Created | Updated Nov 11, 2011
Microwave ovens are a phenomenally important invention. They are modern kitchen appliances which are a little bit larger than a breadbox and look to the untrained eye a bit like a television. Microwave ovens use energy in the form of microwaves, that is radio energy of extremely short (micro) wavelength, and have all sorts of interesting properties; one is the ability to penetrate all sorts of things, to quickly heat the water molecules in food. This cuts down the time required to cook food to roughly the same amount of time it will take to eat it.
The History of Microwaves
Microwaves reflect off metal rather than penetrate it and the discovery of this amazing property allowed radio researchers in the 1930s to experiment with the idea of shining radio waves into the sky and looking for the reflections when they bounced off aeroplanes. This 'Radio Direction Finding equipment', eventually to become known as radar, was naturally considered very important and all sorts of people spent a fortune developing it.
One of those involved also noticed another amazing property of microwaves: that they cause water molecules to vibrate and become heated. He discovered this when standing in front of a prototype radar dish in 1938, and a chocolate bar in his pocket spontaneously melted. His name was Marvin Bock, and for the next three decades his hobby was to try to cook the perfect hotdog in a huge device he built in his garage.
Sadly for Marvin, by the time he got it right he had also discovered that microwaves do unpleasant things to the insides of the people working with them. He died in 1971 without ever knowing the part he had played in the creation of an entire generation that thinks cookery consists of 'rip the lid off and nuke it'.
More sadly still, Marvin's boss, Percy Spencer, is credited with having invented the microwave oven, although not until 1945. That's after Marvin Bock had been trying to cook hotdogs in his garage with valve-radio technology for seven years. Even Gary Larson's 'Far Side' cartoon calendar for year 2000 credits him with discovering that chocolate in the pockets of radar engineers melts quicker than chocolate elsewhere.
Saddest of all, it took several decades for the lessons of Marvin's demise to be learnt, and occasionally people continued to dry their cats in microwave ovens... with disastrous results. Then they invented mobile telephones; which emit something very similar to microwave radiation very close to people's brains.
The radio telephone is the latest use to which microwaves have been put. Aside from microwave-related stuff in cellular phones, telephone companies erect tall towers on hill tops, which then transmit telephone conversations to other towers using a 'tight-beam' of microwave radio energy focused using a microwave dish. This saves them going to all the trouble of laying a cable and is relatively harmless to people and cats, but does sometimes result in the occasional cooked bird falling out of the sky after inadvertently crossing the beam.
Food Cooked in Microwave Ovens
Microwaved food has two characteristics:
Microwaved food has a subtle flavour, not unlike rice cakes or styrofoam, with just a hint of shoe and a pinch of wet dog.
Food often leaves the microwave with a rubbery, elastic consistency.
Frozen dinners and ready meals
Frozen dinners and ready meals are two of the main types of food heated in microwave ovens. The value of these meals lies in the fact that they save even more time - no actual food preparation is necessary, apart from heating up in the microwave. Often called convenience foods, there are number of varieties of these, including:
- Pasta dishes.
- Beef dishes.
- Chicken dishes.
- Vegetarian dishes.
- Chili mac or 'western' dishes.
- Chinese food or 'eastern' dishes.
- Traditional Salisbury steak.
The food in these dinners consistently taste like cardboard. In combination with the microwaving process, the food acquires a certain consistency of flavour. It makes one wonder why manufacturers bother with all the different box labels and types of food when they all taste the same anyway. Some critics invariably question whether frozen dinners even qualify for the definition of food at all.
Oddly enough, after being microwaved, the cartons taste remarkably like filet mignon.
Water is frequently heated in a microwave.
This feat, over the past 30 years or so, has drastically changed how many hot beverages are made. During the pre-microwave oven era, the process of making many hot drinks used to involve waiting for a kettle to whistle on the stove. Now, many hot drinks come in powdered 'instant' form, and this powder is added to water or milk and is then microwaved. As a consequence of this phenomenon, entire generations of young people in many parts of the world, most notably in the west, don't truly know how to make a nice, hot cup of tea.
Popcorn is easy to make in the microwave. However, if you get stuck, please refer to the following handy and simple set of directions:
- Unwrap the bag.
- Put it in the microwave.
- Set the timer for five minutes.
- Press start.
- Leave room while popcorn is popping.
- Smell something burning.
- Realise it's your popcorn.
- Run back to the microwave.
- Stop it.
- Take out the bag.
- Open it.
- Be knocked unconscious by the nauseating smell.
- Regain consciousness.
- Throw bag away.
- Unwrap another bag and start the process again.