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 including all non-stick pots and pans, see Toxic Cookware and Cutlery.
SUPERIOR CHOICE — Inert, Non-Reactive Cookware
1. Both earthenware and ceramic cookware are made of clay, free of heavy metals and synthetic polymers, non-reactive and emit a far-infrared heat, the most effective and beneficial heat for cooking. This enables a full range of subtle flavors to emerge. While earthenware is excellent for lengthy simmering and baking, high-fired ceramics are more durable and versatile.
Xtrema has a full line of moderately priced ceramic pots, pans and bakeware that can go from the freezer to the oven. Clay pots are available on line, in some stores and occasionally from your local potter.
100% ceramic knives are nonreactive and hold their edge up to 15 times longer than conventional steel blades.
Ceramic-coated cookware is NOT recommended. Just like other non-stick cookware, the synthetic so-called “ceramic”(not clay) coating degrades with normal use. Corningware and its discontinued line, Visionware, are a type of ceramic (pyroceramic glass) but they poorly conduct heat. Note: antique ceramic or earthenware pots may contain lead. Inexpensive lead-testing kits are available at hardware stores.
2. Enamel (Ceramic Porcelain) is a fused glass surface overlaying a metal pot, be it cast iron or a lighter metal. With proper care, quality enamel cookware lasts a lifetime. There are various brands available; do an on-line search for user reviews to determine the line that best suits you. The only company I’m aware of that replaces worn cast enamel cookware is Le Crueset.
Note: inexpensive, thin-layered enamel cookware, like GraniteWare, easily chips. Once there’s a chip, the underlying reactive metal is exposed and contaminates food with heavy metals and/or enamel fragments.
3. Glass coffee pots and casserole dishes are inert and affordable. Favor glass containers for storing food. By the way, if you’ve got old glass bake ware, don’t replace it with newer glass! Pyrex and Anchor Hocking, our two major domestic producers of glass bake ware, are currently using a soda lime glass that can shatter under high heat. European glass wear is made from the more durable, and pricy, borosilicate glass, as was our domestic glassware prior to the 1980s.
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.
A GOOD CHOICE–Moderately Reactive Cookware
1. Stainless steel is the least reactive metal, and for some 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 nickel. 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.
4. Silicone cookware. If you use silicone cookware, purchase only 100% silicone that is FDA approved and safe up to 428 degrees Fahrenheit). This is critical as there are countless silicone formulas and some products, such as the popular bake sheets, are only silicone coated. But does an FDA approval mean that silicone cookware is non-reactive? Not according to a 2005 British study that determined while the overall the chemical migration from the silicon into foodstuffs was low, it does occur.
The advantages of silicone include heat resistance (below 428 degrees Fahrenheit), 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.
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,
Rebecca WoodThis post contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product by linking through this review, it generates a modest commission which helps maintain this site.