Should We Use Microwaves?

December 18, 2010 by  


Are Microwaves Safe?

By Kate Heyhoe


A Reader’s Question…

Hi Kate,

I admire you so much, and use many, many of your recipes and ideas. I have a question and do not mean to be disrespectful, but really want to understand. Do you really use the microwave as much as it appears? Do you think we should use microwaves? Being an Austin gal, I figure I can straight out ask you. I actually bought my first microwave from a small chef’s shop in Austin in 1986, one of those huge Amana Radar Range monsters, bought the bacon fryer, Nordicware bundt pan, the whole shebang. Dyed my food brown with caramel coloring—you know what I mean :o)


But I haven’t used microwaves for many years now because of green information that they destroy nutrients in foods and are unhealthy in our environments. I didn’t even feel comfortable heating my Kashi frozen dinners, although I think they are in PETE 1 containers. I want to be green and healthy. Please let me know what you think.

Most sincerely, and with great gratitude for all I have learned from you,

Reference Librarian


Dear CB,

Thanks for the kind words. This passage is from my book and relates to radiation heat. It speaks to the issue of microwaves, one particular wave form of radiation, which is all around us, and for more info, seek out the works of Harold McGee.

Radiation heat transfers by electromagnetic waves (not the same thing as nuclear radiation). More accurately, thermal radiation happens when atoms and molecules release energy they’ve absorbed in the form of infrared waves. When the waves hit a food’s atoms, they spark movement within those atoms. They work without a medium (like a pan or liquid) to come between the food and the heat source. The energy literally beams into the food. Microwave ovens, for instance, agitate water molecules. All things emit radiation constantly, but mostly at levels so low they’re inconsequential. When cooking at higher temperatures, like those of a barbecue grill, broiler, or very hot oven, infrared radiation generates waves that are potent enough to cook foods; however, at lower temperatures, conduction and/or convection methods are more efficient ways to cook. (The spectrum of radiation isn’t just about cooking. Starting at the lower end of the scale, your car radio emits weak waves; and higher up, microwave towers relay cell phone calls, and microwave ovens heat frozen dinners. On the upper end of the spectrum, ultraviolet waves cause sunburns, and x-rays show us our bones.) Not all materials absorb radiation in the same way, and radiation waves themselves differ in their capacity to generate heat. For more details on the infinite nuances of radiation, dial up and explore the works of Harold McGee, the cook’s authority on kitchen science.

     —Kate Heyhoe


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