Induction Cooking Heats Up

There are numerous benefits of induction cooking – benefits that designers and homeowners alike are starting to appreciate. They’re more energy efficient than gas or radiant, as all of the heat goes directly into the food, rather than dispersing into the room. They save time, both in meal preparation, since they heat so quickly, and in easy clean-up afterward. They’re safer for children and the memory-challenged. They offer more temperature control, as restaurant chefs are now appreciating. They’re sleek, and getting even sleeker, for the modern kitchen enthusiast.

 

In the beginning

While the first patents for induction cooking technology date from the early 1900s, they were really launched in the ’50s through the ’70s in the U.S. Even as recently as five to 10 years ago, however, homeowners were reluctant to try it.

“Like all technological advancements, it takes time for consumers to accept the technology,” shares Danny Swaim, v.p. of business development for retailer Pirch. “Today, induction is becoming a ‘must have’ item, [and] not only for an electric customer; surprisingly, consumers who loved gas cooking are switching to induction,” he states.

Adding heat to food is one of the most ‘primal’ functions we perform as humans, so adoption of new technologies in this area can definitely be slower. Many consumers were concerned about changing their cooking style, which is definitely required to take advantage of induction’s speed and temperature control. Others didn’t want to change out their non-conductive cookware; there are more choices than ever now. Some, including doctors, were concerned about the cooking magnets’ effects on pacemakers in early induction models (concerns that have largely been assuaged). Others were just pre-sold on the dream of a pro style gas range, even if they had to bring in a gas tank to fulfill it.

Those perceptions are slowly changing, and manufacturers are offering more choices and price points to meet increasing demand.

 

Comparably Speaking

At the 2014 Design & Construction Week in Las Vegas, Bosch introduced its latest range, a slide-in induction model with convection oven and warming drawer. There are only a handful of slide-in induction ranges on the market (GE, Electrolux, Kenmore and Viking also have them), especially compared to the wide array of slide-in gas ranges available, making this introduction notable.

It’s a different story on the freestanding range and cooktop front. Just about every major appliance manufacturer has induction cooktops in their product lines, though some of the best features are reserved for the 36" size. One of those features – introduced by Gaggenau at the 2011 LivingKitchen show in Cologne, Germany, then brought to the U.S. by its sister brand Thermador the next year – is full-surface induction. This technology allows users to cook across almost the entire surface of the cooktop, not just four or six designated “burners.” At the next LivingKitchen show (in 2013), many of the exhibitors were showcasing full-surface induction cooktops for the European market, some at affordable prices geared toward multi-family builders. In the U.S., we’re still paying top dollar for that feature. Swaim is bullish on it, though: “The addition of full-surface technology has been the most exciting [feature] for many. It adds an element not found on any other fuel source.”

That element is intuitive flexibility. In Thermador’s Freedom cooktop, cooking settings move with the pan when it’s placed on different areas, providing added value for the price point. The company’s 2014 DCW introduction was a sleeker frameless version of the Freedom top. Other brands are offering frameless tops, too (though not full-surface), including Wolf’s uber-sleek flush-mountable model.

Also fairly widespread now is the popular simmer setting, so there’s no performance loss by switching from gas to induction. Many professional chefs prefer it, in fact.

Some other notable market introductions are Viking’s illumination feature, so users can quickly see that the burners are on. Viking’s new induction cooktops, to be released this quarter, also have automatic full burner shut-offs if the pot is removed for more than 60 seconds.

 

Next Trends

What’s next in this category? “The ability to use smart phones and connectivity between cooking devices (cooktop to ventilation hood, etc.) is coming very soon,” shares Swaim. “This is already appearing in wall ovens, dishwashers and refrigeration. I see this on the horizon and believe it will bring even more value and desirability to the induction category.

“Wireless connectivity to common devices like cell phones and tablets will also open up new functionality and convenience, from communication of cooking status, recipes or even video tutorials streamed from the Internet, all [of which] will help a chef at any experience excel in the kitchen,” he says.

“In the not-too-distant future, we’ll [also] see induction technology built into actual countertops,” Swaim adds. That innovation is already being showcased in Europe. Spanish manufacturers TPB Barcelona and Levantina partnered on a porcelain slab top with integrated induction burners at the 2013 LivingKitchen show. Those burners could be located wherever the designer or client wanted them and largely disappear from view when not in use.

Another trend related to digital integration is customization. We’ve become accustomed to personalizing our communications and entertainment interfaces. Appliance manufacturers – notably European brands Gaggenau and Miele, along with American brand Wolf – are bringing that flexibility to the kitchen with customizable, modular cooking centers.

Users choose from gas, steam, induction, grill, deep fryer, wok and teppanyaki modules to create the arrangement that fits their space and dietary needs. “In our showrooms, we integrate various combinations into the lifestyle vignettes to show our clients what is possible,” Swaim shares.

The Pirch executive also predicts that full-surface induction will become more available, along with the addition of different colors and patterns to help personalize the kitchen.

 

Last Words

If you’re not yet specifying induction cooking appliances to your clients because you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with them, it’s time for a demo with your favorite appliance pro, recipe and conductive cookware.

 

Jamie Gold, CKD, CAPS is an independent designer in San Diego, the author of New Kitchen Ideas That Work (Taunton Press, 2012), and a blogger, design journalist, seminar developer and industry consultant.

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