Many cookware materials leach either chemicals or metals (such as aluminum), particularly when used to cook acidic foods like tomatoes. These leached materials can cause health issues if they build up in the body over time.
But obviously cookware is a necessity in most homestead kitchens. The good news is that a few materials stand out as viable options, and nearly any material can be made safer with a little care.
The Safest Cookware
The safest cookware materials are:
- Clay or earthenware.
Unfortunately, glass is limited in its uses. While it is a superb baking material, it cannot be used on the stovetop or it will shatter. Likewise, stone and clay cannot stand rapid heating, being better suited to low-and-slow cooking methods. That said, any of these three materials are recommended for baking purposes.
But What About Stovetop Use?
When it comes to cooking on the stove, you will likely have to settle for a compromise of some sort.
Cast iron is generally considered safe. Those who are susceptible to excess iron should avoid cast iron cookware, although it may be beneficial to those who are anemic.
Anodized aluminum is a better choice than plain aluminum, because it will not leach lead or aluminum into your food, even if used to cook acidic ingredients. Anodized aluminum is also less prone to scratching and corrosion than regular aluminum. However, the anodization will break down over time, which can cause aluminum leaching.
Stainless steel can be acceptable when used with caution. It usually contains nickel, which means that it should be avoided by those with a nickel allergy. Also, it leaches chromium. This usually occurs at negligible levels when the cookware is new, but the rate of leaching increases with age, particularly if the surface is scratched.
Ceramic varies in its safety. High-quality ceramic cookware doesn’t leach, flake, or emit toxic fumes. It is also durable and nonstick. Watch out for highly decorated ceramic pieces, however, because excess glazing presents its own health concerns due to heavy metals, particularly lead. Avoid antique pieces or those labeled “Not for food use,” and be sure to check for a country of origin. Ceramic made in the United States must meet certain legal safety standards, and many European countries have strict quality controls, as well.
Copper and copper-lined cookware should be avoided due to leaching, which is bad for gastrointestinal comfort and health. However, copper with a tin lining is generally considered safe and nonreactive with acidic foods. A nickel lining can present problems to those with a nickel allergy. Copper cookware lined with stainless steel has the same benefits and drawbacks as all-stainless cookware.
Additional Safety Tips
Whatever cookware you prefer, a fluoropolymer-based nonstick coating is best avoided altogether. Nonstick coatings both leach and flake off with age, thus ending up in your food. Even more problematic, they also emit toxic fumes at regular cooking temperatures.
Here are some additional steps you can take to make your cooking experience safer:
- Always use a healthy fat, like olive oil or quality butter, when cooking to minimize damage to your cookware.
- Use soft utensils like plastic when cooking to avoid scratching your cookware.
- Do not store food in cookware unless it is made of glass.
- Consider washing your cookware by hand to increase its lifespan.
- Do not clean cookware with abrasive materials.
- Replace lined or anodized cookware immediately if scratched or damaged.