An Israeli start-up is getting ready to give your microwave a major upgrade. Using RF (radio-frequency) technology, Goji Food Solutions has developed a microwave-style oven that its developers promise will be used for much more than heating up food.
“Microwaves were never ideally designed for cooking,” said Gabi Zada of Goji. “Microwaves ‘shout’ at food, emitting rays in any and every direction. RF tech can be controlled and regulated, so the cooking process is precise and perfect every time.”
Imagine, said Zada, an oven where you could prepare a typical dinner – baked salmon, potatoes, a couple of vegetables, and even rolls – in a single oven all at the same time, and come back in 15 minutes to find everything cooked perfectly. The salmon would be steamy on the inside, and have just the right firmness on the outside; the vegetables would be crisp and tasty, the potatoes done to a turn, and even the rolls would be perfectly moist and tasty. All this, despite the fact that each of these items require different cooking times, methods, and levels of heat.
It sounds like a 1960s-style sales pitch for microwaves – which, most consumers would probably agree, never lived up to the hype. But the Goji people don’t want anyone taking just their word for it. Last week, at an event sponsored by international tech firm Freescale, Zada and Gil Gemer, the director of Goji Israel Food Solutions, showed off their oven to about 600 people, who applauded when they pulled a fully-cooked dinner out of the oven, consisting of a perfectly cooked salmon fillet, potatoes, couscous, and cherry tomatoes ten minutes after all the items had been put inside on a single tray – raw, and in the case of the fish and couscous, frozen. Each item was perfectly cooked and had a bevy of thermometers recording its external and internal temperatures. A panel of judges chowed down on stage.
And to show they were really serious, Zada and Gemer pulled off their second trick: For eight tense minutes, the Goji oven worked on a whole salmon frozen in a block of ice; and when the cooking cycle was done, the pair pulled the block of ice, still fully frozen – small icicles could still be seen on its sides – and broke the block open, revealing a perfectly cooked, steaming fish, with an internal temperature of 158 degrees Fahrenheit, just about the ideal temperature recommended by cooking mavens for safety and taste. For that one, Zada and Gemer got a standing ovation.
Those who witnessed that demonstration – as well as the millions who will witness it when the Goji oven goes commercial, hopefully at the end of 2016, said Zada – will never mistake the Goji RF-tech oven for an old-fashioned microwave.
“RF technology enables us to use energy in a much more intelligent way than microwave technology allows. If until now the term ‘cooking’ meant for most people steaming, baking, frying, broiling, and boiling, this technology will add a new concept – RF cooking – to their food prep lexicon,” he said.
Microwaves are not on that list, because despite their being touted as full cooking solutions few people use that device to actually make anything from scratch, according to US Labor Department statistics. Although 90% of American households own microwaves, they are used largely for reheating and for convenience foods, like frozen dinners and popcorn. In recent years, as Americans have expressed concern over unhealthy eating habits, sales of microwaves have slid.
The decline of the microwave, say experts, is a combination of two issues – concerns over food zapped by radiation, and the quality/taste problems inherent in microwave cooking. Microwaves tend to evaporate moisture, turning already low-moisture foods – like bread and many other carbohydrate-based items – into hard, inedible blocks.
Even for foods that should be well-suited for microwave cooking – like soups and stews – quality issues prevail. Unlike conventional ovens, microwaves cook from the outside in, so the temperature differences between different portions of the same food can be significant.
Food safety for meat, fish, and even vegetables is tied very closely to internal temperature; the United States Department of Agriculture urges that the temperature of chicken, turkey, beef, and other meats be measured with an internal thermometer to ensure maximum safety. For most people, microwave cooking from scratch just isn’t worth the risk, so the device is used for reheating food that was prepared and cooked the old-fashioned way, in a regular oven.
The magnetron, which powers the microwave, is its culinary undoing, said Zada.
“Magnetrons send out the microwaves in any and all directions inside the oven’s box – whatever it hits gets ‘cooked,’ as the waves jiggle the molecules of food and create heat. Each oven can have only one magnetron, so there is no accounting for different foods that require different temperatures and different cooking strengths, so even when you are pressing the settings for different foods on the keypads of better quality microwaves, all you are doing is essentially changing the on/off cycle of the waves without regulating their strength,” said Zada.
Not so with RF technology, especially the version that Goji has developed.
“You can have multiple RF chips in an oven, with each chip operating independently – and small enough to beam in on specific foods,” said Zada. “To the RF technology we have added very precise sensors, which we call volumetric energy delivery, that can detect the makeup, thickness, and moisture levels of foods, and using our database of cooking powers and times, we can beam RF frequencies to specific foods, and even specific parts of foods – so that you get the same stable temperature, and the appropriate power and strength, when you are cooking peas or thick roasts.”
Or, as the Goji team demonstrated, fish and ice. “Our system has been tested in numerous independent laboratories and universities, and published in multiple peer reviewed journals,” said Zada. “The safety and high quality of food cooked in the Goji enabled ovens is well-established.”
Besides cooking, he added, Goji’s technology could be used in a wide array of settings, from manufacturing to medical. “One major problem in organ transplants is defrosting the organ in a safe and timely manner to ensure its viability,” Zada said. “This technology could ensure that organs are defrosted under ideal circumstances.”
Goji is already in talks with several manufacturers of consumer products for mass production of ovens based on its technology, said Zada, and they are expected to hit the market toward the end of 2016. The biggest challenge for makers, he said, is likely to be overcoming the resistance of people who have been burned by microwaves – disappointed in their utility for anything other than heating up leftovers – to a device that looks a lot like a microwave, but behaves much differently.
“Like with many other innovations, I imagine they will first be sold on the commercial market, and they will likely be expensive,” said Zada. “Imagine what an invention like this can do for restaurants, hotels, schools, and any other place where getting tasty food out quickly is essential. Once people see it in action in restaurants, they are going to want one at home, and then mass production – with the accompanying cut in prices, as the technology becomes commodified – will take place.”
Goji is not the only company working in the RF for food preparation space – Dutch semiconductor manufacturer NXP is also touting the tech for cooking – but Goji says it is far ahead on the development path and will be ready for the market before anyone else.
Goji was making its pitch at the Freescale event because that company’s technology is at the heart of the oven’s capabilities. Freescale, said Israel General Manager Shmuel Barkan, is one of the few companies in the world that had the full range of technologies – including RF, processing, and sensor – to power an invention like the Goji.
“For us, innovation is developing technology to solve everyday problems and needs, like cooking and heating,” said Barkan. “We’re very proud to be partners with Goji, and I am positive their oven is going to be a breakthrough product for our RF technology.”