Shine On

‘Radiant fryer’ promises to cut the fat in deep-fried foods by half

Apparently, if you eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and tofu, you'll actually start to enjoy healthy foods and shun all that processed garbage that makes you fat. It's like your body starts to think garbanzo beans are Smarties, without getting hypnotized.

But for those of you who have yet to reach that nirvana state where raw kale with lemon juice tastes like a Big Mac, let us introduce the "radiant fryer." It sounds like something holy, and if it does all that it promises, it may just come to be worshiped as such.

Dreamt up by Purdue University food scientist Kevin M. Keener, the radiant fryer reportedly cooks traditionally deep-fried foods in a way that maintains a "fried" flavour, but with up to 50 per cent less fat than foods that are actually deep fried.

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What sort of magically wizardry has Mr. Keener been practicing to make this possible? We're disappointed to inform you that it's just plain old science.

Keener's radiant frier uses something called radiant energy to cook food, rather than bubbling oil.

A series of filament emitters in the fryer give off energy in the infrared range, similar to how a heat lamp gives off heat. After carefully mapping out how a product fries in hot oil, he then worked out how to achieve those heating patterns without the oil. Apparently, a constant heating process will not get a crispy crust.

A regular current oven can only get to 5000 to 10,000 on the heat flux scale, but to emmulate the stages of frying, you need to get to at least 30,000. This radiant frier does that.

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There are some unexpected benefits of the fryer.

"Oil masks a lot of underlaying characteristics of the food," explains Keener. "If you remove some of the oil, more of that flavour reaches your palette, you can really taste the food you're eating."

Right now, the fryer is designed specifically for cooking foods that have been pre-cooked in at least a bit of oil at factories — and then finished up in a fryer at a fast food restaurant or at home, like chicken and hamburger patties or hash browns. You can't just stick a potato in there and expect it to come out the other side all crispy and delicious.

These types of foods already contain oil and do not necessarily need the added dip in the fryer. With the radiant fryer, these foods are placed in mesh metal trays that travel down a conveyor belt between radiant energy elements on either side.

"At the moment we need control over the composition of the food," says Keener. "If a fry has a tapered end or piece of skin, that can be a problem."

Keener sees the current design as well suited to school cafeterias, where children accustomed to the look and flavour of fast food could have access to something that appears to be a normal burger, but actually contains about half the fat and fewer calories.

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An example of some potential fat and calorie savings? A KFC extra crispy breast has 510 calories, and 290 of those calories come from fat. The McDonald's crispy chicken sandwich classic sandwich has 510 calories, 200 of those from fat.

Now imagine those cut in half. Kinda makes you want your own radiant fryer, and apparently a lot of people do. Keener has been fielding calls from all sorts of individuals interested in getting their hands on one.

Sadly, we won't be seeing one of these in every suburban home anytime soon -- the current model is rather large and designed for commercial use, as each machine is tailored to cooking a specific food. Keener is hoping that those who currently deep fry pre-frozen foods in large quantities like fast food restaurants and cafeterias will soon be on board.

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