As an enthusiast of both kitchen-craft and technology, I am constantly tinkering with new ways of doing things in the kitchen, and new devices of all kinds to make the kitchen a more exciting place, especially devices that introduce an entirely new concept into my arsenal. As such, I wanted the first device review to launch our new segment focusing on home kitchen and cooking technology innovation to be something very clever and truly fascinating.
The Tovala Steam Oven took up that mantle quite nicely. But does it live up to its own hype? Does it truly deliver something new and exciting to the kitchen? Let’s explore.
Overview – The Initial Premise
“We’re Tovala, a meal service for insanely busy people. We’ve reinvented home cooking to save you time,” and “Meals that cook themselves in our smart oven. No need to shop, prep, cook, or clean. Instead, use our WiFi-connected smart oven to scan, relax, and enjoy.” These are the current marketing tags that will greet you upon visiting Tovala’s website, and they are some lofty claims to consider.
At first glance, Tovala’s 2nd-generation steam oven looks like a fancy, futuristic microwave, while in reality, at it’s root feature level, it is a smart app-enhanced countertop oven that combines the functions of a toaster, an oven, a steamer, and a broiler. Of these four functions, only one is unique among most countertop ovens: that of steam cooking. And indeed, that it where much of the magic takes place with the Tovala.
The oven is heavily marketed alongside Tovala’s subscription meal service, which ships meals to your door that can be prepped in as little as 2 minutes with no chopping, mixing, or fuss, and which can go from fridge to plate in between 15 and 20 minutes or so. As such, we will be evaluating the Tovala first, based on it’s initial marketing premise as a meal delivery service, and second, as a countertop multipurpose home oven.
“Meals that Cook Themselves”: Tovala as a Meal Delivery Service
Tovala’s promise is one of convenience: instead of having to prep and cook a meal from scratch, order takeout, which can be expensive and unhealthy, or even use a delivery meal kit, which often still require prep of their own, Tovala offers a neat, prepackaged meal that is ready to go in their oven in about two minutes. Each comes with a main course, as well as a vegetable or a side. And in most cases, the only prep is putting the protein or main dish in the included foil pan, add a sauce or seasoning, repeat the same with a side, pop them both in the oven, scan a barcode, and relax for 15 to 20 minutes.
Coming in at around $12 per meal, Tovala isn’t the cheapest way to eat dinner every day, but compared to competing services such as Blue Apron (which requires prep work for their meals) or HelloFresh, and other similar services, Tovala’s prices are actually very comparable, especially considering that every meal contains a significant protein, and isn’t filled with mostly rice or fluff ingredients.
And how do the meals taste, you might ask? I had the opportunity to try three different meals from Tovala’s plan – two chicken-based entrees as well as a salmon-based entree, and I must admit: each one of these meals was delicious, and offered restaurant qualify flavors and textures. While the portions are not small, they also are not large – and for a somewhat larger fellow like myself, I supplemented these with a chaser. But if you are after heathy meals that offer excellent portion control, these meals leave very little to be desired.
The cooking times on each of the meals were fairly precise – nothing was undercooked, nothing came out dry (partially due to the magic of steam cooking), and nothing was overcooked. I was able to track the progress of my meals as they cooked from within the Tovala app, and the oven sounded a friendly chime when the food was ready to eat. It couldn’t really be any easier or more convenient to cook a meal with fresh and healthy ingredients. And that is another strong plus: All of the foods in their meals are very fresh and include raw ingredients that aren’t processed or tampered with, and are not filled with preservatives, chemical coloring or filler materials. Just fresh, clean food.
As a meal service, price of the meals aside (all fully prepped meal kits are somewhat on the spendy side), Tovala does an overall excellent job of delivering on their main premise of offering meals that, indeed, essentially cook themselves paired with the accompanying steam oven.
Tovala as an Independent Cooking Device
It’s easy to create a device that can product good and repeatable results with pre-measured and pre-prepped ingredients – and if that’s all you would intend to use the Tovala for, you would do well. But for me, naturally, that alone just wasn’t going to satisfy me. Why have an an extra device taking up space that really only does one thing? Fortunately, for the Tovala, that is certainly not the case.
First of all: the Tovala is very easy to set up for the first time using the app. It took me about two minutes, and the app walked me right through it. You can also connect the oven to multiple devices with the Tovala app installed, which is especially nice if you are using it for multiple people.
It also has a cool feature called Scan to Cook, which is another of its greatest highlights. It can cook a wide variety of frozen foods from typical grocery stores, such as toaster pastries, pizza rolls, and other convenience foods, just by scanning the barcode on the package – and this works very well on a fairly wide variety of items. I did not find a single scan-to-cook item I tried that did not provide great results.
I used the Tovala for a variety of other tasks – I baked some muffins (which, by the way, come out extra moist and delightful when cooked with steam and finished with a light broil for color), put together a couple small loaves of bread, which also come out especially great when cooked with steam, and prepared a few of my own recipes, all of which worked reasonable well. Let there be no doubt: the cooking power of steam is real, and it can do some great things for various types of cooking. Creating a recipe, however, takes a fair bit of work.
With the app, you can create a custom recipe and program each of the Tovala’s four cooking modes: Bake, steam, broil, and toast. But it does take some trial and error –
when and how long should you use the steam setting versus the dry bake? How does steam affect cooking time and temperature? These are all questions that eventually rose to my mind. And honestly. that is an area that Tovala could significantly improve on: more guidance and instruction on customizing your recipes with the oven’s features, and more information on how each mode works, how it really varies from the other modes, and best practices for using each. I found myself coming up with much of this thinking from scratch.
One thing that I was especially impressed with, however, is just how precise and repeatable the results are when using the Tovala, how well the recipes included within the app work, and how well the app is structured around certain basic home cooking tasks. For instance, cooking “boiled eggs” in the Tovala was exceptional. The instructions for soft boiled, medium boiled, and hardboiled always turned out the exact result I was looking for.
The one other main area that I felt could use some work was the toasting: while it did produce mainly acceptable results, there is definitely some unevenness with the toasting. However, to be fair, this is true of almost all countertop ovens, and the Tovala did not do measurably worse than any other countertop devices that I have used extensively.
Service, Support and Versatility
One thing that I can strongly say in favor of Tovala is that they do offer excellent support. The Tovala includes a 100-day trial, so if you don’t love it, you aren’t stuck – simply return it with no questions asked and get your money back. On top of that, the oven also includes a two year warranty, which differs from many other countertop ovens which typically offer one year.
Tovala also makes it very easy to order fitted accessories (such as muffin pans), extras of the included items, including the baking tray and oven rack, the same metal meal trays that their prepared delivered meals always include, and even a large roasting pan.
One of the very nicest things about the app is that it has a built in chat feature. So if you have any issues and questions of any kind about your Tovala, you can very quickly and easily chat with a member of their customer support team. This is a huge draw that is rarely seen in home cooking appliances.
All in all, I was very fascinated and impressed by the Tovala. Sure, it has some weak points, but it also has plenty of great strengths that make it worth a look. And if you’re looking for the most convenient meal delivery service on the planet, Tovala has you covered.
Overall Rating: 4/5 Stars
The Tovala Steam Oven is available for $299.99, and all SonnyDickson readers can get a nice $150 discount off the starter kit if you use the meal service for 6 weeks (with as few as 3 meals per week), which makes it a great way to try out the delivery service at a bit of a discount.
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