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Your taste buds might have an appreciation for crispy, fried foods. But your arteries? Not so much. Over-indulging in crunchy fried chicken or state fair delicacies (read: battered and deep-fried Oreos) can contribute to heart disease.
Enter the air fryer. And, really, when we’re talking about these countertop convection ovens, the terms “fry” and “fryer” often end up in quotes. That’s because they aren’t conventional fryers, and though the food becomes crispy, it’s not actually fried.
Air fryers first hit the U.S. market in about 2013 and have moved beyond late-night television programming to become buzz-worthy kitchen gadgets. They’re able to give your favorite foods a crispy outer shell without dousing them in oil. Healthier french fries? Sign us up.
Here’s everything you need to know about air fryers, including how they work their calorie-reducing magic.
1. Air Fryers Use Hot Air To “Fry” Food
Deep fryers rely on oil to give food that signature crunchy exterior while still maintaining that soft inside. The air fryer, though, uses very hot air to achieve the same outcome, almost operating like a mini oven. A heating element at the top of the air fryer forces hot air down and around the food as it’s suspended in a basket. The air leaves the food with that crispy taste.
2. Air-Fried Food Is Healthier
Simply put, air-fried foods are healthier because it doesn’t use all that oil. Caitlin Bart, the senior marketing manager of kitchen appliances at Philips, told Mic that air-fried french fries had 75 percent less fat compared to homemade french fries.
Kathleen Zelman, meanwhile, a registered dietitian reviewing the Philips Viva Collection Airfryer, told Food & Nutrition that, “When you use small amounts of healthy unsaturated oils and the technology of an air fryer, fried foods can be back on the menu.”
3. You Can Still Use Oil
Lots of people get the air fryer for no-oil cooking. But a little oil can make a big difference, says JL Fields, a vegan culinary instructor and author of “The Vegan Air Fryer.”
“Consider using just a quick spritz or two of oil mist (canola and olive are excellent) on hand-cut potatoes or tortillas for a chimichanga,” she says. “You’ll get the color and crunch you crave.”
Pro tip: Don’t overcrowd the basket. “It’s tempting to put a lot of food in the basket but the reality is more space allows that rapid air flow to work it’s ‘frying’ magic,” Fields says.
4. You Can Cook More Than Just French Fries
Air fryers are great at roasting veggies. But they can also whip up desserts like cakes, cookies and pies, Fields says.
“If you can bake it in the oven, you can make it in the air fryer,” she says. “But you’ll do so at 30 degrees lower temperature and in half the time.”
Also, battered foods work well in the air fryer. For example, you can make corn dogs by dipping the dogs in a thicker batter, wrapping them in parchment paper and freezing them for a couple of hours before setting them in the air fryer.
As for fried Oreos? Use a thinner, sweet batter and start them on a small piece of parchment paper before transferring into the air fryer, Fields recommends.
5. Air Fryers Can Get Expensive
When it comes to countertop appliances, air fryers can be an investment, running from as low as $60 all the way up to $400. For those looking to make the purchase, Consumer Reports did a round-up of seven air fryers that range in price. The lowest-priced one they tested out is the Bella Air Fryer, which costs just under $60 on Amazon, and the highest-priced one was the Power AirFryer XL, which costs $279.95.
But considering the health benefits, it could be worth it. Would you splurge on an air fryer?