One super-sophisticated method of cooking has been around for a number of years but has failed to earn a large following among consumers. It's the induction range, a flameless, coil-less cooktop that generates heat through magnetic energy. Those who own one are very satisfied, but other possible purchasers can hardly be classified as being in hot pursuit of this type of appliance.
The fact is, this particular product is still virtually unknown.
Manufacturers don't seem to be aggressive about promoting this revolutionary magnetic method of cooking. Even Sanyo, a Japanese firm manufacturing private labels for a few big-name induction brands in this country, prefers to stay out of the limelight and not have its own retail label.
Cooking by magnetic energy is fast and energy saving. It's cool.
"It won't burn your money away," one appliance demonstrator said. And to prove it, he placed a dollar bill (you can do this with a paper towel if you're leery of unexpected effects) between a pot of water and the induction burner. He then touched an electronic control panel and in a matter of seconds the water was boiling; the money became warm but never turned into flames. Induction cooks without a heated surface, whereas a conventional gas or electric cooktop heats a surface to heat the pan.
Jenn-Air Corp. explains the energy-saving method as follows: "Solid state power causes induction coils, located underneath a glass (or tile) ceramic surface to generate a magnetic field that induces current within ferromagnetic cookware. As a result, molecules in the cookware move back and forth rapidly, causing the utensil to heat."
The system is not new, according to Ann Vaughn, director of consumer and public relations for Jenn-Air. "Induction was used in the industry around 1890 when melting metals," she said. "However, it was only in the '70s when the development of solid state circuitry made it practical for home use cooking."
Cleaning is a breeze. "I got rid of my eternal stove-cleaning problems," is a common comment from induction stove owners. Inge Koeper, a homemaker from Arcadia who bought a Fasar unit six years ago says: "The cleaning part sold me to it; it's so easy to just wipe it clean. I wouldn't change my stove for anything . . . especially when you have a large family." What then, are the drawbacks when you hear praises from pleased customers like: "It's phenomenal. . . . I love it, it's just like magic. . . . I can't believe the speed. . . . It turns on and off like a gas stove. . . . Other forms seem so antiquated. . . . I would never go back to the old method."
The biggest drawback is cost.
An average four-burner induction cooktop can cost at least three times more than a conventional electric coil range. And a top-of-the-line brand could cost as much as 10 times, not including installation costs.
Another pullback is the limitation on cookware. If you're partial to glass, pure copper and aluminum cookware, induction cooking may not be for you. However, the requirement for a ferrous or magnetic pan is really not as difficult or expensive as it sounds.
Simply take a magnet stick to the store and place it under pots, and you'll be surprised to find there are quite a number of pots that you can use. Many of them do not have to be high-priced, induction range owners have discovered.
"I have an old stainless steel cookware set that I bought 20 years ago for, I think, $49," says Linda Avignon, a dental hygienist from Manhattan Beach who owns a Fasar unit. "I was hoping they wouldn't work so I could get a brand-new set, but they turned out to be magnetic."
Unfortunately, the induction cooktop suffers a false reputation because of its confusion with the old white ceramic glass stove. That product, which is still available, gets a lot of negative responses from consumers due to its poor cleaning characteristics and low heating power.
Black ceramic glass is used in many new units, and through improved technology, the smooth material resists scratches, stains and soil.
Here are some of the induction ranges available in the appliance marketplace today:
The cream of the crop and most expensive line, Fasar (which stands for Fast Acting Set and Reset) works twice as fast as a conventional electric stove. Introduced about 10 years ago by an electronic engineer, the unit has improved over the years and offers high-power cooking with 2,000 watt-elements. The Fasar Ultima 1V consists of four 12-inch square ceramic tiles in plain or beautifully decorated patterns that can be custom-designed to coordinate with kitchen colors and decor.
Unless given a closer look, a kitchen installed with these neat tiles from Fasar appears range-less. The cooking tiles can be arranged in various ways or placed in various spots in the kitchen, or any area in the house where it's needed.