Are healthy air fryers hot stuff? Gadget that promises to make fried dishes with a fraction of fat

A delicious fried chip crispy on the outside, fluffy in the middle and made using little or no oil sounds like an impossible dream.

But thanks to air fryers — counter-top machines that cook by rapidly circulating hot air — it is possible to mimic the effect of deep-fried food with far fewer calories and a fraction of the fat.

Latest machines reduce fat by as much as 80 per cent with the effect that calories are almost halved. For example, a portion of home-made chips cooked in a deep-fat fryer clocks up around 330 calories and contain 11 grams of fat. The same chips cooked in an air fryer with one tablespoon of oil come out at 170 calories, and just three grams of fat.

Better still, they don’t make your kitchen smell like a chippy. The whiff is similar to that produced by a standard oven rather than the overwhelmingly greasy pong of a deep fat fryer.

Claudia Connell gives verdict on six of the best air fryers available to purchase in the UK – including Philips Turbostar Premium air fryer (pictured) 

Although the gadgets have been around for years, they’ve soared in popularity in the past 12 months. In their annual consumer report published this month, John Lewis revealed that sales of air fryers have increased by 400 per cent — with lockdown and our desire to experiment more in the kitchen playing a part.

But can these gizmos deliver on their promise? Here I put six to the test…

BRILLIANT BUT BULKY

Philips Turbostar Premium air fryer, £181.35, amazon.co.uk

Cooking enough for four servings, this model is big and bulky and will take up a lot of counter-top or cupboard space. The instructions are next to useless and I had to watch a YouTube video to be sure how to operate it. The machine has two dials — one for temperature, one for time. Its recipe book is uninspiring but you can download an app with more adventurous ones.

CHIP TEST: Using frozen chips, I fill the generously deep compartment and don’t add any oil. As with all air fryers, frozen chips don’t need oil but home-made ones do.

I set the temperature for 180C, the timer for 12 minutes (as instructed in the booklet) and stand back and wait for the magic to happen. The machine makes a whirring sound and halfway through I pull the compartment out by the handle and shake. Although the chips look done, I decide to give them another minute for extra crispiness.

When I bite into them I’m in chip heaven. They’re perfectly cooked in half the time it would take in the oven. And they have that deep-fried taste with zero oil used. What kind of witchcraft is this?

SAUSAGES: As the basket is so large, I can comfortably fit six Lincolnshire sausages. I set the timer for 16 minutes and, while I don’t doubt they’ll cook, will they go brown? After turning halfway through, the answer is ‘yes’. They were hot, sizzling and evenly brown when I took them out. 4/5

CHEAP AS CHIPS

Salter 4.5-litre digital air fryer, £59.99, salter housewares.co.uk

Claudia said Salter 4.5-litre digital air fryer (pictured) perfectly cooked her chips in 15 minutes and her mushroom in eight minutes

Claudia said Salter 4.5-litre digital air fryer (pictured) perfectly cooked her chips in 15 minutes and her mushroom in eight minutes 

Considering this model is at the cheaper end of the market, it looks magnificently glossy and chic and wouldn’t look out of place next to a fancy coffee machine. It’s simple to operate. Key in the temperature and the time on the digital display and away we go.

CHIP TEST: Using frozen chips and no oil, I fill the large compartment and press start. It’s very quiet and although the instructions say to allow 18 minutes, my chips are perfectly cooked in 15. They’re so appetising that I don’t even feel tempted to drench them in ketchup as I normally would.

BREADED MUSHROOMS: Mushrooms on their own? Little balls of slime. Yuk. Mushrooms covered in breadcrumbs and deep-fried? That’s a different story. Using a recipe from a YouTube video (there are thousands of air fryer recipes there) I dip my mushrooms in cornflour, then egg, then breadcrumbs mixed with parmesan.

I spray with olive oil and cook for eight minutes. They emerge crispy, beautifully cooked with the mushroom still al dente. They are indescribably delicious.5/5

FANTASTIC FRIES

Tower Vortx 4.3-litre digital air fryer, £74.99, towerhouse wares.co.uk

Claudia said Tower Vortx 4.3-litre digital air fryer (pictured) made her tofu melt-in-the-mouth delicious within 15 minutes

Claudia said Tower Vortx 4.3-litre digital air fryer (pictured) made her tofu melt-in-the-mouth delicious within 15 minutes 

The deep compartment is big enough to cook enough food for a family or one greedy chip lover. Simple to operate, although the supplied recipe book is feeble.

CHIP TEST: The noise the machine makes as it fries sounds like an aircraft is about to land in my kitchen. But it’s worth it because the chips cook in 11 minutes and they give me the best result yet.

Every single chip is fried to perfection, no burnt ones, no brown bits, just dozens of heavenly fries that are dangerously more-ish.

CRISPY TOFU: I’m not a tofu lover. It looks so unappealing and, in my experience, tastes like an old bath sponge. But could an air fryer make even tofu tasty?

Using a YouTube recipe, I make a marinade with cornflower, garlic, sesame oil and soy sauce. I fry the pieces for 15 minutes, turning once. They are melt-in-the-mouth delicious. I never thought I’d see the day when I went back for second helpings of tofu.4/5

POTATO PRO

Ninja Foodi Max Dual Zone air fryer, £229.99, ninjakitchen. co.uk

Claudia said Ninja Foodi Max Dual Zone air fryer (pictured) produced chip shop quality chips without the bucket of oil or nasty fried smell

Claudia said Ninja Foodi Max Dual Zone air fryer (pictured) produced chip shop quality chips without the bucket of oil or nasty fried smell

Huge, and looking like professional catering equipment, this monster has two full-sized compartments, adding up to 9.5 litres, meaning you can cook an entire meal for a family. You can either sync the compartments so that your food is ready at the same time or operate them separately. Being a technical dunce, my heart sinks at the prospect of operating this but it’s so idiot-proof I don’t even need to consult the instruction booklet.

CHIP TEST: This time I cook home-made chips. I cut my Maris Pipers into chunky fingers, wash and pat dry and toss in one tablespoon of sunflower oil. As frozen chips have already been partially cooked, home-made ones take longer.

After 16 minutes, I’m keen to see if my peeling, chopping and washing will all have been worth it. I’ll say! I’ve produced chip shop quality chips without the bucket of oil or nasty fried smell.

FROZEN SCAMPI: In the second compartment, I add a bag of frozen breaded scampi that, after 12 minutes with no added oil, emerge as perfect little balls of deliciousness. The breadcrumbs are browned and crispy and the fish inside is moist and succulent.

They might even have been healthy-ish if I hadn’t dipped them in tartare sauce.5/5

SADLY SOGGY

Tefal ActiFry Genius XL 2 in 1, £284.99, lakeland.co.uk

Claudia said Tefal ActiFry Genius XL 2 in 1 (pictured) left her with soggy chips 

Looking more like a slow cooker than the traditional egg-shaped air fryer, I soon realise that ‘genius’ may well be a reference to the fact you need to be one to understand the instructions, which consist of 34 separate diagrams the size of postage stamps. The machine has two compartments — the bottom one for vegetables or potatoes and the top one for meat or fish. Despite the hefty price tag, it doesn’t feel as sturdy as the others.

CHIP TEST: I put my home-made chips in the bottom pan (which is deep and can hold a super-size portion) and add a tablespoon of oil. What I later realise is that it doesn’t cook both foods at the same time. Instead it cooks what’s in the bottom pan and then keeps it hot while the top ingredients are cooking. Sadly this left soggy chips.

FRIED CHICKEN: I coat four drumsticks with egg, then panko breadcrumbs. I spray with oil and put them on for 20 minutes turning halfway through. They turn out to be beautifully crispy but the machine gets red hot to the touch, unlike the others.2/5

BLISSFUL BACON

Lakeland Digital Compact air fryer, £69.99, lakeland.co.uk

Claudia said Lakeland Digital Compact air fryer (pictured) cooked her chips beautifully and her bacon just the way she likes it

Claudia said Lakeland Digital Compact air fryer (pictured) cooked her chips beautifully and her bacon just the way she likes it 

Not all air fryers are huge. This dinky machine is no bigger than a kettle and perfect for couples, singles or those with no kitchen space. It has a simple digital display and looks sleek, glossy and discreet.

CHIP TEST: At 1.6 litres, I’m able to put enough frozen chips for two people in the compartment. In 12 minutes, with no oil added, they are cooked beautifully. I don’t hear the timer ping and forget about them — but 10 minutes later they’re still piping hot.

BACON: I like my bacon very crispy, with no white fat visible — impossible to achieve in a frying pan without adding oil and it seems to take forever under the grill.

I put four rashers in the compartment and let the machine whir away for nine minutes. No smells escape and I wonder if it’s working. but I pull the handle out to reveal . . . four pieces of bacon just the way I like them.4/5

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