Nonstick pans and bakeware have plenty of benefits- including requiring less oil for a healthier meal; but the Teflon that keeps foods from sticking has a controversial past, with experts going back and forth on whether or not it can be harmful to humans when heated. Toxic fumes from the Teflon chemical released from pots and pans at high temperatures may kill pet birds and cause people to develop flu-like symptoms- called ‘Teflon Flu’ or, as scientists describe it, ‘Polymer fume fever’. Research has shown that cooking with Teflon-type cookware could expose you to toxic chemicals that might cause cancer.
So what can you cook with instead ? Below are some of the healthy choices you could make:
Quality matters! Because stainless steel is an alloy of not just carbon steel, but other metals including chromium and nickel, you want the highest-quality stainless steel, which contains less of the cheap heavy metals as filler. Nickel is of primary concern, because it is toxic and can leach from the steel into your food. High-quality stainless steel will have low levels of nickel, and will be constructed in a formulation which makes it resistant to corrosion and leaching or reactivity. To be on the safe side, avoid very long-term cooking and storage of acidic foods in stainless steel, as acids are what can react with the metal causing it to leach.
ENAMEL COATED CAST IRON
Enameled cast iron doesn’t add iron to foods like non-enameled cast iron pans. (This is only a benefit if you belong to one of the groups of people who doesn’t need extra iron.) These pieces are great for using on the stovetop or the oven. They offer better heat distribution and retention than other types of cookware and don’t react with acidic foods like uncoated cast iron. If properly cared for, enamel coated pieces can last for generations.
Glass is totally eco-friendly, nontoxic and durable- a great material to choose when stocking your kitchen with chemical-free cookware. However, you can’t use glass pans for everything- certain items like baking tins are hard to find in glass, and some dishes like pies don’t always cook evenly in glassware. Glass pans generally work best for savoury dishes such as pot pies, baked pasta and quick breads.
More for baking than cooking on the stove, stoneware is a great alternative to aluminium baking sheets or roasting pans. There are also muffin tins, bread (not grain!) pans, and many other stoneware pieces. These can be tricky to clean but give amazing flavour to food and cook very evenly. You won’t want to use soap, as the stone absorbs the flavour, but a properly cared for stoneware piece can last a lifetime!
Ceramic is an organic material that has been used for baking dating back to ancient cultures. Today, you can find nicely made ceramic bake and cookware in a variety of colours. They are the most inert cookware and they don’t leach anything into food. They are the absolute easiest option to clean, as you can use steel wool or scrubbing pads without scraping the surface. They have a non-scratch cooking surface, heat evenly and hold in flavours in foods.
Cast iron leaves some foods nice and crispy, or with a caramelized finish. It offers superior heat distribution and retention when cooking. This material can easily and safely go from stovetop directly into the oven. A nicely seasoned cast iron pan will last forever and food won’t stick to it. Cast iron pans don’t need to be washed, only gently scraped, rinsed, or wiped clean after each use. Cooking on cast iron can even add extra iron to your diet, which is helpful for people deficient in this mineral!