How Do Microwave Ovens Work and What are Their Uses?

Spread the love

Did you ever wonder how do microwave ovens work? Why does it heat food so quickly and efficiently? Besides heating food, do they have other functions? Well, you are fortunate enough because those are what we will be discussing today. But first, let us define what microwave is.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, a microwave is a form of electromagnetic energy that has very short and fast waves, which heats up atoms of water and some other substances.

In order to give you a bit of history, the microwave was accidentally invented by Percy Lebaron Spencer, a self-taught engineer. He was testing a magnetron and when he reached for his chocolate bar in his pocket, he found out that it has melted.

To check how it really worked, he tested it again with an egg and then it exploded on his face. And the next day he tried it with corn kernels, and he was able to make some popcorn. After that, they made the first microwave oven which was initially a flop because it was way too heavy, big, and expensive. It was not until about two decades later that they sold a more compact version which became a hit and until now, it is an appliance used in most households.

How Do Microwave Ovens Work?

Inside the oven is a component called magnetron, which produces microwaves from electricity. In order to power the magnetron, the transformer changes home electricity from 120 volts to 4,000 volts or higher. Then, the voltage heats fibers at the center of the magnetron which causes electrons to boil off. These electrons would line up toward the anode that envelopes the filament.

However, the two ring magnets above and below the anode deflect the electrons back to the filament causing them to fly around in a circular form. These microwaves typically have a frequency of 2.45 gigahertz. They heat food quickly and efficiently because they send heat energy directly to the molecules inside the food. To put it more simply, it heats food through radiation just like how the sun warms your face.

The microwave door has a metal mesh that acts as a mirror to prevent the heat from leaking out. Moreover, these mesh holes are too tiny that is why microwaves cannot escape. In addition, microwaves need to have a turntable to move the food around while heating. As such, the appliance heats it evenly to prevent having food that would have some cold spots and some hot spots.

Microwave ovens begin to cook food from the inside and continue outside. To understand it better, imagine cooking a cake at 600 degrees Fahrenheit in a convection oven, the result is a cake burnt on the outside while the inside might be dry but cooked. That is because heat is first transferred on the outside before it travels to the inside.

On the other hand, in microwave cooking, heat penetrates the food by energizing water and fat molecules. Moreover, heat does not need to migrate because heat is everywhere all at once and most of the time unevenly.

The Uses

The microwave oven is most commonly used for reheating food and usually only takes a matter of seconds. That is why this appliance is not only seen in households but also in restaurants and coffee shops. Baking in a microwave is also a possibility. In fact, there are a lot of microwave oven cake recipes on the internet because it is becoming popular. Unlike in a convection oven, you can have a baked product in minutes when you use a microwave.

The microwave oven is also useful for defrosting frozen food. This is very helpful especially when you are in a hurry. However, you have to make sure that you are using the defrost function of your microwave because using a different setting will cook the food. Steaming fresh vegetables and fruits can also be done in a microwave oven because this is a common preset function on this appliance. What is best is that it only takes a few minutes to get the results that you want.

A microwave oven is an excellent tool for melting butter and chocolate as well. All you need to do is put the butter or chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and pop it in the oven and in a matter of minutes, you will have your melted butter or chocolate. Finally, the microwave is also a device you can use to soften brown sugar, cream cheese or ice cream quickly.

The Cons

According to research, food and plastic containers heated in microwave ovens are harmful. It is said that when you heat food in the microwave, it kills all the great nutrients it has because of the high temperature. Additionally, ionization, the process it uses to heat food, can cause cancer even in controlled areas. Also, it was found that heating plastic in the microwave releases toxic doses of Bisphenol even if it’s labeled microwave-oven safe.

Another reason why some people don’t like microwave ovens is that the texture and taste of the food become different. These ovens can also cause microwave sickness if you are exposed to its radiation for so long. Some of its symptoms include nausea, impaired cognition, vision problems, depression, insomnia, headaches, and weakened immune system.

Furthermore, there was also research that regular intake of microwave-oven-heated meals causes a person’s blood chemistry to change for the worse.


Now that the question “How do microwave ovens work?” and “What are their other uses?” have been answered, we cannot deny the fact that microwave ovens have made cooking and heating food more convenient for families. However, as discussed above, its use also has a lot of disadvantages that is why it is important to follow the rules for its proper usage. Furthermore, we should never underestimate the power of radiation for the reason that we all know what it can do.

Microwave ovens can be both our friend and foe, so we should use it to our advantage and not the other way around.