A health concern has been reflected in more and more discussions in articles and blogs throughout the cooking world. The discussion is mostly about what chemicals may be released into the food as it is cooking and what the consequences may be from the chemical that are being released. More and more people are now examining every piece of cookware that they use in reaction to the fear of potential contamination. So the question arises — which metal cookware choices are good and which may be bad. The answers are not always what are expected and not always easy to assess.
Cast Iron: Let’s start with good old cast iron, one of the longest lasting types of cookware around. People often worry about iron leaking into their food. And in general there is a slight bit of absorption of iron in to the cooked food when cooking with traditional bare iron. The good thing is that iron is actually helpful and can bring about more health benefits than benefits. The way to circumvent this is to use enameled cast iron which essentially eliminates the issue. So if you have too much iron in your system, you should switch to enamel.
Aluminum: Aluminum has been popular for cookware for some time. It is a very good conductor of heat and there are a lot of inexpensive alternatives available. There are several emerging theories that aluminum is more susceptible to leaching into certain types of food but there are conflicting reports regarding the validity of these theories. Most of the aluminum cookware made today has an anodized surface with reduces the likelihood that significant problem even when cooking the most acidic foods In the future, there will continue to be investigations regarding possible damages that aluminum may cause but, to date, there are no definitive reports that indicate that it is not safe for general use.
Copper: Copper skillets and sauce pans are safe for the most part because they have interior linings of a layer of material that prevents the copper from getting into the food. Nickel and tin were the most common coating for copper cookware, so if you have allergies to these metals be sure to check with the supplier. However, the better brands use stainless steel linings which eliminates exposure of the copper to acidic ingredients. For candies and other sugar recipes, as well as mixing bowls for whipping eggs, unlined copper pans are used.
Non-stick: Teflon coated cookware was a fantastic addition to cookware when it was released years ago and is now in most kitchens, but there are increasing reports that Teflon coated cookware may produce toxic fumes when used at temperatures exceeding 400 degrees Fahrenheit (even though most of this cookware comes with a warning to not use above this temperature). So, it’s best to avoid high temperatures when cooking with Teflon. There are several non-stick alternatives to Teflon used in recently released products. One of the more interesting of these is Swiss Diamond which uses a surface of microchip diamonds.
Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is one of the most user friendly materials for cookware as well as one of the safest. Stainless steel is essentially inert and will not react with ingredients. However, steel is a poor conductor of heat. So this cookware is made with three to seven layers where the steel is wrapped around sheets of copper or aluminum which gives the cookware good thermal properties. Older versions of this cookware used a coating on the inner surface that could be disturbed by cleaning with abrasives or metal cleaning pads. However, more recent products use 18-10 lining which is much more durable. As a whole, stainless steel is about as safe as you can get. It’s easy to use and pretty affordable too.
Ceramic and Glass: Frequently over looked but quite useful is ceramic and glass cookware and they have none of the chemical issues of metal. They are not as versatile as the metal alternatives but are good selections for recipes that call for items to be cooked on the stove top and then finished in the oven. Some casseroles and pasta recipes were designed specifically for them. Ceramic and glass are subject to breakage with rough handling and have the potential for cracking when subjected to very rapid temperature changes.
The next time you go to buy a skillet or sauce pan or Dutch over which will be a work horse in your kitchen, consider stainless steel before anything else. But remember the other products have characteristics that are great for certain applications. So know what you want to accomplish and get the right pot or pan or skillet for that application.
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