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In this article you are going to find out what the safest cookware material is. You are likely looking to reduce the amount of toxins in your kitchen, and you want to cook with something that is safe and won’t leach off heavy metals or non-stick chemicals into your food.
WHAT IS THE SAFEST?
There are a few safe options and choosing between them will depend on what you want to use it for.
- Glass pots work best for boiling water or pasta noodles. Glass bake ware is excellent for casseroles.
- Cast iron is wonderful because it is so versatile, I think every home should have a cast iron frying pan. Saute vegetables, cook pancakes, grill sandwiches, or scramble eggs in cast iron.
- Ceramics (glazed clay) are excellent for stews and soups.
- Clay pots can be used to cook meats, roasts and soups. They impart a sweetness to acidic foods.
- Enameled pots and pans are excellent as long as the quality is good. Use them to cook acidic foods that would otherwise leach.
- Stainless steel is an easy cookware that is not heavy or finicky to work with. It is a good cookware material to have on hand and it is perfect for searing.
- Stoneware is most useful for baking cookies, breads, pastries and pizzas.
Lets have a look at each of these cookware materials in more detail.
Glass is nonporous and does not react with it’s contents, it is used to make a variety of cookware, from baking pans and oven-safe dishes, to pots and pans for the stove top. Glass cookware absorbs more heat than metal cookware, this means that food cooks faster and browns more. When baking in glass, the temperature should be lowered by 25 degrees.
Glass cookware made before the 1980’s is made from borosilicate and is shatter-resistant. Today glass cookware is made from more environmentally friendly soda lime, but it is more shatter-prone under high heat. You must be careful when using glass cookware, do not subject it to extreme temperature changes, or it will break.
Cast iron is simple, it is made of one material – iron. This material is durable, while providing even heating and good heat retention. Cast iron has been used for generations, it is inexpensive and when properly seasoned and pre-heated, it rivals non-stick pans.
Cast iron is virtually indestructible when well taken care of, a cast iron pan will last decades. I have a cast-iron pan that was my grandmothers and it is still in excellent shape. They are very heavy, which can be a bit cumbersome to get used to, but their superior quality and heat distribution make up for it.
This versatile cooking vessel can be used in a variety of ways: from stove-top, to broiler, to campfire. You can use metal utensils with cast iron and not worry about scratching. It is a perfect cooking medium for breads, pancakes, stir-fries, and sauteed vegetables. It is not recommended for soups, liquids or acid foods as they will leach an iron taste from the pot.
100 % Ceramic cookware refers to clay pots and pans that are kiln-fired and specially glazed. They are free of heavy metals and synthetic polymers. Ceramic is a non-reactive cooking medium that emits far-infrared heat. It has a lower thermal conductivity to metal, meaning it slowly absorbs and emits heat. Once ceramic is hot, it gently and evenly conveys heat, while supporting a full range of subtle flavors to emerge. High-fired ceramics are durable and versatile.
You must be careful with ceramic cookware, as it may contain lead in it’s glazing. According to the National Institutes of Health, “any ceramic cookware bought in another country or considered to be a craft, antique, or collectable may not meet FDA specifications, and should not be used to hold food. Test kits can detect high levels of lead in ceramic cookware, but may not detect lower levels that may also be dangerous.”
Note: Stay away from teflon-coated ceramic cookware.
Enameled Ceramic or Porcelain
Much of the “ceramic” cookware you find today is actually ceramic enamel, a fused glass surface overlaying a cast-iron/metal pot or pan. Porcelain is also used as an enamel over metal cookware.
Both of these enamels are safe to use. They are inert and do not react with acidic foods. The only downfall is that cheap enamel cookware can chip easily, allowing the metal interior to react with food. They require a gentle cook, using only wood and plastic utensils and need care when stacking. The surfaces of these enamels are easy to clean and relatively non-stick.
This type of cookware is very durable and strong and has excellent heat-transfer characteristics. They can be used to fry, roast, bake, serve and store.
Note: Avoid nonstick coated ceramic cookware. The synthetic, so called “ceramic” (not clay) coating will degrade over time. Even if the coating is PTFE and PFOA free, it will scratch, pit and wear with regular use and will need to be replaced. Old or imported products may contain cadmium or lead.
Stainless steel is an alloy that, when used in cookware, is made with 18 % chromium and 8-10 % nickel. Stainless steel offers an almost perfect cooking material. It is non-reactive, nonporous, resistant to scratches, dents and stains, resists corrosion, cleans easily and is virtually maintenance free.
The only downfall of stainless steel is that it is a poor heat conductor. Because of this, manufacturers often add another material such as aluminum or copper plates to improve conductivity. This adds to the cost of the cookware, but creates an ideal cooking medium.
Stainless steel works for most cooking, but salty or acidic dishes that require long cook times should be cooked in different material. The salt and acid can create pits in the steel surface.
Earthenware delivers satisfying results. Like all glass and ceramics, clay is non-reactive, so you don’t have to worry about metals or other materials leaching into your food. Clay pots allow for lower temperature cooking because they diffuse heat slowly. Once a clay pot is hot, it holds and distributes heat more evenly than metal. Clay offers a slow and gentle cook that leaves nutrients intact and encourages subtle flavors to be released. Soups and braised dishes do exceptionally well in clay pots.
Unglazed clay pots are alkaline, and thus reduce the acidity of the food that is cooked in it, imparting a delicate sweetness.
Clay is a heavy material that must be handled with care or it will crack. They must be seasoned and they must be heated slowly to prevent breakage. Cooking with clay is an art, but once you get the hang of it, the benefits are well worth it.
Stoneware is another type of clay material that is used for baking. It is less porous than clay cookware. Once seasoned, stoneware becomes non-stick. Stoneware has thermal mass and is a poor heat conductor, this provides an even-cooking, non-burning surface. Stoneware imparts flavor and adds crispiness because it absorbs moisture.
Stoneware is used for pizzas to give a crisp crust. It also works well for cookies, pastries and breads. Care must be taken with stoneware to prevent cracking. Extreme temperature changes must be avoided and it must be cleaned without soap.
Cookware to Avoid
PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic acid) is the compound that is used to manufacture non-stick coatings. It is linked to thyroid damage and is a likely human carcinogen. PFOA’s build up in your body and are difficult to eliminate once they are absorbed.
High-temperature cooking with Teflon cookware can induce a “Teflon flu” in which you experience flu-like symptoms several hours after inhaling toxic Teflon fumes – yuck.
There are 2 types of aluminum cookware: non-anodized aluminum and anodized aluminum. Anodized aluminum has been sealed with a coating to make it denser, harder, non-reactive and non-stick. Most cookware today is made of anodized aluminum. The problem with the newer anodized pots and pans, is that they have a non-stick coating applied to them, which has it’s own health dangers.
Old aluminum pots and pans are often made of non-anodized aluminum. These can leach aluminum particles into the food. They react with acidic foods that are cooked in them and give them an unpleasant taste. Non-anodized aluminum pots are usually heavy, with an appearance of having been pressed from a single piece of thick metal. The inside and outside are the same color.
Hard anodized aluminum is said to be a safe cookware, and it can be, if it is not scratched at all. Once it has become scratched, it can leak aluminum into your food. Also, if a non-stick coating is applied, you will be exposed to those chemicals as well. We all know how easy it is to accidentally scratch a pot or pan, so why even bother investing in aluminum cookware then?
Copper responds to heat very quickly. It heats well and evenly, then looses heat rapidly when the temperature is turned down. It is more reactive than cast-iron or aluminum and is often sold “tinned”, or mixed with another metal such as stainless steel to prevent copper leaching into food. Large amounts of copper ingestion can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Coatings on copper cookware can break down over time, exposing the copper to food. Old copper cookware often has tin or nickel coatings and should not be used for cooking.
Copper is often used as a base to help stainless steel cookware conduct heat better, and as long as the copper is not coming in contact with the food, it is safe.
Buying safe cookware can be a fun and easy experience. Stainless steel will give you the most variety for cooking, cast iron is excellent for frying, glass is the top choice for baking, and other natural materials such as stoneware, porcelain or clay are excellent choices, whether they are enameled or not.
Just make sure you avoid teflon and toxic non-stick coatings as well as aluminum and copper cookware.
What cookware do you use in your kitchen?
This post was originally published on February 13, 2016.