The microwave oven was invented in 1945 by an engineer called Percy Spencer. He was researching military uses for radar technology, and an accidental side effect of this was the invention of the microwave oven. Spencer noticed that the chocolate bar in his pocket had melted after standing in front of a magnetron. To test this further, he held a bag of corn kernels near the magnetron and watched as they exploded into popcorn. Spencer found that microwaves, such as those emitted from his radar equipment, caused the water molecules to vibrate and heat up, which caused the food to cook. Recognizing the potential of this, Spencer used the magnetron to create the first microwave ovens, which arrived in Britain in 1959.
After many years of using traditional ovens, the microwave oven was a startling change. Previously cooking had been a slow process, but now one could prepare meals in just a few minutes. Some argue that the invention of the microwave brought about ‘the rise of the ready meal.’ The first ‘TV Dinner’ was produced in 1954, and 10 million of those were sold in the first year alone. Since then, the popularity of ‘convenience food’ has grown and grown, and the chilled ready meal market in the UK is now worth over £2.6 billion each year. Busy lifestyles, long working hours, and an increased number of women at work are all seen as factors contributing to microwaveable food’s popularity. But what does this mean for our health? Studies in 2012 suggested that less than 1% of supermarket ready meals complied with the World Health Organization’s nutritional guidelines, and some studies have shown that microwaving food can significantly reduce the nutrients contained within. Despite this, the popularity of the microwave oven does not seem to be decreasing. Until a faster and more convenient way of cooking is invented, the microwave is likely to remain an essential piece of equipment in many kitchens.