Knowing where our food originates is more than just a pop culture trend — it’s a paradigm shift with broader cultural and marketplace repercussions. The food we eat is a major determining factor in how we feel in terms of health and happiness. In both cities and rural areas, access to high-quality ingredients has expanded—from farmers markets, to community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery services, to grocery stores carrying more products from regional growers and purveyors.
But you still need need time to prepare those ingredients, plus the knowledge and skill to preserve the nutrition and flavor. There’s no point in buying a pasture-raised roasting hen and organic Romanesco broccoli if your cooking methodology depletes their inherent goodness. Finding the time and attention to source and prepare nutritious meals has become an issue for many due to increasing work-life imbalance. That pressure can make for tough choices about the quality of food we consume.
The wide adoption of microwave ovens in domestic kitchens during the late twentieth century speaks to the fact that this dilemma has been building for a while — but that technology by itself has limitations. Today, most of us just use our microwaves for making popcorn or heating up frozen meals — compromising on food quality to save time.
But “cooking in a box” is about to radically change over the next decade. At NXP, we’ve developed a revolutionary cooking solution that enables users to cook nutritious meals from fresh and high-quality foods—with greater control, precision, speed, and intelligent support.
Faster, healthier cooking at home
The application of radio frequency (RF) energy for cooking food started as a way of using RF technology to solve problems. RF energy generated by a semiconductor device is implemented in a circuit, which controls both delivery and consumption of power. This RF energy provides dielectric heating of food—similar to microwaves, but with far greater precision.
NXP is providing solutions to appliance OEMs that enable them to create cooking appliances using solid state RF energy for consistent, high-quality cooking and greater convenience. Food prepared in this manner not only better retains moisture and nutritional elements by not overcooking, it yields results in a shorter time versus conventional appliances. Last but not least, this technology is also designed for intelligent connection to the emerging ecosystem of on-demand food services.
Down the road, RF technology offers the potential to effectively eliminate human intervention in the cooking process. Once cooking begins, there’s no need to periodically check in on the process for any reason. RF parameters can be precisely set. Sensors capture information about what’s cooking. Software instantly analyzes the data and finely controls the cooking process. This selective heating intelligence varies the relative and phase and amplitude of the emitted RF energy from multiple sources, letting users cook different types of food within the same appliance at the same time.
There are other benefits of solid-state RF power transistors in food prep appliances, including extremely long service life, near-zero power degradation over time, and low-voltage operation. The only capability not provided by solid-state RF cooking is browning, which can be handled through the inclusion of a secondary convection or radiant heat source.
New kitchen wisdom
To address the challenges that appliance manufacturers would have in understanding how they can differentiate a cooking appliance using solid state RF energy, we decided to create a countertop appliance that reflects the benefits we believed were possible in terms of design aesthetic, functionality, convenience, and performance.
NXP’s concept oven combines microwave, RF and convection technologies as well as Internet connectivity for intelligent operation and coordination with rapidly developing cooking ecosystem services (e.g., online recipes, boxed meal services, CSA delivery). The response—from OEMs, press and users—was immediate and positive.
The concept oven uses a cylindrical appliance design because that geometry offers certain advantages with RF. This demonstrates not just innovative functionality, but also the potential for re-shaping the physical construction of appliances. Designers have the freedom to go beyond “shoe-box” form factors and experiment with formats that differentiate the user’s experience while introducing attractive, contemporary styles into home kitchens.
In the same way that GPS technology was the starting point for making self-driving cars an imminent reality, the emergence of new smart cooking devices is lighting a path toward automated food preparation in the home – or at the very least least highly intelligent kitchen assistance for those who are less experienced or who don’t have enough time to regularly produce healthy, home-cooked meals for their families on their own.