Are Air Fried Foods Actually Fried?

Virtually everyone has wondered if their air fryer actually "fries" anything at least once or twice. Looking at the way this small appliance can crispen up a batch of fries or chicken nuggets with little to no oil at all, it can seem like magic. But if you've tasted enough air-fried food, you'll soon come to realize that they don't taste exactly like your typical fried food. It doesn't brown like food that's been fried with a bit of oil in the pan, and it doesn't crackle like something that's been given a trip into the bubbly deep-fryer, either.

The truth is that air-fried foods aren't technically "fried" — at least in the traditional sense. For something to be considered as having been fried, it must be cooked in oil. With an air fryer, oil is optional, not a must. So, if we were to classify food that's been prepped by this nifty appliance, they'd be more accurately described as "baked," which would be an apt adjective once you've learned of how the air fryer works — less like a fryer and more like a convection oven.

What goes on in an air fryer's basket

The way an air fryer works is pretty genius. At their core, they're compact countertop convection ovens that circulate hot air around the food in the basket. The heat is generated by an electric heating element, while a high-wattage fan ensures the hot air moves rapidly, cooking the food as it flows around it. By quickly spreading your food's oil or fat, the fast-moving hot air current creates a crispy texture that mimics the effect of deep frying, without the need for copious amounts of oil.

While a light misting of cooking oil can enhance crispiness and browning, air fryers don't require any oil at all to deliver good food. This is why air fryers have become so popular in recent years — you get to enjoy food that has taste and texture that are quite similar to fried foods without the concerns of consuming too much oil.

However, it's important to reiterate that true frying, by definition, involves cooking food in oil. So, while air frying is a clever workaround that provides a similar experience, it does sacrifice some of the innate qualities that make traditionally fried foods so irresistible. But with the right air-frying recipes and the ability to pull them off just right, you'll be serving up air-fried dishes tasty enough that your guests wouldn't be able to tell that they're faux-fried!