The article I published on Care2 on Monday, 2 Cookware Materials to Avoid, generated a number of comments asking for advice about safer cookware alternatives. On reading these I decided to tell you about the three types of cookware I use in my home, and why. Three types? I own a hodgepodge just because I’ve inherited a number of cookware pieces from different households. (And I threw away aluminum and Teflon-coated cookware at the same time. I’ve written in the past about the aluminum pot my mother always used to made spaghetti sauce, shuddering to think of the amount of aluminum my sisters and I have in our brains because the acid in those tomatoes would have helped the metal leach from the pan!)
As a general rule, the more inert the cookware, the better.
Glass is the most inert of all cookware, meaning that it doesn’t leach metals or other ingredients into the food.
Layered cookware is called clad. Typically, stainless steel surrounds a sandwich of other metals, such as aluminum or copper. The inert stainless steel provides the cooking surface, while the aluminum or copper improves the heat conductivity. (I don’t personally have clad cookware, but I consider it in the family of stainless steel, below, that I do have.)
Stainless is a very good choice for healthy cooking because it is one of the most inert metals. It reportedly does leach a small amount of nickel. One drawback is that it doesn’t conduct heat evenly, so consider stainless “clad,” described above, for this purpose.
Also called enamel, this cookware is nonreactive and conducts heat evenly. The porcelain is usually over an iron base. Le Creuset is an example of a porcelain-coated cookware brand. The drawback with porcelain-coated cookware is that once the porcelain chips, the food is exposed to the iron, which can rust.
Read more about nonstick cookware and alternative tips in Melissa Breyers article that mentions them along with other alternatives and materials to avoid.
My concern about silicone isn’t that it will off-gas when it is heated (most bakeware can withstand 500 degrees F before it breaks down), but that very small amounts of migrating silicone oil could get on food, hands and other skin.
Tips for Safe Cookware
• Avoid oven cookware that has any plastic, even if the manufacturer claims it can withstand up to 400F.
• Cast-iron cookware labels sometimes state that the pans are pre-seasoned. This refers to a wax-based coating that keeps the pan from rusting between manufacture and purchase.
Annie Bond is the author of Home Enlightenment (Rodale, paperback, 2008).