With Thanksgiving later this week, many people are getting ready to cook a family feast. If your celebration is anything like mine, the meal will be abundant ... and that means using practically every pot and pan in the house.
Before we start stirring, simmering and baking ... let's talk about our cookware and find out which options are safe and Eco-friendly.
Non-Stick Pans (Teflon & Silverstone)
You've heard me say this before ... whenever a product offers "convenience", it bears further investigation. In this case, non-stick pans are definitely convenient ... less fat is required to cook most foods and the clean-up is easy. But, the synthetic coating used to create that slick surface (PFOA) is a known toxin and carcinogen in animals. In some studies, it has been linked to birth defects, cancer and infertility in humans. Most experts will say that, when used properly, there's no danger. So ... how many of us know what "used properly" means? I sure didn't. It means never scratching the surface because that releases the PFOA into the food. It also means never using higher than a medium heat because at higher temperatures, the PFOA releases gases into the air which causes flu-like symptoms called polymer-fume fever. My conclusion on non-stick pans is that, if possible, replace them. If you have them, be sure to read the manufacturers recommendations for use and use them properly.
Aluminum pans are usually inexpensive and lightweight. They are thermal responsive, meaning that they heat up fast. The problem with these pans is that they react with acidic and/or salty foods (tomatoes, sauerkraut, etc.) causing the formation of aluminum salts which get into the food (and our bodies). These salts have been associated with impaired visual motor coordination and Alzheimer’s disease (although that hasn't been definitively proven). As with non-stick pans, I would pass on these. If one wishes to use them, however, be sure that there aren't any dings or nicks in them ... the more beat up these pans are, the more chance of aluminum contamination. Don't cook acidic or highly salted foods in them and never use them as storage devices.
The surface coating of these pans (aluminum oxide) is very hard and non-reactive. Basically the aluminum is sealed, preventing any exposure to food. It doesn't react with acidic and/or salty foods so is considered safe to use. Calphalon is probably the best known of these pans. But, when buying them, be sure they are, indeed, anodized aluminum and not one of their non-stick varieties.
These pans are created by mixing steel, chromium and nickel. The result is a tough, corrosion resistant pan that is easy to clean. It is considered safe, however, one should not use abrasive materials to clean these pans because doing so may loosen and release small amounts of metals. While a bit of nickel is not poisonous, it can cause allergic reactions in some people.
Most chefs, who have learned to cook with Cast Iron, swear by it. It holds the heat well, cooks evenly and, if cared for properly, is easy to clean. It also has an added benefit by providing us with an important nutrient ... iron. The only caution with cast iron cookware is that, if not maintained properly, rust can accumulate ... and rust is not something we want in our food. So, proper maintenance is important with these pans.
Glass and Ceramic Cookware
Glass cookware doesn't react to food and is considered safe to use. Ceramic cookware is also a good option provided that lead wasn't used in the glaze.
The general rule for most cookware is to use it according to the manufacturers directions and keep it in good shape. Doing so will provide us with cookware that lasts a long time and is safe to use!
As always ... I would love to hear from you!