Healthy Cookware

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.pot

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 a quality ceramic knife holds its edge up to 15 times longer than conventional steel blades.  I don not recommend the inexpensive ceramic knives which have a very limited life span.

Corningware and Visionware are a type of ceramic (pyroceramic glass). Both poorly conduct heat and so even though you may use Visionware for stovetop cooking, it is less than ideal. Note: antique ceramic or earthenware pots may contain lead. Inexpensive lead-testing kits are available at hardware stores.

Note: Non-stick ceramic-coated cookware is NOT recommended. As with all non-stick cookware, the synthetic so-called “ceramic” (not clay) coating degrades with normal use. Even when PTFE and PFOA free, it will wear, pit and scratch and you’ll then need to replace the pan.

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 therefore non-reactive. As possible, favor glass containers for storing food. By the way, if you have glass bakeware made prior to the 1980s it was made from borosilicate and so is shatter resistant. While today’s soda lime glass is environmentally friendly, it may shatter under high heat.

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 many people, makes an acceptable set of basic pots, pans and bake ware. To select the least reactive grade, see A Buyers Guide to Stainless Steel Cookware. 

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 Wood