How does a microwave oven work?

Now, microwave oven is so popular that majority of houses have one. Many use it mainly to reheat food without loss of nutrient. The advantage is that the microwave heats up the food very fast.

Some observations made on microwave oven are,

  • It does not heat up the vessels directly
  • It is not able to cook food contained inside metal vessels
  • If the turn table does not work, cooking will not be even.

 

So, it is pertinent to ask how the mechanism of heating in a microwave oven is different from other heating devices?

Here the water molecules, which are polar in nature play the magic. (A polar molecule is one in which the centre of mass of positive charges and the centre of mass of negative charges do not coincide and have a net dipole moment.) When microwaves are passed through food materials, the water molecules contained in them tends to turn and this rapid churning of water molecules develops a lot of heat. The turn-table adds to the churning and randomization developing heat more rapidly.

The food materials contained in a closed metal vessel will not be heated up by the microwave oven as they do not allow microwaves to pass through them. The metals are opaque to microwaves.

Why the food materials heated using microwave dry up and become stiff when cool?

In a microwave oven, the water molecules are heated very fats that the water is converted readily into steam. If kept open, the steam will escape and the material will become hard when cooled due to the decrease in the water content.

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