Refrigerators used to be pretty much limited to keeping milk cold and ice cream frozen.
If you haven’t shopped for a fridge in a while, you probably haven’t seen some of the newer features that make refrigerators, well, cool.
Here are some worth checking out.
• Convertible zones: Sometimes you need more freezer space; sometimes you need more refrigerator space. Samsung solves that with its Convertible Zone, a compartment that can convert from a refrigerator to a freezer and vice versa, depending on your needs. The compartment is available in two Samsung models, its Chef Collection Refrigerator and a 32 cubic-foot, four-door fridge. The zone has a capacity of a little more than 6 cubic feet.
With Frigidaire’s Convertible Freezer/Refrigerator, you can even convert the entire unit. The sometimes-fridge, sometimes-freezer has a capacity of 17 cubic feet, which is smaller than most refrigerators. It’s intended to provide extra storage, perhaps for food prepared in advance of a party or frozen foods purchased in bulk.
• Freshness systems: A number of refrigerators are incorporating or adapting the dual-refrigeration system pioneered by upscale refrigerator brand Sub-Zero. The system involves separate cooling systems for the refrigerator and freezer, so air from each compartment stays in that compartment.
That’s supposed to keep refrigerator odors from entering the freezer compartment, which means no more weird-tasting ice. It also enables the unit to maintain lower humidity in the freezer, reducing freezer burn.
Sub-Zero’s system has a compressor and evaporator just for the refrigerator section and another set for the freezer. Less astronomically priced refrigerators, such as KitchenAid models and GE’s French door refrigerators, share a single compressor for the whole unit but have separate evaporators for the refrigerator and freezer. Some Samsung refrigerators have three evaporators, which makes possible that convertible compartment we mentioned earlier.
• Tricked-out drawers: Different foods are best stored under different conditions, so many refrigerators have drawers that allow you to control the humidity and sometimes the temperature.
KitchenAid’s French door refrigerators and GE’s 29-cubic-foot Profile and Cafe models all have a drawer with specific temperature settings for optimum storage of foods such as meat, wine, produce and cheese. Samsung’s Chef Collection refrigerator has a section that chills food at 30 degrees, the optimal temperature for fish.
• Ice boosters: When it’s party time, the demand for ice increases. Automatic ice makers in some refrigerators are stepping up to that challenge.
Sub-Zero, KitchenAid’s French door refrigerator and Fisher & Paykel’s ActiveSmart model have ice makers that allow you to ramp up ice production temporarily. The ice maker is optional on the Sub-Zero and Fisher & Paykel refrigerators.
• Super filters: Filters are doing a better job of cleaning both the air that circulates in refrigerators and the water used for drinking and ice-making.
Sub-Zero’s air purification system removes odors, viruses, bacteria and ethylene, a gas that hastens ripening and therefore makes produce spoil faster. KitchenAid French door refrigerators have an ethylene-absorbing cartridge in their produce drawers, too.
Water filters are also doing extra duty. Sub-Zero’s water filter reduces viruses and bacteria that may be present in water and ice. And GE recently introduced a filter for its French door refrigerators that removes trace amounts of five pharmaceuticals that may be present in water — ibuprofen, progesterone, atenolol, trimethoprim and fluoxetine. The filter can be used to retrofit previous models.
• Water dispensers plus: Even the water dispenser is getting a makeover.
Samsung’s 32-cubic-foot, four-door refrigerator, for example, dispenses chilled sparkling water as well as the noncarbonated kind. GE’s 29-cubic-foot Cafe French door refrigerator dispenses hot water as well as cold, at any temperature from 90 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.
And GE’s 29-cubic-foot Profile refrigerator has a feature called Hands-free Autofill, with a pull-out tray that can hold a pitcher, stock pot or other vessel while it’s filling. Technology borrowed from the systems used to fill locomotive fuel tanks senses when the container is almost full and shuts off the water flow.
• Rapid cooling: Several refrigerators, including Bosch models and French-door fridges from Frigidaire, offer a quick-chilling function that lowers the temperature in the refrigerator or freezer temporarily. That prevents warmer food from lowering the temperature of the whole compartment too much.
KitchenAid’s quick-chilling feature lets you drop the refrigerator and freezer temperatures to their lowest settings during high-use times to offset the temperature loss when the doors are opened frequently.
• Contents at a glance: You can grab frequently used foods quickly from Samsung’s new Food Showcase Refrigerator, which has an accessible compartment in the door for foods such as cooking sauces, drinks, snacks and juice boxes. Opening an outer portion of the door exposes just the compartment; opening the whole door gives access to the refrigerator’s entire interior.
• Smart technology: Smart technology hasn’t quite lived up to its early promise for refrigerators, but manufacturers haven’t stopped trying to make the most of computerization and wireless technology.
Whirlpool, for example, will soon be selling the CoolVox refrigerator, which will let you stream music to your kitchen. A few refrigerators, including models from LG and Samsung, have LCD screens and apps for such tasks as looking up recipes and leaving notes for family members.
Some GE French door refrigerators let you monitor energy use, adjust some settings remotely and receive maintenance and service alerts. Whirlpool’s smart fridge performs similar functions and even alerts you if you’ve left a door open.