One taste of hot tea in a Styrofoam cup and you know you’re drinking more than tea. The cup is reactive. And have you noticed how dried foods stored in plastic bags start to taste like plastic? It’s because food ions react with synthetic or metallic ions. Here are guidelines for choosing—and using—healthful, non-reactive cookware. For a list of what NOT to have in your kitchen, see Toxic Cookware and Cutlery.
SUPERIOR CHOICE–Inert, Non-Reactive Cookware
1. Earthenware and ceramic are inert and they emit a far-infrared heat, the most effective and beneficial heat for cooking, which enables a full range of subtle flavors to emerge. Excellent for lengthy simmering and baking, these beautiful but breakable items require special handling.
Do not purchase ceramic-coated cookware. Just like other non-stick cookware, the synthetic ceramic surface layer degrades with normal use.
Purchase only 100% ceramic cookware; it is nonreactive, contains no toxic metals or synthetic polymers and it withstands erosion and temperatures up to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit. Only diamonds and sapphire have harder surfaces than ceramic.
Xtrema has a full line of moderately priced ceramic cookware and bakeware. Corningware and Visionware are made of pyroceramic glass and are non-reactive but poorly conduct heat. You may also find casseroles and pie pans from your local potter. Terra cotta earthenware include Spanish cazuelas and older Romertopf baking dishes. (Note: antique ceramic or earthenware pots may contain lead. Inexpensive lead-testing kits are available at hardware stores.)
100% ceramic knives are nonreactive and hold their edge up to 15 times longer than conventional steel blades.
2. Enamel is a fused glass surface overlaying a light metal–or a heavier cast iron–pot. With proper care, quality enamel cookware lasts a lifetime. There are various brands available; do an on-line search for users comments to determine the line that best suits you. Note: inexpensive enamel cookware has only a thin layer of enamel and is not as durable as that with two or more layers.
Discard chipped enamel cookware. Once the underlying metal is exposed, it reacts with food and enamel fragments find their way into your food. The only company I’m aware of that replaces worn cast enamel cookware is Le Crueset.
3. Glass coffee pots and casserole dishes are inert and affordable. Favor glass containers for storing food.
4. Bamboo steamers and paddles as well as wooden spoons, chopsticks and crockery are non-reactive and modestly priced.
5. Paper Goods are, in some applications, effective. Line reactive aluminum muffin tins or cookie sheets with 100% un-bleached muffin cups or parchment paper. (Note: natural parchment paper is coated with non-reactive silicon, not the chemical quilon). And for food storage, as is practical, favor waxed or butcher paper over plastic wrap or bags.
6. Silicone cookware is inert, FDA approved and safe up to 428 degrees F. If heated above its safe range, silicone melts but doesn’t outgas toxic vapors. Silicone is a synthetic rubber now made into baking pans, baking sheets, muffin tins, spatulas and more. It is the only non-reactive, non-stick material. The advantages of silicone include heat resistance (below 428 degrees), flexibility, the fact that it can go directly from the oven or microwave into the refrigerator or freezer and that it is generally easy to clean.
Note: While 100% Titanium is non-reactive, it’s too pricy for cookware. Titanium coated cookware is typically aluminum cookware with a fused synthetic polymer-titanium, nonstick coating. It is reactive and not recommended. SaladMaster’s line of surgical grade (316) stainless steel pots includes titanium; however the company refuses to disclose the percentage of titanium. We must therefore conclude that it is comparable quality to other surgical grade stainless cookware.
A GOOD CHOICE–Moderately Reactive Cookware
1. Stainless steel is the least reactive metal, and for many people, the most versatile and healthful cookware option. It makes an acceptable set of basic pots, pans and bake ware. Because it unevenly conducts heat, most stainless cookware is clad or encloses an aluminum core. The term “ply” refers to the number of layers; the higher the ply, the heavier the pot and the more resistant it is to warping. Most stainless steel is 18/10 meaning that it contains 18% chromium and 10% nickel. The 18/0 designates a nickel-free product.
Remove food from metal as soon as it is cooked to minimize it developing a metallic taste. Once stainless steel has been scratched by heavy scouring, it will leach chromium and copper (if it contains copper). Therefore don’t scour stainless cookware. When you’ve burned something onto the pot, cover it with baking soda, salt or a strong detergent and let it rest for a day or more if necessary. The soda will “lift” off the scorched food.
A stainless steel knife is less reactive than a carbon steel knife but it doesn’t hold its edge quite as well.
2. Carbon steel is inexpensive, thin, lightweight and ideal for a wok or crepe pan because it rapidly conveys heat. With use, it will develop a non-stick like patina but prior to that do not use it with liquid or acidic ingredients and dry it thoroughly after every use to prevent rust. Since carbon steel is reactive, do not use a carbon steel knife for cutting acidic foods like citrus or tomatoes.
3. Cast iron pots are good for quick breads, pancakes and for sautéing vegetables. Do not, however, use cast iron for soups, liquids or acid foods as these foods leach harsh-tasting iron from the pot. Although a soup cooked in cast iron becomes iron-enriched, this heavy metal is not bioavailable.
Coda: Cookware is only part of the story of cooking and healthy eating, albeit a very important part. Knowing what foods may cause intolerances in our body is the most overlooked yet simple way to influence our health. In my book, Read Your Face, I show how to identify obvious clues about diet and health – things you can easily change for happier and healthier eating. Learn more about Face Reading and Diet.
May you be well nourished,