The microwave oven, a spin-off from radar research in the Second World War, was the first new domestic cooking technology since the radiant electric ranges of the 1910s. It cooks food more quickly than a conventional electric oven and uses less energy, because microwaves heat food directly; the oven and the air inside it do not need to be kept at a high temperature during cooking. Australians began buying imported 'microwaves' (as they soon became known colloquially) in the 1970s, and this oven represents a short-lived attempt at local manufacture in 1984/5.
In 1975, fewer than 30,000 microwave ovens were sold in Australia. Many people were suspicious of microwave cooking, both because of the possible danger of radiation leakage and because microwaved food did not brown. By the mid 1980s Australian legislation had minimised the risk of leakage, and special browning utensils and methods had been developed. Distributors offered free microwave cooking classes to purchasers, and the convenience and speed of microwave cooking suited changing lifestyles. In 1985 Australians bought more than 550,000 microwave ovens.
Compared to most countries, Australia now has very high ownership of microwave ovens. They are frequently used for defrosting and re-heating food, including packaged microwaveable dinners, but are less often used to cook meals.
When it comes to saving energy, the picture is complex. Compared to cooking on a gas burner, there are many energy losses before microwaves reach the food: coal-fired electricity generation is only about 30% efficient; there are further losses in power lines; and the magnetron in the oven is only 50% to 75% efficient. Compared to defrosting food slowly in a refrigerator, using a microwave oven for this purpose wastes energy. On the up side, microwave cooking compares well to use of a conventional electric oven, and cleaning up afterwards uses less hot water than for most other forms of cooking.
Debbie Rudder, Curator, 2012.