Feature

Oven versus microwave

Microwave versus oven

Credit: iStockphoto

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Food quality and safety

There’s a long-held belief that microwaving will destroy important vitamins and other nutrients. According to Australia’s national science agency, the CSIRO, it’s not so; in fact, in many cases, microwaving food promotes the retention of water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and thiamin (vitamin B1).

In terms of food safety, the ‘danger’ temperature zone in which undesirable microorganisms can rapidly mulitply is between 4°C and 60°C. Because food is not uniformly heated in a microwave oven, portions of poorly heated food may remain in the danger zone. However, most microwaves have stirrer fans and turntables to counteract this. Stirring food halfway through heating it or letting it stand for a minute or so before eating it also helps to distribute heat more evenly.

The CSIRO advises that some additives in plastic containers (those that make plastic pliable) may migrate to food at high temperatures. A wiser choice is to use glass or ceramic containers instead.

The verdict

So, should you cook with a microwave or conventional oven? It’s horses for courses, really. The production processes for both products are similar and end-of-life recyclability is not wildly different. Although there may be more plastic components in a microwave oven, they are also smaller and so use less raw material.
Microwaves use less energy than a conventional oven and often cook food much more quickly. Particularly for reheating leftovers, a microwave is a clear winner from a green perspective.

Looking at the bigger picture though, food waste is a huge ecological problem; the water and energy used to produce and distribute food is greater than that used to cook it. And if you’re going to use marginally more than the standard four per cent of residential energy to cook your food in an oven because it will taste better, it’s probably more likely to be eaten than wasted.

Green:

Make sure you’re picking the right appliance for the task – the oven for the big stuff and the microwave for heating small meals and leftovers.

Greener:

Multitask – use the oven to cook dinner and dessert at the same time, or the microwave to reheat several meals at once.

Greenest:

Eat it raw! Salads and other foods that don’t need cooking or reheating are perfect for the summer months ahead.

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