Why kettles and toasters are so popular in the UK

supermarket shelf showing kettle and toaster for sale

Small kitchen appliances are fascinating because they vary so much from country to country. And if there are 2 appliances that define a British kitchen, they are the kettle and the toaster. Often sold as a matching pair, it is extremely unusual to find a kitchen without these items – and yet in many other countries they are far less common.

So why are they so popular and what do people do with them?

First, the kettle. It is just a jug that boils water. It is mostly used to make hot drinks such as tea, instant/filter coffee or hot chocolate, which is why you’ll find one in nearly all UK hotels. Thanks to the fact pretty much everyone owns a kettle, manufacturers also offer all sorts of convenience foods that just need added boiling water, including soup, desserts and flavoured ‘instant’ noodles, pasta and rice. While most people have an electric kettle, there are a few who choose a non-electric type that needs to be heated on their hob. While perhaps more stylish, these stove-top kettles are less popular because they take much longer boil the water, they are less energy efficient and it’s easy to forget to switch them off (British electric kettles switch off automatically when they reach boiling point).

The second must-have British kitchen item is the toaster. The most common type has slots for 2 slices of sliced bread, although you can get larger versions. Pushing down the side lever starts a series of grills that will brown the bread on both sides at the same time. The amount of browning time can be adjusted, usually by using a dial. Some toasters have extra settings (such as toasting bread from frozen), but essentially they all do the same thing.

Toasters are loved because they transform sliced British bread (even if it is stale) into ‘toast’ – a tasty snack with a crunchy exterior and soft middle that is usually spread with a bit of salted butter or margarine. It’s great as it is, or you can add any number of further toppings – jam, peanut butter, Marmite, honey, chocolate spread, pate, fish paste, cream cheese … or turn your toast into a meal by adding hot baked beans, Cheddar cheese, fried eggs or whatever.

Bread is the most common thing to toast because it is the cheapest. However, you don’t have to stop there because there are lots of other bakery products that can be toasted, including bagels, tea cakes with raisins, crumpets, pitta breads, English muffins and more. Some of these, such as crumpets, are never eaten ‘untoasted’. You can even buy ‘toaster pockets’, which are special bags that allow you put a whole sandwich into the toaster (be aware this will be with varying degrees of success).

Toasters and kettles are cheap – from about £13 each. That means they are affordable for everyone and their versatility in terms of making simple meals means that some people rely on these 2 items for nearly all of their cooking. There’s also tradition. After spending long hours at work in industrial revolution times, the quickest way to make something cheap, tasty and hot was to boil water for tea over the fire and eat it with toast, created by placing bread on a fork and holding it beside the flames.

So despite the growing popularity for more expensive electrical items that can also make hot drinks or heat snacks, a combination of price, versatility and tradition make the toaster and kettle firm favourites in a British kitchen.

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