Technology developed by a food scientist at Purdue Univ. could cook food that retains its "fried" flavor and consistency and has up to 50 percent less fat and fewer calories than food cooked using conventional methods.
The radiant fryer was developed by Kevin Keener, professor of food science in the College of Agriculture. It uses energy similar to sunlight to cook pre-formed food items like chicken patties, hamburgers and hash browns. Food is placed in wire trays that travel down a conveyor belt with radiant energy elements on either side.
Keener says many foods sold at fast-food restaurants are partially cooked at a factory and quickly frozen. Restaurant workers typically use an oil immersion fryer to finish the process.
"The radiant fryer does not require additional oil to finish the process, which means the food that it cooks could have 30 to 50 percent less oil than food cooked with the traditional frying," he says. "The food could be more appealing because a person tastes more of the food's ingredients and less oil."
The radiant fryer improves upon oil immersion fryers in other ways, Keener says.
"Because the amount of energy used to fry foods can be adjusted, the cook time could be 30 percent faster than the cook time with an oil immersion fryer," he says. "There is little to no oil to handle, which means the radiant fryer could eliminate risks associated with oil fryers, including the thousands of injuries each year from workers being burned."
Keener says the technology could benefit officials who oversee school lunch programs.
"Kids are familiar with fast food, and they consume a lot of it each year," he says. "The radiant fryer cooks food in a way that simulates fried fast foods, but with fewer calories and fat. Using the radiant fryer could satisfy kids who crave fast food."
Although the radiant fryer currently works best with pre-formed, partially fried foods that are consistently shaped, Keener says fat content and calories could be further reduced by developing foods specifically for radiant frying.
"Obesity in the U.S. is a serious health issue," he says. "Radiant frying is a technology that can achieve desirable finished food qualities while reducing calories and fat content."