If you have a microwave oven, you may realized a peculiar little button called “Power Level”. So what is power level in microwave oven and why does it matter.
Basically, the power level is the amount, or the percentage, of the total power being delivered to the food. Think of it as the heat settings on a normal oven. However, unlike normal ovens where you set temperatures, here you select the fraction of the total power.
Most people who use microwave ovens are oblivious to the power levels. However, they are of critical importance for certain tasks.
In this article we talk in depth about what are power levels, how you select them and why they are important.
What is Power Level in Microwave Oven?
As mentioned earlier, Power Level setting in a microwave oven allows you to set the percentage or the amount of the total output power, in wattage, that microwave oven should operate at.
Most digital microwave ovens have 10 power levels settings, each corresponding to a 10% increment. Therefore, on a microwave oven with 10 Power Level settings, selecting “1” would operate the microwave oven at 10% of the total output power, “2” would operate it at 20%, “3” at 30% and so on.
While most just the max Power Level i.e 10, and never bother to change it ever again, the amount of Power Level serves very important function when cooking.
A Note On Input and Output Power
You will notice that microwave ovens, like most appliances, have an input power and an output power rating.
Basically, the input power is the power drawn from the wall socket, whereas, the output power is the power converted into microwaves for heating the food.
When we talk about Power Level selection, we are referring to the output power selection NOT the input power selection.
Take for instance a microwave oven with a 1500W input and a 1000W output power. If you select Power Level “1” here, the power delivered to your food will be 100W (10% of 1000W) and NOT 150W (10% of 1500).
What is Power Level Important?
Most people do not pay much heed to the Power Level selection. However, home chefs who are particular about their cooking are quite well versed with its benefits.
We discuss how selecting the Power Level is different from microwave to microwave below. However, here are some general uses at different output power settings.
1. Warm (Power Level 1 or 10%) – Approx 100 Watts
This is the lowest power level setting on a microwave oven which corresponds to 10% of the total output power.
This excellent for keeping food warm, softening chocolate or cheese.
It is also an excellent choice for slow and even defrosting
2. Low (Power Level 2-4 or 20%-40%) – Approx 200-400 Watts
This is an excellent choice for defrosting your food fairly quickly and also evenly. This is also often used for simmering rice, preparing sauces etc.
3. Medium (Power Level 5 or 50%) – Approx 500 Watts
Anything that requires slow cooking and baking for foods that need time to settle, this is an excellent option.
Slow-cooking cooks the food thoroughly and gently while making sure it does not dehydrate or over cook at any place.
4. Medium-High (Power Level 6-8 or 60%-80%) – Approx 600-800 Watts
This power level is excellent for reheating purposes. It is fairly quick as well as gentle on already cooked foods.
This is also great for roasting meats or baking. It is generally recommended to use Medium-High Power Level for a shorter span of time for crisping along with Medium Power Level for a slow-cook over a longer span of time for meats and other main course dishes.
5. High (Power Level 9-10 or 90%-100%) – Approx 900-1000 Watts
Anything related to liquid, this is the power level to go for. For boiling water, reheating soups or milk, this would serve you well.
This is also an excellent settings for cooking foods that can be fast-cooked like fish, ground meat etc.
Power Levels have an important function in cooking presets.
If your microwave oven comes with common cooking presets such as defrosting, beverages, popcorn etc, then basically power levels are at work here.
When you select a certain preset, the microwave sets the correct Power Level as well as the cooking cycle for you.
For instance, when you select “defrost”, the microwave sets the power level to somewhere in the lower range.
Some microwave ovens are multi-cookers. They have options to cook rice, oat meals, eggs, pizza, pasta, and all sorts of cooking items automatically for you.
These are high tech microwave ovens that come with sensor technology as well as Multi-Stage cooking.
Multi-stage cooking allows the microwave oven to change the Power Level midway when cooking.
For instance, when preparing meat, the oven may start at a medium power level for slow cooking the inside and then automatically change it to high for short while to cook it from the outside.
How is Power Level Selected and Represented?
There is single standard for selecting the power level on microwave ovens.
For most digital microwave oven, the Power Level selection is done via pressing the appropriate “Power Level” button and navigating to the desired selection via the LCD screens, for the others it is different.
Some ovens may have a manual knob selector for Power Level.
Others may have preset buttons such as Low, Medium, Medium High, High etc
Power Level Increments
While most microwaves have a total of 10 Power Level settings or 10 increments of 10% each, others may have fewer or more.
For instance, some may feature 11 or even 12 Power Level section, others may have 7 or 8.
In such cases, it is preferable to refer to the manual to find out what amount of output power, in watts or percent, each increment corresponds to.
How Does a Microwave Oven Regulate a Certain Power Level?
For those who want to get into the nitty gritty science and details of how the power levels, we will talk about it briefly here.
The way a certain Power Level is regulated depends upon the type of electrical device installed for regulating and stepping the input voltage down.
With a Transformer
Most of the microwave ovens use a transformer for regulating the Power Level.
Transformers work on the principle of turning the Magnetron Assembly (the component that actually produces microwaves) ON and OFF periodically to maintain a certain power level.
For instance, if the Power Level selected is 100%, then the Magnetron may be ON for 100% of the cooking cycle time. However, if the Power Level is 50%, then it may be ON for half the time and OFF for the other half.
With an Inverter
Some rare microwave ovens, especially those from Panasonic, ditch the heavier transformers and resort to using inverter circuits.
These circuits have the intrinsic mechanism to continuously deliver just the amount of power as is needed by the selected power level to the Magnetron.
In others, an inverter circuit does not turn the Magnetron ON and OFF and instead supplies a constant stream of Power.
Inverter microwave ovens are newer and are generally more expensive.
Also Read: What is Microwave Oven Inverter Technology?
In this article we talked extensively about what is Power Level in microwave oven. The key thing to remember here is that correct use of power levels can enhance your cooking experience.
While most home users just set a certain power level and never bother with it again, a home-chef would be a lot wiser in this regard.
Some foods require high heat, others require lower. Thus Power Levels give you a lot more control on your cooking.