I got a little lazy while making breakfast recently; instead of sautéing some sliced onions on the stove for my vegan omelet, I decided to cut down on dishes by popping them in the microwave. No harm in that, right? Wrong. The next thing I knew, it looked like fireworks in that little electric box. At first, I thought I was going crazy—could a raw vegetable really start a mini-fire in the microwave? Well. Let’s just say that after some digging, it became very clear that tinfoil isn’t the only thing that doesn’t belong in a microwave.
Thankfully, I averted serious damage by pulling out the onions at the first sight of sparks, but research has taught me that other foods may lead to the same unwelcome Fourth of July sich in my kitchen. “Arcing,” according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, usually happens with foods that contain high amounts of minerals, including iron, magnesium, and selenium. Since those minerals act like “tiny pieces of metal,” microwaves bounce off them just like they would a fork, causing the sparking effect. The food is still edible after these incidents occur—it just doesn’t taste as good since it’s not cooked properly.
Sparks aside, other foods—particularly those that are round or have skin—can actually explode in the microwave. It’s something past research has shown happens because the inside gets heated first, causing a buildup of steam. When all that pressure needs to escape, it does—with a boom. To make sure you don’t cook anything that’s not microwave-safe, check out the following list of sparkers and exploders (culled from a deep dive of googling, YouTube watching, and unfortunate personal experiences) so you won’t be left with a scary surprise.
Beware: These foods aren’t microwave-safe
- potatoes (unless you poke holes before cooking)
- shelled eggs
- tomatoes and tomato sauce
- hot dogs
- spaghetti squash
- whole grapes
- bell peppers
- green beans
- sliced grapes
This is the best (and safe) way to cook vegetables in the microwave. Or, the next time it needs a solid cleaning, find out how lemon water can help get rid of every crusty food stain ever.
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