You might have seen someone do it, read about it or maybe done it yourself and put a paper towel over your food in the microwave.
But why do we put a paper towel over food in the microwave?
What are the benefits of doing this, why is it so common and how can you get the best results heating up food in your microwave with the help of a paper towel.
Putting paper towels over food in a microwave can help in all sorts of ways. It can stop splattering, trap steam and moisture to make your food cook better and not dry out. Plus wet paper towels can be used to add moisture and help your food cook more evenly.
Paper towels are actually pretty useful in a microwave if you use them correctly and in this article we'll look at the different benefits of putting paper towels over food in the microwave.
Paper Towels Stop or Catch Splatters
When you heat up food in the microwave you can often get pockets of super heated liquid that then boils to the surface splattering food everywhere.
This happens with soup, it happens to pasta sauce and can often happen with oily foods where the oil boils and splatters everywhere.
Placing a paper towel on top of your food will catch this splattering and means you don't have to clean the inside of your microwave.
Or placing a paper towel underneath your food can catch a lot of these drips and splatters too.
Paper Towels Trap Moisture and Stops Your Food From Drying Out
By placing a paper towel on top of your food the paper towel is able to trap steam from escaping your food, keeping your food more moist and stopping it from drying out.
The paper towel will absorb some moisture yes, but a lot of it will stay in the bowl and that moisture also carries a lot of heat, so it can help to heat your food more evenly.
Wet Paper Towels Give More Even Cooking and Can Rehydrate Food
When you actually wet your paper towel and put that in the microwave with your food you can get more even cooking and a wet paper towel can even be used to rehydrate food.
You know how rice often gets dry when left in the fridge overnight? Well using a wet paper towel can add moisture into your rice as it cooks.
A wet paper towel will also absorb some of the microwave energy in the microwave, meaning your food gets less intense energy and cooks more evenly. This can lead to better results and more even cooking.
Wrapping sausages, hot dogs or other foods like corn on the cob in paper towels also stops it from drying out and the skin getting really hard.
While microwaves do tend to heat things all over the skin of items tends to become extremely hot, more so than the rest of the item. With sausages you can notice this where the skin gets hard whereas the sausage is still cold.
By wrapping food in a wet paper towel the paper towel becomes the outer “skin” receiving the bulk of the microwave energy. When it heats up it's full of water so the hot water helps to heat up your food while also stopping it from drying out.
However, I would personally avoid wrapping any food in paper towels (even if it makes your food cook better) because of the potentially harmful health issues that paper could potential cause. More on this below…
Paper Towel Can Stop You Damaging The Turntable
Microwave turntables are usually made from glass and often you're putting glass or ceramic bowls, plates or cups into the microwave.
If your item hits the glass turntable with too much force it can cause cracks or chips. Also some people (my partner included) hate the sound of glass on glass. It makes their hair stand up and their toes curl.
Putting paper towel down flat on the turntable means you are putting down a layer of protection and your ceramic or glass container is less likely to damage the turntable.
Flat paper towel is fine to put in the microwave but be careful of scrunched up/folded paper towels as these can get so hot they catch on fire…as seen in my video below or in my article on why your paper towel caught on fire in your microwave:
Paper Towels Do Carry Some Health Hazards
In my article on whether or not you can microwave paper I talked about the chemicals in paper and how they could possibly be carcinogenic.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) dioxins are highly toxic to humans and can cause cancer as well as reproductive and developmental problems as well as damage the immune system.
Then this study showed that finished paper products (paper towels are a finished paper product) actually contain these harmful dioxins.
This article also states that:
A series of studies by the EPA and paper industry revealed over the past five years that dioxins are a byproduct of the paper bleaching process and that some amounts of dioxins are transferred to paper products.
So while it's not guaranteed that any paper towels actually carry dioxins it seems like there is some evidence they might.
That's enough for me to avoid wrapping my food in them.
I am happy to put paper towels over my food (but not touching it) or to put it underneath my plates or bowls to catch spills but I wouldn't be having paper towels touching food in the microwave if I can avoid it.
Tea Towels are an Alternative To Paper Towels
Instead of using paper towels in the microwave you can achieve the same or similar results by using a tea towel or cloth.
Whether you use it dry to simply cover your food and trap moisture or you wet it and wrap it around your sausages of hot dogs this is a way to avoid the potential harmful chemicals that may be in paper towels.