With the wide range of pots and pans to choose from, buying one is no simple task. Comparing aesthetics, durability, maintenance as well as value-for-money and your budget, is not enough nowadays. With everyone being very health conscious and more knowledgeable about health matters, modern cooks would like to know what type of materials their cookware is made of and whether it will affect their health. How safe are stainless steel cookware, cast-iron or the non-stick cookware, or even the hard-anodized non-stick cookware? Will the materials leach into the food while cooking and affect our health?
Aluminum is lightweight, a good conductor of heat and is not expensive. However the disadvantage is that, heat as well as acid. will react with the metal and you might find traces of aluminum leached into your food, especially during slow simmering of food. If you possess aluminum pots, then just make sure not to use them to cook highly acidic or salty food, such as tomatoes or sauerkraut, for long periods at a time. Storing cooked food in aluminum pots, especially worn or pitted ones, is also not encouraged as aluminum can still leach into the food. However, according to the United States Department of Health And Human Service, very little aluminum is actually absorbed into your body from aluminum cooking utensils.
Aluminum cookware which has been treated, resulting in a layer of aluminum oxide on its surface, is popularly known as hard-anodized cookware. This type of cookware is durable, non-stick, resistance to scratches, and will not react with food during cooking. It conducts heat well and is even more durable than stainless steel cookware, but it can be expensive.
Copper is a good conductor of heat and can easily adapt to temperature changes. Meals that need precise temperature control, cook best in copper cookware. Copper cookware comes with a thin layer of tin or stainless steel coating on its surface, to prevent copper leaching into the food. Nickel is sometimes used as a coating material and can cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to this metal. Copper taken in large amounts can be dangerous to our health.
The stainless steel lining can last the lifetime of the cookware but the tin lining will need to be renewed regularly, as it can be worn away through prolonged usage and high heat. Acidic food stored for long periods of time in copper cookware, may result in traces of the lining metal leaching into the food. This may cause nausea and diarrhea. Besides being difficult to use due to its heavy weight, they are also costly and need to be polished regularly, not only to maintain its glowing surface, but also to remove toxic verdigris deposits on its surface. Scouring will cause scratches.
Cast iron cookware is best used for slow cooking of food as it cooks slowly and evenly. Maintenance is not easy as it is heavy and rust easily, if not properly and thoroughly dried after using. Iron leaches into food during cooking, causing an unpleasant taste, and is not recommended at all for those suffering from hemochromatosis (someone who has a tendency to accumulate iron in the blood.) To create a non-stick surface for your iron cookware, season it with vegetable oil, and place in oven for a few minutes.
Enamel-coated, glass and ceramic ware might appeal to those who are concerned about metal contamination from their cookware. Enamel is actually a substance made of glass, is inert and does not react with food. Most of the health concerns are related to its minor components used in their manufacture or design, among which is lead.
Glass ceramic ware, although a poor heat conductor, can retain heat very well. It is safe for use in the microwave and has no problem withstanding extreme changes in temperature. Glazed ceramic cookware, with its smooth finish, is easy to clean and if manufactured following strict and effective production controls, can prevent leaking of lead onto food. It can be heated to a fairly high temperature. If storing food in ceramic ware results in chalky gray residue on the glaze, then this shows inferior quality and it is better not to use it for further cooking purposes, to avoid taking in lead together with the food.
Stainless steel cookware are highly popular due to their durability and low maintenance. Leaching of nickel and chromium from stainless cookware is not at an alarming unhealthy level. At the most, nickel might cause some allergic reactions to those with such an allergy.
Non-stick and Teflon-coated cookware are easy to clean and needs little oil for cooking, appealing to the health-conscious. The disadvantage is that it scratches and damages easily, especially if used with metal tools with sharp edges. The coatings may peel off after heavy use, ending up in the food and then your stomach. If an empty non-stick pan is heated to a high temperature of 350 degrees C or 650 degrees F, poisonous fumes might be released from the coating.
The latest addition to the non-stick cookware family is the eco-friendly, green non-stick cookware. This type of cookware comes with a non-stick surface that is free from toxic chemicals and uses more recycled materials, such as the stay-cool riveted stainless-steel handles made from 70-percent recycled stainless steel of the Cuisinart greenware set.