COOKWARE – handling the heat in the kitchen

We discussed cookware briefly on our facebook page a few weeks ago, and have since received a good number of emails regarding the outcome of the post. Time is often the enemy when it comes to any intended product research, so I figured this was the perfect topic for this weeks’ blog.

 

I have consulted scholarly articles where available, in an attempt to include objective information and avoided articles written emotively or with a possible hidden agenda. I have addressed the most commonly used cookware surfaces, for you to determine which is most appropriate, if purchasing in the near future. While care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of information provided, given the dynamic nature of the topic, emerging research in the near or distance future may contradict current findings. Therefore, all information must be processed with caution.

 

Teflon

Developed by Dupont in the 1930’s, and approved for use since the 1960’s, Teflon was touted as being heat resistant, non-reactive and stable. Concerns have been circulating for almost 20 years now regarding the use of Polytetraflouroethylene (PFTE), a synthetic fluorocarbon used in the coating. It contains perflourooctanoicacid (PFOA), also an organic compound, which has been detected in the environment in significant levels, as too in breast milk, human blood and other body organs. Recognised as a “likely human carcinogen” by the US EPA, a correlation may exist between exposure and low birth weight and hormonal dysfunction. This compound persists in the environment, meaning it will never breakdown.

 

Teflon toxicosis or ‘teflon flu’ occurs with the inhalation of toxic fumes when Teflon is heated to high temperatures, resulting in acute flu-like symptoms. I think I made mention in our facebook post, that these fumes have killed household birds in a matter of minutes. The Environmental Working Group found that a Teflon pan can reach 721° F in less than five minutes. At 681° F, Teflon has been identified to release at least six known toxic gases, including two global pollutants and two possible carcinogens. I could continue, but my point here is simply being aware of the hazards associated with the use of Teflon (Source: Health WorldNet, 2012).

 

Should you be considering a new non-stick cookware purchase, a PFOA-free non-stick surface may be a more suitable option. This cookware should be used on a low-medium temperature setting and olive oil should not be used.  If your current non-stick cookware is peeling, perhaps consider replacing. If you own a range of cookware that needs replacing, then this could be done gradually. Simply determine which vessel/s you use the most. Believe me, I cook A LOT and I get by with very little choice, as the majority of my kitchenware is currently in storage.  

 

Although many Government Agencies across the developed world deem Teflon to be safe, the use of PFOA in non-stick cookware should be phased out by 2015. This is perhaps the direct result of independent research being conducted about Teflon, rather than relying on Dupont’s take on Teflon, given their vested interest in its continued use (approximately $1 billion in revenue annually).

 

Ceramic

Typically coated with enamel (generally considered safe, in the absence of chips). More recently, non-stick surfaces are being applied, to seemingly capitalise on the increasing awareness among consumers about the possible risks associated with Teflon. One such product is Neoflam, which is a ceramic coating, derived from silica. Although limited, there is a small amount of discourse questioning its safety, with the detection of lead and cadmium, albeit low levels, in a study undertaken in Israel. This is not to say it is unsafe, but simply, bringing awareness to the fact, that although it is claiming to be a safe, non-toxic alternative to Teflon, caution should be exercised when buying based on marketing claims alone. I would suggest that if you currently own or are looking to purchase in this range, then to run a quick internet search on it from time to time, to keep up with emerging research.

 

Furthermore, and of particular note, is the use of ceramic vessels for cooking purposes made in some overseas countries. As strange as this may seem, this may not be their intended use. I can think of an example where I purchased ceramic cups in Argentina. Although seemingly functional, they were made for aesthetics purposes only.  Lead and/or cadmium has been detected in some ceramics vessels.

 

Glass

Inert, stable and non-reactive, glass is a perfect cooking vessel from a health perspective. However, they cannot be used on a stovetop, are relatively costly and can require a good amount of elbow grease to keep clean. Glassware of old, notably lead crystal, contains exactly what it suggests it does; lead and is therefore not appropriate for use in cooking.

 

Stainless Steel

Relies on the use of metals including chromium, nickel and molybdenum, which all have the potential to leach into foods. However, if cared for, in the absence of pits and dings, the amount leached is considered negligible. Stainless steel was the common choice in households prior to non-stick, but lost favour, due to foods’ ability to coat on the surface. Care should be taken when cleaning the vessels' internal surface. 

 

Aluminium

A casual link between its use and accumulation in the human body and serious brain disorders including Alzheimer’s disease is well established in literature. Acidic foods such as tomatoes can accelerate the release of aluminium in foods.  Newer anodised aluminium has sought to address these concerns. If you are using old, hand-me-down, non-anodised aluminum pots, it could be worth considering an upgrade.

 

Cast Iron

Contains iron, which may be actually beneficial to human health, when released in trace amount. Cast iron is probably one of the best alternatives to non-stick surfaces. However, they are relatively expensive to buy. Cast iron requires seasoning with oil before the first use and thereafter, to build and maintain a non-stick coating. Avoid the use of cast iron if cooking for someone with haemochromatosis.

 

Copper

Ability to leach into food, and can be toxic to the human body. Copper cookware should be lined with stainless steel. Copper is an exceptional conductor of heat. However, copper cookware requires regular polishing to prevent corrosion and is expensive to purchase. Non-lined copper cookware may only be appropriate (but not ideal) when used to cook delicate dishes, including sauces, that require close monitoring of temperature. Old copper cookware may include nickel or tin lining and is not recommended for cooking.

 

Conclusion

I strongly suggest, should any future cookware purchase you make come with an extended or lifetime warranty, that you read the terms of the warranty – and this is coming from the worst offender of all time for NEVER reading the information provided. However, as per our cookware discussion on facebook, it all began with me being told by a salesperson at a House store that the use of olive oil on cookware voids its warranty. A girlfriend has since told me that she found this out the hard way, when she returned an expensive Scanpan brand frying pan to the place of purchase, after the surface began to come away after only a very short period of use. She was told that the use of olive oil caused this damage, and could not be replaced (although was not aware of this at the time of purchase).  I was also told that medium heat is the recommended maximum temperature on a stovetop for many cooking vessels, to prolong its life. I don’t know about you, but I instinctively turn the dial to high, simply to get the job done fast!

 

Similar to claims on food packaging, please BE AWARE of the use of terms such as ECO, GREEN, NON-TOXIC etc. as they are largely unregulated, and may be unfounded. May I suggest, selecting one or two options above, and doing your own information search, prior to being bombarded by labelling claims when you enter a homeware store.

 

In closing, I also wanted to highlight the identification of a particular product or range that may be significantly cheaper than its counterparts. I can absolutely appreciate that many of us are price sensitive, however, the old adage “you get what you pay for” may apply here, particularly if it is made in a country not widely recognised for its high quality manufacturing of such. While I am currently using a range of non-stick pots and pans, I intend to replace these, one pot at a time, with a more suitable alternative (unless it proves to be more cost effective to purchase more than one at a time). Driving my decision-making is consideration for it being a long-term investment. Furthermore, I intend to follow the care instructions (a first for me), to ensure, their longevity, given the financial investment.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any further questions you may have.