2011 The air fryer arrives in Australia

Early model of Philips Air Fryer, now discontinued

Every so often, a cooking appliance comes along that promises to revolutionise how we do things in the kitchen. The microwave, for instance. Or the slow cooker. Some of them stick around, while others (bread-makers, electric can openers, bench-top pizza makers) become distant memories. The latest kitchen craze is the air fryer. I don’t have one. Yet. But millions of Australians do and the flood of recipes for what is essentially a bench-top convection oven suggests air fryers are here to stay.

The technology isn’t all that new. As early as the 1940s, an American inventor called William Maxson patented the Maxson Whirlwind Oven, which was used to defrost frozen meals on board military aircraft. With the arrival of the microwave, his invention languished and never made the transition to home use.

Fred van der Weij 1962-2022

Then, in 2006, a Dutchman was seeking the perfect way to make chips. Fred van der Weij was known for his innovations in cloud computing but, like his countrymen and women, clearly had a fondness for potato chips. (The Dutch are Europe’s biggest consumers of chips, putting away 11kg per capita per year.) The entrepreneurial inventor set to work to develop a healthier and easier alternative to deep frying and patented his Rapid Air Technology in 2009, licensing it to the Dutch company Philips the same year. The air fryer was launched at a German technology fair the following year and, in 2011, it hit the market in Australia.

It’s an inspired name, suggesting you can fry foods without fat. But that’s not entirely true. Yes, the appliance works by circulating hot air around the food but, to get that delicious crispiness, whatever you’re cooking needs to have a coating of oil to begin with. Experts say, however, that chips cooked in an air fryer have up to 70% less fat than deep-fried ones and there’s less kitchen mess and odour.

Air fryers were not an instant hit. According to the New York Times, the first sales boom in the USA came in 2017. They don’t say why, but 2017 was when Philips launched a bigger, better model that could handle a whole chicken. But the event that really boosted sales was the COVID-19 pandemic, when the air fryer became a social media star, and by 2020 around 36 per cent of American households had one.  I can’t find any comparable statistics for Australia but, judging by the number of air fryer recipes popping up everywhere you look, the appliances are now to be found in many Australian kitchens.

Food writers are still divided about the benefits of the air fryer. Those in favour cite the speed of cooking, excellent performance in cooking frozen food, energy efficiency and ease of cleaning. Those against say it can be noisy, takes up valuable bench space and only works for small quantities of food.

So, will the air fryer be a fad or join the microwave as a fundamental requirement of modern living? Only time will tell. But, as an apartment dweller with limited storage and bench space, I think I’ll pass. At least for now.

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