Innovations & Healthy Choices: Specialty Kitchen Appliances

Contact Grills • Deep Fryers • Kitchen Scales • Rice Cookers • Slow Cookers

Today’s specialty kitchen appliances embrace technology with an eye toward healthful eating. The capability to connect through mobile applications also has emerged. However, spending extra cash on some of these innovations might not be as “smart” as it seems.

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Be healthy and stay connected. If that sounds like a mantra for the modern consumer, it also is one that manufacturers of specialty kitchen appliances heed.

In a May 2014 study, market-research company Mintel found that 88 percent of consumers say improving health through diet is a top goal. It’s little surprise, then, that manufacturers of rice cookers embraced steam cooking and that air fryers are more prevalent than ever before.

It perhaps was inevitable, too, that Wi-Fi connectivity would make its way to specialty kitchen appliances. (Consumers spent an average 2 hours, 21 minutes per day on their smartphone or tablet computer in 2013, not counting phone calls, according to eMarketer, which analyzes digital marketing, media and commerce. That’s up 46 minutes from 2012.) You’ll find kitchen scales that consult online databases to provide nutritional information about the food that you weigh and a slow cooker that allows you to check results and control functions remotely. You also will pay premium prices for such connectivity.

BETTER RESULTS. The health benefits of steam cooking long have been known. Rice cookers that have the capability to steam food in an included basket or tray that you add to your rice cooker as your rice nears completion have become widespread. What’s better yet, these rice cookers are less expensive than ever before. At press time, we found 60 such models that start at $20. That’s down from $35 when we last examined the category and found only 24 steaming-capable rice cookers.

Another health-minded cooking appliance that increased in availability is the air fryer. Air fryers skip most of the oil that you use in a deep fryer. A small amount of oil—typically, a tablespoon  or less per batch, depending on the type and amount of food that you cook—is sufficient. Instead, air fryers circulate hot air to cook food. We found eight models that start at about $100. Previously, only a single $300 model existed.

“Because oil is fat and fat is the most calorically dense, it makes sense health-wise to use less,” says dietitian Wendy Levine Slater. She says food that’s “fried” by using an air fryer has up to 25 percent fewer calories than does food that’s fried in a deep fryer. However, we found that food that’s cooked by an air fryer has a thin outer crispness, not the thicker crunchy exterior that a deep fryer achieves.

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Manufacturers of contact grills, which are designed to channel away excess fat, went more for flavor with their recent innovations. Five contact grills now have more-powerful heating elements that give the grills the capability to sear meat. Searing seals in juices and addresses a complaint of contact-grill cooking—dried-out meat. Buying a contact grill that has searing capability will heat up your wallet by at least $70, however. Contact grills that don’t have searing capability start at $19.

COOK SMART. Kitchen scale manufacturers took notice of consumers’ appetite for connectivity to their various mobile devices. Two models from different manufacturers now allow consumers to connect the scale to a mobile device through Bluetooth technology. This connectivity then allows you to use a free mobile application to gain access to databases of hundreds of thousands of food categories to know the nutritional value of the amount of the food that you weighed.

The app for The Orange Chef’s Prep Pad Connected Digital Scale ($150) shows you the nutritional content of individual food types and recipes and allows you to adjust any amounts to achieve your desired mix. The app also stores your adjustments for future use. The Escali SmartConnect Kitchen Scale ($100) goes a step further. This model allows you to connect to the company’s body scale via the app so you can record/track your weight along with caloric and nutrition information.

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