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How to Pick Toxin-free Cookware

by sahodd85
healthy green alternative dishware and cooking ware for a healthy home

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Using the right cookware is an important ingredient for your meal, just like using the right healthy oils. Cookware shapes the character and flavor of your food, but it can also add unwelcome chemicals into your meal.

Buying cookware made of safe materials is one step to making the healthiest meals possible. And using it correctly can go a long way towards preventing potential health issues down the road.

Key criteria for choosing the right cookware

Finding the right cookware depends on a few key criteria. Based on our research, the healthiest and safest cookware is:

1. Made of inert material

Cookware made of inert, or non-reactive, materials will not peel, chip, crack or craze, vaporize, dissolve or hold bacteria.  Meaning the metals or chemicals in your cookware will not end up in your food. And ideally your cookware won’t change the taste of your food for the worse.

2. Durable and long lasting

This is really the ultimate goal for us. In addition to choosing the healthiest products, we’re also trying to pick long-lasting cookware. Our goal is to have a few great pieces that help to lighten the load in our cupboards and our environmental footprint.

3. Easy to clean and care for

Good maintenance will help you get the most out of your cookware’s lifespan. It should also reduce the likelihood of any chemical leaching that can come from scratched or chipped cookware.

4. A uniform heat conductor

The main job of your cookware is to transfer energy from a heat source (your cooktop) to your food. Two key characteristics of materials affect how well your cookware does this:

  • Thermal conductivity – a material’s ability to absorb energy; and
  • Heat capacity – the amount of energy needed to raise or lower a material’s temperature.

Each type of cookware’s ability to provide uniform heat depends on the material it’s made of.

5. Well suited for your meal

Some cookware is better or worse suited to your meal. It depends on the base or coating material it’s made of, and how acidic or salty your food is. For instance, you wouldn’t want to cook an acidic tomato-based Bolognese in a cast iron pan. Some cookware is also a better match for certain types of cooktops, from electric coils to gas ranges.


Cookware base materials & coatings

Graphic of a frying pan showing a base material with a nonstick inner coatingA range of materials are used to make cookware. The base material touches the heating element and your food if your cookware is uncoated. Common base materials include cast iron, stainless steel and aluminum. The coating material comes into direct contact with your food if your cookware is coated. Coating materials can consist of non-stick formulations such as Teflon™, ceramic or enamel.

The characteristics of cookware materials vary widely. Some base materials are better thermal conductors and others are more durable. Some coating materials leave trace amounts of metal in your food. Coatings can be vulnerable to scratching, and can leach chemicals into your meal. Knowing the characteristics of cookware materials will help you make informed choices.

Cookware manufacturers take advantage of these different characteristics by combining materials into a cladded product. A three layer pan is one such combination. It has stainless steel on the top and bottom, and a layer of aluminium or copper sandwiched in between.


So, which cookware is the best?

When choosing cookware, the details matter. Your cookware choices really depend on your context—what kind of cooktop are you using, and what do you want to make? Each type of cookware has its advantages and disadvantages. And so having a range of different types of materials will add versatility to any kitchen. We combed through resources and literature about the most common cookware materials and summarized our findings below.


Clad stainless steel

Different sizes of stainless steel cooking potsStainless steel is one of the most common materials used for cookware. This iron alloy is a non-reactive, non-porous metal that cooking ingredients cannot pass into or through. It resists corrosion and can be used with a wide range of foods.

Best cooking uses

Stainless steel cookware heats up slowly, but responds quickly to changes in temperature. This versatile material can be used for everything from browning or braising, to pickling and pasta sauces. You can also buy stainless steel roasting pans for oven and barbeque use.

Stainless steel is compatible with everything from electric coils and smooth glass cooktops to gas ranges. It even often works with induction cooktops due to its magnetic qualities.

Straight stainless steel doesn’t transfer heat evenly across a pan, and can cause hot spots where food will stick. Buy cladded cookware to solve this problem.

Durability & maintenance

Long-lasting when cared for correctly. Stainless steel is easy to clean by hand with soap and water, and dishwasher safe. If foods get stuck on your cookware:

  • DO NOT scour the pan with a rough or abrasive material like steel wool.
  • DO soak your cookware in warm and soapy water for a few hours, and then use a sponge to scrub it off.
  • Use a sponge and baking soda to rub off any burn marks.

Health & sensitivities

Stainless steel is not entirely risk free, but it is a lower risk option. Studies have shown that it may leach nickel and chromium into your food. These metals are are connected to allergic contact dermatitis, eczema flare ups and systemic dermatitis. People who are sensitive to metals should lower their exposure.

To lower the risk of leaching, choose higher grade stainless steel, minimize the time acidic foods (like tomato sauce) or salty foods are in the pan, and avoid high heat temperatures. Check out our post about healthy oils for a table that shows which cooking methods use what temperatures.

How do you know if you have metal sensitivity? Two tell-tale signs are: skin hives, eczema, redness and itching from coming into contact with a metal (this often happens from wearing cheaper jewellery); and pain and inflammation from a metal orthopaedic or dental implant where other causes have been ruled out.

Steel cookware can also be made nickel-free, and is known as chrome steel. Look for an 18/0 marking on the bottom of your cookware (the ‘18’ refers to chromium content, and the ‘0’ to nickel.) Cookware with nickel may be labelled 18/8 or 18/10.


Cast iron

Overhead photograph of a cast iron pan with a metal spatulaCast iron is another commonly used cookware material with natural non-stick qualities. Pans can be passed down from generation to generation, and are readily available in second hand stores.

Best cooking uses

Cast iron cookware heats up slowly, and retains heat producing evenly cooked food. They’re versatile and great for searing, sautéing, browning and frying. You may want to steer clear of acidic foods though (like a Bolognese), which can interact with the iron and leave a metallic taste.

Cast iron can be used on any cooktop, from electric coils to induction, and in your oven up to 500 degrees. Don’t store food in your cast iron cookware to protect the seasoned non-stick surface.

Durability & maintenance

The word ‘indestructible’ comes up when people think of cast iron. They are very durable, and with some regular maintenance and day-to-day care, your cast iron cookware can last a lifetime.

When you buy cast iron cookware, wash it once with warm water and soap and then never again. For day-to-day cleaning, wash your cookware by hand when it’s still warm with hot water and a sponge or a stiff non-metal brush. To remove stuck on foods:

  • DO NOT soak your cast iron cookware.
  • DO pour a cup of coarse salt (like kosher or sea salt) into the warm pan, and scrub with a soft cloth. Remove the salt, and rinse the pan with hot water.

Cast iron cookware should also be regularly seasoned using heat and a high temperature oil or fat. Oxygen and moisture can cause your cast iron cookware to rust. Make sure you dry it completely before lightly coating your cookware with oil and storing it. If rust appears, scour your cookware with steel wool to remove it and re-season.

Health & sensitivities

While cast iron does not leach any harmful chemicals, it will impart iron to foods. This can be great for people with iron deficiency, but it also leaves an iron residue in smell and taste.


Tempered glass & CorningWare

A tempered glass bakeware dish on a wooden counter top

Glass is one of the safest materials to cook with. Cookware is typically made of tempered glass or glass-ceramic (in the case of CorningWare). Its processing makes it 5 times stronger than regular glass and heat resistant. CorningWare was introduced in the late 1950s, and has been nostalgically revised in the 2000s.


Best cooking uses

Glass cookware retains heat well. It’s often used to make casserole pans and baking dishes. Use glass cookware in the oven for cooking methods like baking, braising and steaming. It’s also great for cooking high-acidic and volatile foods.

Most glass cookware cannot be used directly on the stovetop. However, original and post early-2000s CorningWare can be used on the stove at low to medium temperatures and with lots of liquid. You can also find glass pots and pans designed for cooktop use. To avoid breakage, put a metal trivet or diffuser underneath to prevent it from coming into direct contact with electric components or intense heat. Glass doesn’t disburse heat evenly, and so pots and pans are best used for boiling and steaming.

Glass cookware is sensitive to changes in temperature. Warm it up to room temperature before subjecting it to heat to avoid cracking or busting. Similarly, frozen foods should be thawed out before being placed into a hot oven in glass cookware.

Durability & maintenance

Glass cookware is hardy and heavy, but it’s also vulnerable to shattering if dropped. It’s simple to clean with soap, hot water and a soft sponge, and is dishwasher safe. To remove stuck on foods:

  • DO NOT use abrasive cleaning methods including scouring powders or pads like steel wool.
  • DO let your glass cookware cool down to room temperature. Then use a cloth or sponge to remove food. You can also apply a non-abrasive, self-polishing cleanser.

Stop using your cookware if it gets chipped, cracked or crazing on its surface. This damage can leave tiny spaces that harbour bacteria and lead to larger breaks.

Health & sensitivities

This durable cookware is odourless and nonreactive. It contains no toxic metal compounds, and will not leach metals or chemicals into your food or release any fumes while cooking.


100% ceramic bases & coatings

Ceramics have been used as cookware for thousands of years. They’re made of clay that has been hardened through firing and then decorated or glazed. Ceramics are another natural non-stick alternative due to their slick, glazed surfaces. Ceramic cookware includes clay-based stoneware, porcelain and earthenware. Ceramic enamel coated cookware typically has a metal base such as cast iron or stainless steel.

Best cooking uses

Blue ceramic coated cocette on the stovetop and full of stewPorcelain and stoneware are fired using high temperatures. This makes them hard and non-porous. Use them for low to medium heat cooking to avoid damaging their glazing. You can also use them with acidic and salty foods. Lower temperature firing is used for earthenware, and so it’s permeable. It is not ideal for cooking strong flavoured meals, or acidic and salty foods because it’s porous.

Ceramic cookware cooks food slowly using air and steam. Cooking methods that need heat to be held for a long time are ideal, including slow cooking, stewing and casseroles, baking and breads. Thaw out frozen foods before adding them to ceramic cookware to decrease the potential for cracks.

The best cooking methods for ceramic enamel coated cookware (like the one in the picture above) depends on its base material.

Durability & maintenance

Ceramic cookware is sturdy, but it can shatter or break if dropped. Ceramic coated surfaces are susceptible to scratching and chipping. To extend the lifespan of your ceramics, handle them carefully and never use them with metal utensils.

Ceramic cookware is easy to clean by hand. Allow ceramic cookware to cool down completely, and then wipe food residues with a wet cloth or sponge. Make sure to clean off all cooked oil after use to retain its nonstick qualities. If food is stuck to the surface:

  • DO NOT use abrasive cleaning methods including scouring powders or pads like steel wool.
  • DO soak your cookware in hot water, or a mixture of 2 teaspoons baking soda to 1 quart water to loosen food. Then remove with a sponge. And if necessary use a wooden scraper or soft scouring pad.

Some ceramic cookware needs to be seasoned with a high temperature oil or fat, so check the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Health & sensitivities

Ceramic coated frying pan cooking an egg sunny side upAuthentic 100% ceramic cookware is a health-friendly option that does not leach metals or chemicals, or release harmful fumes. Unscratched and unchipped ceramic enamel prevents corrosion and leaching of base material metals into food.

The material composition of ceramics can vary widely. There are concerns about the clay and glazes used in some ceramic cookware containing lead and cadmium above allowable limits. Exposure to lead can cause acute and chronic health effects, including developmental neurotoxicity, reproductive dysfunction and toxicity to the kidneys, blood and endocrine systems.

It’s important to confirm if a product has been tested for lead and other chemicals, and check safety ratings before you buy. If you’re unsure if your cookware has lead, you can get home lead test kits. It’s also good to avoid putting high acidic food such as citrus, apples, tomatoes, soy sauce or salad dressing in your ceramic cookware.


Which cookware didn’t make the cut, and why?

Non-stick frying pan sliding an open face omelette onto a placeThere are lots of other cookware materials out there, and some of them should be avoided. Cookware made out of aluminum and copper base materials, and non-stick quasi-ceramic and Teflon™ coatings are too risky to warrant a space in your kitchen. Some of these cookware have great qualities such as being lightweight, excellent heat conductors and easy to cook with. But they can also leach heavy metals and chemicals into your food.

This can lead to adverse health effects like:

The PFAS class of synthetic chemicals that used to be in Teflon™ by DuPont, in particular, accumulates in bodily tissues and don’t break down in the environment. DuPont was forced to abandon using this class of chemicals in the early 2000s; however, new replacement non-stick chemical formulations have similar compounds and may not be any safer.


Conclusion: Knowledge is power, and for cookware it can also equal health

From the perspective of health and wellbeing, our favourite cookware materials are:

  • Stainless Steel: Cladded stainless steel cookware is super versatile. It can be used for anything from sautéing and pan frying, to boiling brine for pickles and simmering pasta sauce. Roasting pans are great for the oven and BBQ too.
  • Cast Iron: Durable cast iron heats slowly and keeps the heat. This is ideal for searing and browning meats, and sautéing and frying vegetables.
  • Tempered Glass & CorningWare: One of the safest materials around. Use glass-based cookware for baking casseroles and braising meats, boiling pasta and steaming veggies. This impermeable material can even tolerate high-acidic and volatile foods.
  • 100% Ceramic Bases & Coatings: Slow and steady cooking on low to medium heat is ideal for ceramics. Uses include slow cooking, stewing, pressure cooking and baking. Porcelain and stoneware are also good to use for acidic and salty foods.

We like to keep a combination of different kinds of cookware on hand to suit any purpose. We hope this post gives you some food for thought to help you make informed choices for your kitchen.

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