Induction equipment is growing in popularity throughout commercial kitchens nationwide, but there is still an air of mystery hanging over this effective but enigmatic form of cooking. FEJ got in touch with some of the industry’s top experts to put a few theories to the test.
Induction was once viewed as a ‘rich chef’s’ tool due to its cost versus alternative cooking methods and the mystery behind it. To what extent has this changed?
Steve Hobbs, director, Grande Cuisine: The ‘rich chefs’ statement could not be further from the truth now. In real terms the cost of induction equipment has come down significantly over the last 20 years due largely to the reduction in component costs and the greater number of manufacturers moving into the market. In addition, most chefs coming into the workplace are familiar with induction and its capabilities, having been exposed to it during their training. This has helped to increase its popularity, as have its ‘green’ credentials and the fact that it is possible for manufacturers to create more flexible pieces of equipment.
Stuart Flint, training and demonstration manager, Electrolux Professional: Induction is becoming much more common these days, to the extent where at catering colleges they’re now teaching on an induction hob. Rather than being reserved for those with greater capital, more and more chefs are seeing it as an everyday product. You’ve got to remember that even if it is more expensive, the ongoing cost savings are huge, and will soon have paid for the product. For example, the Ecotop on our flagship thermaline range delivers a 35% reduction in energy consumption, while our ProThermetic tilting boiling and braising pans are around 80% more efficient than traditional braising pans, as well as reducing cooking time by up to 70%.
Steve Hemsil, sales director UK & Ireland, Welbilt: Induction units are often perceived by operators as more expensive than traditional gas and electric units. If operators only look at the initial capital cost of an induction unit, then they would probably be correct. However, due to their greater energy efficiencies, the induction hobs are more cost-effective to run over an extensive period of time compared to traditional gas or electric units. Gas is exceptionally inefficient and will waste up to 60% of the energy it generates thus leading to higher utilities bills with no added operational benefit.
Induction hobs, such as the ones we provide, are up to 90% efficient and have a lesser total lifetime cost which operators and chefs will take into account as opposed to just focusing on the first initial purchasing cost. A good example I’d give to operators looking at cost when purchasing induction equipment is to 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.
What are some of the innovative uses of induction that you are seeing in the market?
Mark Hogan, marketing and sales manager, FEM: FEM’s Vollrath Mirage induction rethermaliser uses innovative induction technology to heat food faster and more precisely, eliminating overheating and resulting in better quality and less waste. It can be used for foods including soup and chilli. It not only looks good, but is a safer and more efficient way to heat and serve food as it doesn’t require water for heating. The 800 watt, 3D induction coil heats food evenly with more precise temperature control, taking the 10.4-litre capacity inset filled with soup, chilli, macaroni cheese or similar products from a chilled state through the HACCP ‘danger zone’ to 73.9°C in less than 90 minutes.
Paul Hickman, development chef, Lincat: I have seen induction being used to heat griddling plates and cast-iron serving skillets. It can, of course, be used for many processes, from pan frying to boiling and is capable of a low simmer as a fast boil.
Steve Hemsil: Induction cooking equipment can be used for a wide range of cooking processes required by the modern kitchen. From heavy duty hobs for stock pots to smaller to finer applications needed for al a carte cooking, Welbilt can provide an induction solution for varying-sized kitchens and their requirements. In fact, induction technology can be used for most surface cooking operations including pan frying, shallow frying, grilling, braising, wok cooking and boiling — anything which can be cooked on a standard gas or electric hob or griddle plate.
It’s no good investing in good quality induction if you use poor quality pans and cookware”
Stuart Flint: Induction is an extremely precise form of cooking and the range of temperature makes it potentially more controllable than gas — contrary to what some operators still believe. We’ve developed our thermaline range with precision in mind, allowing operators to control the heat generated in 1°C increments, to ensure they can get the best cooking results with no energy wasted. This makes induction particularly useful at lower temperatures. For example, the most popular way of melting chocolate is to put it in a bowl over a pan of boiling water, but this can be done directly over induction. This wouldn’t be possible on a gas stove, even on the lowest heat, and it makes things like tempering chocolate much easier and more precise.
What is the biggest misconception that restaurant operators have about induction and how can this be overcome?
Paul Hickman: There are two common misconceptions — that induction units are fragile and unreliable and that they are expensive to purchase. A good quality induction hob will feature 6mm thick impact-resistant glass. Our own extensive drop tests have shown this to be a very durable material, able to withstand the knocks of a busy kitchen. As for price, you get what you pay for. Good quality induction hobs are more expensive than their electric hotplate or gas burner equivalents. However, that must be weighed against the money you will save on energy bills, and the cost of ventilation or air conditioning you are unlikely to need.
Stuart Flint: In general, operators like to see the flame working, so one of the main misconceptions operators have about induction is that it is less powerful than gas. In fact, quite the opposite is true. When operators come to visit us at our Centre of Excellence, we’ll often do a demonstration on induction versus gas by heating a litre of water on each at the same time. Inevitably, chefs will say they think the water on the gas cooker will boil quicker, and are shocked to see that induction is actually about 50% faster.
Steve Hobbs: There are multiple misconceptions, not just one — ‘it’s magic, how does it work?’ The biggest issue, though, is getting the operator to understand that the better the quality of the pan, the better the result will be. It’s no good investing in good quality induction if you use poor quality pans and cookware.
Mark Hogan: As induction cookers only use electricity when the pan is on the hob they are safer than a standard hob. There is no flame and temperature can be controlled more precisely and changed instantly. Many pieces of induction equipment have additional safety features. For example, Vollrath has included several features to protect and prolong the life of the induction hob, including overheat protection and empty pan and auto pan detection. An essential for induction hobs is small article detection, which prevents the hob heating watches or jewellery accidentally dropped or left on the surface.
What is the single biggest factor that foodservice operators should consider when specifying induction equipment?
Steve Hemsil: 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 Welbilt. 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. Couple this with advanced software and operators will have far better control of the coil, and therefore the end cooking results. The patented RTCSmp (real-time temperature control multi point) sensor allows the chef to accurately control and measure the temperature of the food to within +/- 1°C, whether they are preparing a steak or tempering chocolate.
Mark Hogan: Safety and reliability are important, so choose a reputable brand and check it carries all the relevant kite marks. Make sure that spare parts are readily available and that there is a good after-sales service.
We’ll often do a demonstration on induction versus gas by heating a litre of water on each at the same time. Inevitably, chefs are shocked to see that induction is actually about 50% faster”
Steve Hobbs: Lifetime costs and energy consumption. As a capital cost, induction is still more expensive than a traditional piece of equipment. However, the energy consumption over the lifetime of the product is going to be significantly reduced and this reduced operating cost gives a far better return on the investment when compared to ‘traditional’ heating methods, not to mention the reduced costs in terms of extraction and a more comfortable and safer working environment for staff.
Paul Hickman: Buy from a reputable manufacturer with a proven track record in the design and build of robust, efficient equipment. Even the best induction components will fail if they are poorly incorporated into the design of the hob. Good airflow and efficient air filtration within the unit are of paramount importance and set a good induction hob apart from an inferior one.
Induction trumps gas in cooking speed race
Although the added cost of induction has sometimes been cited as a barrier to adoption, CESA chairman Glenn Roberts thinks the lifetime cost of ownership argument is starting to sink in. He says the payback can be very fast and there is evidence to prove it. “According to US Department of Energy figures, on a typical gas hob only 40% of the energy is actually used to cook the food, whereas with induction the figure is 84%.
One CESA member checked these figures under test conditions and found that boiling four pints of water by gas took eight minutes 18 seconds, whereas on an induction hob it took just four minutes 46 seconds.” From the chef’s point of view, the key advantages of induction are its enhanced cooking quality and speed of cleaning at the end of service, adds Roberts. “The quality derives from induction’s controllability: it’s both fast and, in terms of temperature control, incredibly accurate.”