Many Chinese recipes begin with a wok and some hot oil. Indeed frying is so common that there are multiple words to describe it: chao (stir-fry), jian (make golden), zha (deep-fry) and bao (sauté).
So how is the air fryer doing in China, and are people tossing their woks out the window?
Air fryers really began to sizzle during the pandemic. In 2021 over 16 million of the cooking units were sold in China (an amount that roughly equates to every English home having one in their kitchen).
The technology is simple – air fryers are essentially souped-up convection ovens, or, as some have described them,‘a big hairdryer in a box’. The claim is that they can simulate the effect of deep-frying with little or no oil – think French fries with a fraction of the calories.
The average Chinese person consumes round 10 kilograms of vegetable oil a year according to the National Bureau of Statistics. And while this is far less than India or some other nations China is still battling an obesity epidemic.
Air frying, or fan-assisted convection cooking technology, has existed for decades but the modern “Airfryer” was born in 2010 when Philips released its countertop oven under that brand name.
Since then, the term has become generic, and as celebrity chefs and restaurants began using the gadgets, so their popularity grew.
In the last few years in particular there’s been an explosion of Chinese companies releasing their own models, causing the price to drop as low as Rmb100 ($15.74). By one count as many as 500 Chinese kitchen appliance makers now offer air fryers.
One company which has benefited from the boom is Biyi, which specialises in fryers and grills. The Ningbo-based manufacturer surged by the 44% limit on its first day of trading on the Shanghai stock exchange when it listed last month.
The air fryers appeal greatly to China’s growing number of professional singletons who live in smaller homes and may not even own a gas ring. Instead they tend to order delivery meals or make simple dishes in a rice cooker. A small air fryer that can quickly crisp some tofu or fry chicken is easier for them than cooking with a wok and oil.
Social media abounds with tips on how to create traditional Chinese food such as blistered beans and crispy dumplings in these discreet machines.
As well as limiting the amount of oil used, odours are also contained their proponents say. Other pluses advocates claim include easy cleaning (compared to greasy pans) and fewer carcinogens – because many Chinese homes filter and reuse cooking oil if they are using large amounts. The machines fit neatly into the trend of gadgets for one too.
However, analysts are not convinced that air fyers are going to become a kitchen staple in China. Air fryers regular top the list of most common items for sale on second-hand websites and air fryer recipe ‘disasters’ are a common sight on social media.
“Dry and boring” was the reaction of one Sina Weibo user who tried to make crispy tofu in her fryer. “Fine for french fries, bad for Chinese food,” wrote another.
Investors in Biyi’s stock will be hoping the doubters are proved wrong…
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