Are you thinking of upgrading or replacing your old hob? Whether you're currently using a gas, electric or halogen hob, there's another option you should consider: induction hobs.
What's an induction hob?
The induction hob is becoming more and more visible as a choice in top kitchen showrooms. Although the technology behind them isn't new (they've been around in restaurants since the late 80s), it's only recently that home users have started to enjoy the benefits of an induction hob.
An induction hob makes use of electromagnetic energy rather than a conventional heat source - so the hob heats up your pan or wok, but the hob itself doesn't get hot at the same time (a bit like a microwave).
Why should I consider an induction hob?
Induction hobs are cleaner, safer and greener than any of the more traditional options (gas, electric or halogen).
Because the electromagnetic technology means the hob surface itself doesn't directly heat up, an induction hob is far less likely to cause accidental burns (a big bonus for those with young children) - and there's no naked flame as you'd get with a gas ring. Additionally, induction hobs automatically cut out if your pan boils dry, reducing fire risk.
As with an electric hob, the actual working equipment of an induction hob lies beneath a wipe-clean toughened glass panel, making these hobs easy to clean. Unlike an electric hob, because the hob surface doesn't physically heat up, any spills from boiled-over pans won't sizzle and stick to the cold hob, saving you a messy clean-up job.
Finally, induction hobs are considerably more energy efficient than any of the competing options. Because the hob itself doesn't need to be warmed, no energy is wasted just heating up the air, and the automatic cut-out feature eliminates even more waste. Induction hobs are also low voltage, while still heating up and cooling down faster than a less efficient gas or electric hob.
Are there any downsides?
The big advantages of an induction hob are obvious, but as with any new technology, there are some possible drawbacks which you'll need to weigh up when deciding if an induction hob is right for you.
For starters, induction hobs aren't particularly quiet; unlike a virtually silent electric hob, an induction hob can be very noisy, which isn't a problem in a busy commercial kitchen (or a busy house!), but which might be an issue if peace and quiet are at a premium.
You'll also likely need to invest in some new cookware, as induction hobs only work with iron-based pots and pans. Although these can be picked up relatively cheaply, it's still something you'll have to factor in. Some customers have had success using special cast-iron mats which sit between the hob and the pan base.
The biggest factor to be borne in mind is the cost. Induction hobs are more expensive than more traditional options, both to buy and to have installed (a qualified electrician will need to fit an induction hob.) However, prices are continuing to fall, and the one-off cost of purchase and installation needs to be set against the potential savings on energy bills over the life of the hob; many customers have reported actually saving money in the long term.
Choosing the right induction hob
Once you've decided an induction hob is right for your kitchen, the next step is to do some homework. Most big-name brands now offer induction hobs, and any good appliance showroom will be able to show you a selection to match your needs (and your budget!) Go in with an idea of what key features you're looking for, and the sales assistant will be able to find something that meets your requirements.