As we look at where in our lives we can introduce sustainability and efficiency, we find those opportunities all over.  We can…

  • Use less stuff
  • Turn off lights
  • Take shorter showers
  • Walk more, drive less
  • Eat locally-produced foods when possible
  • Bike more, drive less
  • Drive fuel efficient cars when we do drive

…but what about cooking?  Sure we can use EnergyStar rated appliances to make our kitchens more efficient, but what cooking techniques can be more sustainable?

Induction Champagne+noodlesOne key trend that’s really picking up steam now is the Inductive Cooktop.  Although they’ve been around for half a century, it’s only now that these electric cooktops are starting to gain momentum.  Why now?  Well, they’re still expensive compared to a comparably-sized gas cooktop, but where just 3 years ago there were perhaps 3 inductive cooktops available in the US, there are now dozens.

How Induction Works

Click for Detailed Explanation of Induction

Unlike the old radiant electric cooktops which use electric coils that heat up to provide the heat source, inductive cooktops use magnets to induce the heat in the pot itself – the cooktop never heats up.  As you can see in the picture to the right, the champagne and glasses can stay cold while the adjacent noodles boil since the cooktop won’t heat the aluminum ice bucket or the glasses, only the ferrous-metal pot.

This means that the cooktop is safe to touch when it’s on…but it also means that it won’t burn curious little fingers.

Many people hear that inductive cooktops are electric and say “No way – I love to cook – I need gas”.  Unfortunately, that’s a strongly rooted feeling that many people have based upon the performance of old-style radiant electric cooktops (even the new radiant cooktops are more efficient than gas).

Inductive cooktops offer much finer control of temperature than gas, are more energy efficient than gas since they only heat the pot, not the iron grate on the top of a gas cooktop or the air in the kitchen, and they’re much safer than gas – no fire risk since they not only heat only the pot, but they detect when pots are there and turn themselves off if none is detected AND have temperature sensors so that if you heat a pot of water and the water evaporates while you’re out of the room, they turn themselves off at a certain temperatures to avoid heating the pot to the point of a fire risk.

Finally, gas is a non-renewable resource and generates gases that contribute to global warming.  As the electric grid shifts over to clean Wind, Hydro and Solar power over time, or as owners install solar panels on theirs roofs, these inductive cooktops can run completely cleanly and not contribute to global warming.

Our next two projects in Noe Valley will both utilize inductive cooktops running off our roof-mounted solar panels, so we’re walking the talk ourselves.  We’ll probably go with a standard glass-top unit

Sears Induction Cooktopbut there are also units that look more like a commercial-style rangetop:

Stainless Induction Cooktop

What are the pro’s and con’s in a nutshell?

PRO

  • Heat water to boiling in just over a minute
  • Ultra-fine temperature control – better than gas
  • Only heats the pot – safe AND efficient
  • Most energy efficient cooking technology available

CON

  • Expensive
  • Mostly available as cooktop – only 2-3 ranges on market
  • Only works w/ferrous pots (no Aluminum or Copper)

With so many of these products on the market and the cost of finite resources like gas expected only to go up, we can expect the prices to come down over the next few years and for induction to become at least mainstream and possibly the dominant cooking technology of the near future.

Want the opinion of professional?  Here’s what Consumer Reports and Gourmet Magazine have to say about them.

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