microwave Ovens Safe?
A microwave oven is typically a secure and convenient way to cook food. However, many people still worry about microwave ovens. When you mention things like waves that these appliances use in cooking, it’s easy to get confused. People are often concerned about which wavelength options are safe.
The good news is that microwaves aren’t dangerous. Similar to radio waves, the microwaves won’t causing any lasting damage to you, or any device that you’re using. If you look up a wave guide online, you’ll see that microwaves are non-ionising. Meaning, they move through the air or a specific site without knocking electrons out of atoms.
However, it may still be a good idea to ensure that you’re not exposed to high amounts of microwaves in the air. That’s why microwaves are built according to strict quality lines. The door of your appliance as well as the filament and metal components within the device will keep microwaves from leaking into any site or environment.
Most microwave ovens come with something called an interlock, that can protect you, too. When you plug your microwave into the wall socket, electricity will begin whizzing through the device. However, when you have the door open to place things into the microwave oven, the magnetron stops working.
If you’re ever concerned that your microwave ovens are leaking waves, seek help straight away. You may need to use other ovens until the device is properly fixed.
Can a Microwave Oven Harm You?
Even if your microwave oven does start leaking waves, the energy will be similar to radio waves, so it’s not likely to cause you any harm.
While it’s important not to expose yourself to excessive amounts of waves for no reason, the wavelength of the microwave is generally regarded as safe. Do be careful about exposing yourself to electricity if you’re trying to fix a microwave though. Additionally, remember that filament components and heating lines in your microwave can stay hot for a long time if your microwave is malfunctioning.
Like most things, microwaves can seem scary until you know a little more about them. Learning how does a microwave work can put your mind at ease so you can reap the benefits of having one in your kitchen.
Rebekah is a writer who loves to explore new products and find hacks that make life easier. She has a knack for all things home improvement, health and fitness. So you’ll often find her on Pinterest or browsing Houzz for ideas.
She’s always looking for the next thing to fix up around the house or what gadget might be just right for her lifestyle. Rebekah enjoys exploring new recipes, taking care of her family, and making sure she stays healthy with regular workouts at the gym.