Foodies have new tools

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Kitchen technology innovation was the focus of a “What’s New In The Kitchen” program Tuesday, Jan. 8, at the Paris Public Library.

Led by University of Illinois extension nutrition and wellness educator Mary Liz Wright, as part of the Nutrition and Wellness Series, the program reviewed the Spiralizer, heavy-duty blenders, the air fryer and the newest electric pressure cookers.

“We are going to learn what is new out there in the kitchen,” said Wright. “Then we will identify the purpose and function of the newest appliance and their economic value.”

The Spiralizer, introduced to the market in 2014, is used in the kitchen for cutting vegetables and fruits such as apples, cucumbers, potatoes, carrots and even parsnips. The food is pressed between the turning handle and the blade, which cuts it into spirals

Often the spiralized food is used as an alternative to pasta and is popular for creating lower carbohydrate food options.

Wright discussed the pros and cons of the Spiralizer and explained there are three versions of the gadget – handheld, countertop models and an electric version.

Spiralizers are usually equipped with three blades. The flat blade cuts the produce into round noodle shapes much like spaghetti. Another blade creates ribbons and a large wide-blade produces a spiral strand.

Spiralized vegetables are easily frozen explained Wright especially sweet potatoes, butternut squash, beets, carrots and broccoli stems. They may also be stored in water in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Heavy-duty blenders range in price from $150 to $500 and are good for making soups, smoothies, sauces, nut butter and even grain flours.

“A question is to ask yourself is ‘Is this for you?’ because they are quite the investment,” said Wright.

She noted the difference in a heavy-duty blender is the shape of the container, which is narrow and angled at the base creating a vortex in which the food pieces pass through the blades frequently creating a smoother evenly chopped-up product.

Another popular small appliance on the market is the air fryer that originated in Europe and Australia in 2010 before spreading to the Asian and North American markets.

The fryers operate by circulating hot air containing extremely fine droplets of oil around the food and work similar to a convection appliance said Wright. She added air fryers cook faster than an oven producing food with crispy and crunchy exteriors and can replace typically fried food such as french fries and frozen breaded products.

“A benefit is they use 70 to 85 percent less oil than traditional frying,” said Wright.

Other dishes made in the air fryers include fish, breaded appetizers, steak, chicken, potatoes and even desserts such as brownies, cakes and churros.

Pressure cooking is experiencing a resurgence with models available as either stovetop or electric versions. The steam locked inside the cooker reaches temperatures above the boiling point, which cooks the food quicker at a higher temperature.

Wright said pressure cookers and pressure canners are not the same thing.

“They (pressure canners) are explicitly used for preserving low acid foods such as meat and vegetables,” said Wright, noting pressure canners work by reaching temperatures higher than a water bath canner to destroy harmful microorganisms and maintain consistent pressure over time.

Wright emphasized a pressure cooker is not safe for the canning process.

“A canner is very different from a pressure cooker,” she said.

One of the most popular recent kitchen appliances is the Instant Pot and products similar to that which are classified as multi-cookers. “Multi-cookers are typically an electric pressure cooker with additional functions such as being a slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker and used as a steamer or to sauté food,” said Wright.

They have many advantages such as quick, less expensive meals, more flavor, safe and efficient by using less energy and provide more nutrients.

Some disadvantages include they are bulky requiring large counter space areas, pricey and require initial education by reading the instructions.

“Every one of them operates slightly different,” said Wright. “It is a learning curve.”

For some people, the inability to check on the food during the cooking process may be a drawback.

“Pressure cookers lock and food cannot be checked on throughout the cooking period to watch for overcooking,” said Wright.

She explained the many parts of the different cooker appliances before discussing the three different ways to release the pressure, all of which require safety measures.

The three ways are quick release, natural release and combination release.

“Never force the lid open and use oven mitts for the quick release,” cautioned Wright.

More information about all of the devices is available on the Extension’s website at https://web.extension.illinois.edu/ and clicking on the YouTube tab at the top of the page. PDFs are also available by searching for the appropriate kitchen appliances.