What Is an Air Fryer, How Does It Work, and Is It Bulletproof?
By: Courtney Sperlazza, MPH
October 19, 2018
- Surging in popularity, the air fryer is a countertop appliance used for cooking nearly everything from fries to meats to veggies.
- The air fryer heats food from all directions by blowing hot air all around the vessel.
- The crispy browning results from the maillard effect, a reaction between amino acids and sugars that occurs when temps reach 280-330 degrees.
- Because it uses less oil, lower temperatures, and because you can use higher quality oils with it, the air fryer is a fantastic cooking method and has the Bulletproof seal of approval.
To get straight to the real reason you’re reading this — yes, you can have fries.
Now that that’s out of the way, you probably want to go deeper into how the air fryer works, whether air frying is a healthful Bulletproof-approved cooking method, and the right and wrong ways to use an air fryer.
RELATED: Instantly download the Roadmap of Cooking Methods to see which cooking methods keep nutrients intact and toxins low
What is an air fryer?
Surging in popularity, the air fryer is a countertop appliance used for cooking nearly everything from fries to meats to veggies. You’ll find the settings, heating element, and fan on top, and a basket at the bottom that pulls out like a drawer. The air fryer blows heat around the space, which crisps up the outer surface of food.
How does an air fryer work
Deep-frying makes your food taste amazing, but health-wise, hot oil ruins everything it touches. The sheer heat oxidizes the frying oil itself, then you drop your food in it to destroy the nutrients of your meat and vegetables, while the food soaks in the oxidized oil to the core. Damaged, oxidized oil is a major contributor to heart disease.
The air fryer, on the other hand, heats food from all directions by blowing hot air all around the vessel. As long as your food isn’t crammed in there, it will cook evenly from all sides.
So…it’s just a tiny convection oven? Not exactly. Air moves much more rapidly in an air fryer than it does in the oven, and it’s in a confined space, which affects cooking times and evenness.
The crispy browning results from the maillard effect (pronounced my-YAR, no “d” sound because it’s French), a surface-level reaction between amino acids and sugars that occurs when temps reach 280-330 degrees. That’s what makes browned crusts and seared meat so tasty and visually appetizing.
You can create a maillard reaction by deep frying, grilling, roasting…anything that gets the temperatures above the threshold. Those methods come with some problems, though. Cooking at super-high temperatures creates heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). You can read about those compounds and how to avoid them here.
If you keep temperatures around 320, you won’t reach temperatures required to create those nasty compounds on the surface. Even better, good fats don’t oxidize at lower temperatures, so you’ll get all the benefit of the healthy fat you’re eating.
Is the air fryer Bulletproof?
Unlike most diets that focus only on what you eat, the Bulletproof Diet prioritizes preparing your food in a way that keeps toxic compounds to a minimum. Gentle cooking prevents toxic compounds that form with high heat, and it keeps fats from oxidizing so that you can get all the goodness out of them.
Is the air fryer a gentle cooking method? Here’s how it works and what makes it Bulletproof.
The air fryer uses less oil
A lot of people like air fryers because you can make the foods you love with less fat, and they equate that with healthier eating.
Let’s say you want to make some sweet potato fries. Instead of soaking a perfectly good sweet potato in a quart or two of heated GMO refined soybean oil in your deep fryer (which was probably old and oxidized before you even opened the bottle), you can toss your sweet potato fries in a tablespoon or two of avocado oil, air fry, and get a crispy, satisfying result.
If you’ve been following Bulletproof for a while, you’re not afraid of fat, so that’s not the appeal. It’s the damaged fat in deep frying oils that you want to avoid. Frying with oil oxidizes the fats — meaning, free radicals (oxygen atoms) floating around steal away an electron. That changes the chemical structure enough to change the way they behave in your body. Instead of protecting your brain cells and hydrating your skin like quality fats do, they speed up aging and cause inflammation.
There’s far less oil available to oxidize, so even if a portion of the fat molecules get damaged, you’re not completely ruining your food.
Pro tip: if you miss the traditional french fry dipping action, you can try melting butter and sprinkling in a little ceylon cinnamon for dipping. Or, you can whip up some easy avocado mayo and add whatever herbs you like for a custom dip.
Air frying cooks food at lower temperatures
The Bulletproof Diet emphasizes gentle cooking. Raw foods and light steaming preserves the most nutrients, while keeping fats intact.
Recipes that have been converted for air frying typically drop your cooking temperature by 25 degrees. So, if you deep fry your meatballs at 350, you can air fry them at 325.
Most recipes are still a bit high in temperature. Ideally, you’ll cook everything at 320 degrees or lower. You can experiment with slightly longer cooking times at lower temperatures to get the result you want.
You can “fry” with super high quality oils
Damaged oils are cheap to produce, and therefore it’s cheap to fill a deep fryer with them. Healthy, high quality oil is expensive in comparison. Even though oils like avocado oil and ghee will withstand the heat, you’re not going to be too thrilled about dumping $20 worth into your deep fryer.
Air frying requires just a couple spoonfuls of oil, making it a cost-effective solution to frying with healthy fats.
Is air frying Bulletproof? The verdict…
If you keep your air fryer temperature setting at 320 or lower, air frying is Bulletproof! Much like the other countertop appliance that’s surging in popularity, the Instant Pot, it would fall in the yellow-green zone on the Roadmap of Cooking Methods. That means that it’s a great cooking method if you execute it correctly. Keep your temp low, and you’re in business!
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