If you have been used to cooking on gas your whole working life and like nothing more than seeing your six-ring stove kicking out flames, the prospect of working with induction can at first be a little unnerving.
But once you’ve got your head around the fact that energy is only used when cooking and accept that when you remove a pan from the ring the heat instantly cuts out, the argument for induction is mightily compelling.
Speed, control and productivity are all hallmarks of induction technology — and bonafide reasons why this type of cooking is becoming as visible front-of-house, where it is easy to install countertop induction hobs, as it is in the kitchen. It also practically eliminates the need for extraction units or air conditioning systems as induction does not release excess heat or unburnt gases, resulting in a more pleasant environment for staff.
But the obvious advantage, and one which manufacturers have been quick to seize upon, is the advantages it offers from an energy-saving perspective.
“Induction hobs have an unrivalled energy efficiency rating of more than 90% compared with an industry average of 48% for open gas burners,” says Simon Merrick, director at Hobart Cooking Solutions. “They transfer energy direct to the pan, giving very fast cooking speeds, resulting in significant reductions in cooking time and reduced energy consumption. For example, two litres of water can be heated in 50% less time compared with gas cooking. There are many benefits for kitchens using induction technology — you can probably replace four gas burners with one twin induction unit because the speed and time saving means you can cook twice as fast,” he adds.
Induction technology has evolved considerably over the past few years and while historically it was either very expensive at the top end of the market or extremely cheap at the other end, the emergence of a more solid middle ground has strengthened industry uptake. What’s more, the technology isn’t only used on classic hobs. Griddles, bratt pans and planchas, plus front-of-house chafing dishes and other hot-holding equipment, are all utilising induction.
“Anything that can be cooked on a conventional style gas or electric range can be cooked on induction,” points out Nic Banner, sales director at Induced Energy, the British catering manufacturer specialising in induction equipment.
“Foods can be cooked more delicately, you can temper chocolate on our hobs without a bain marie, or as quickly as you need them to on full power. The introduction of a ferrous metal non-stick plate also allows the chef to have a removable plancha one minute and to be able to use an induction zone the next,” he adds.
Wayne Cuomo, managing director of heavy duty cooking equipment manufacturer Charvet, says it’s clear that induction is becoming a mainstream kitchen technology, citing the sheer number of well-known restaurant groups that now automatically build it into their kitchen designs.
“Induction ranges are the first choice for high street chain operators, especially when working alongside combis,” he says. “The chains want easy-clean hygiene, reliability, a good working life and excellent technical support with that high productivity. Traditional elements, such as using a chassis as the basis to build the range, provide strength, durability and, just as importantly, ease of access for servicing which helps minimise the through-life costs.” Charvet is now even able to offer induction mounted directly above the oven — something that Cuomo says most operators thought wasn’t possible.
Contrary to popular belief, induction isn’t really a one-size-fits-all solution in the sense that one model or size will work for everything. Instead, operators should think carefully about selecting equipment that suits their individual needs, as Control Induction’s managing director, Geoff Snelgrove, explains: “Medium duty induction equipment might be fine for a school where it is used for a few hours a day but would not be tough enough for 15-plus hours per day hotel or restaurant use. In addition, top-end induction, such as our Slider induction, replicates a traditional solid top giving pan heating over the whole surface, while more basic equipment makes less efficient use of space by simulating traditional open gas burners by heating in the centre of the zone.”
Steve Hemsil, national sales manager at Manitowoc, reiterates the point that not all induction cookers are the same even though they all use the same cooking principle. He says that with induction two things need to be considered: the quality of the coil inside the equipment and the quality of the software controlling the unit.
“Throughout the industry, coil quality can vary enormously from entry-level models fitted with a loosely bound copper alloy to patented technology, such as the silicon-insulated 100% pure copper, patented spun coil from Manitowoc. In order to achieve exceptionally high quality, we have developed our coil to contain no gaps between the copper rings. This ensures that the magnetic field is evenly spread across the hob surface, which protects the food from hot spots on the pan surface and the consequential burning.”
You can probably replace four gas burners with one twin induction unit because the speed and time saving means you can cook twice as fast”
Hemsil claims Manitowoc is also the only major manufacturer to insulate the coil with a specifically-designed silicon-based film. He says the film dramatically improves the resistive heating power of the coil and gives the chef the greatest level of precision and accuracy when cooking over other units available. “Couple this with advanced software and operators will have far better control of the coil, and therefore the end cooking results,” he argues. “The patented RTCSmp (real-time temperature control multi point) sensor allows the chef to control and measure the temperature of the food to within 1°C, whether they are preparing a steak or tempering chocolate.”
Caterers seeking to make induction a large part of their operation need to assess their requirements in line with current and future menu requirements, covers and peaks in service.
“They should also look at their current catering facilities in line with whatever budgets they have available,” advises Ray Hall, managing director of RH Hall. “Is there a case for prime cooking equipment replacement or could just a couple of standalone induction hobs provide them with the additional speed and productivity required for certain menu items — complementing their operation?”
If it ends up being the prime method of cooking, then the business case needs to be thought out properly. “As with all large equipment investments, operators should look at the entire lifetime costs and the potential savings that can be made due to the efficiency of induction, or for a very small investment they can introduce induction into the kitchen by using a small single zone unit,” says Hall.
While induction has historically been seen as the modern answer for any type of stove top work, such as boiling or frying, its abilities are far-ranging. “The fact the temperature is so controllable means it is also very accurate for very slow cooking, while dishes can be cooked very fast because induction is so much quicker than gas,” notes Stuart Flint, business and training demonstration manager at Electrolux Professional UK.
“And it is particularly suitable in kitchens where there is little or no extraction as it can help to reduce the heat produced during cooking. Given that induction tops are also easy to clean and very safe due to having no open flames, they’re great for operators working in fast-paced environments, or where staff turnover is high,” he adds.
Most suppliers acknowledge that with induction you get what you pay for. If you simply want to warm through a sauce on the pass it might not be practical to purchase an expensive induction unit. Similarly, if a chef demands power, speed and precision with the guarantee that the system won’t buckle under pressure, shop around for the best unit you can afford.
“Make sure that the induction unit is robust enough for the operation,” advises Induced Energy’s Banner. “Make sure that all spare parts are available in the UK and that there is a good UK-based service back-up.”
Dan Loria, business development manager at Grande Cuisine, the UK importer of the Adventys induction range, thinks that operators will get most bang for their buck by engaging with suppliers that are entrenched in the technology from design and manufacture through to service and support.
“It is important to work with a specialist that has a true understanding of induction — companies that specialise in induction, and by that I mean those that manufacture and assemble their own products in one factory, produce the best quality products, give the best level of support and provide the greatest flexibility in terms of creativity and bespoke solutions. Many companies around the world ‘sell’ induction by putting generic components into a stainless steel box, but I would always advise a client to buy products from a specialist company that manufactures its own units from start to finish.”
Many companies around the world ‘sell’ induction just by putting generic components into a stainless steel box”One of the challenges facing the market is the availability of cheaper, inferior technology in the market that can’t cope with the demands of a professional kitchen. Barry Hill, marketing manager at Falcon Foodservice Equipment, agrees it is something that operators have to be cautious of.
Many companies around the world ‘sell’ induction just by putting generic components into a stainless steel box”
“It’s essential that the induction appliance’s components are commercial-grade,” he insists. “Many induction models use domestic-grade components, which are not designed to withstand the usage levels found in a professional kitchen. Falcon induction uses heavy duty components to ensure a minimum 30,000 hours lifespan. Induction is more expensive than the more traditional alternatives, but that’s simply because the technology costs more. For many operators, the benefits of induction — lower running costs, energy efficiency, speed, safety and easier cleaning — will outweigh the higher initial purchase costs.”
Control Induction’s Snelgrove concurs. “Good induction is not cheap but when all the benefits are factored in, the cost of ownership is often lower than the ‘cheaper’ alternatives,” he says. “For low or infrequent usage applications, light duty induction equipment can be a good alternative at a reasonable cost.”
Operators are clearly urged to consider the bigger picture when it comes to choosing induction. As Manitowoc’s Hemsil concludes: “Think of it as if you’re building a new house — single-glazed windows will cost you much less to install than double or triple glazed, but the associated higher energy bills will quickly cancel out the saving you think you’ve made.”