Q&A: “Green” Kitchenware?

  • October 10, 2012 8:55 am

Question:

Hi Alexandra,

Looking to buy some new pans for my kitchen, and was wondering if you had any green recommendations for me?

Best,

Deb

Answer:

Hi Deb,

You’re not alone. This is a question I get often! Yes, there are ways to make sure that your new cookware is safe. As I explain in The Conscious Kitchen, you should opt for cast iron, stainless steel, or enamel-coated cast iron.

Cast Iron is great because it’s safe, cheap, endlessly durable, and retains heat very well. If you are looking to add more iron to your diet, you’re in luck; small amounts of the iron will leach out of the pan and into your food. Cast iron does require oil or butter so your food won’t stick to it, but it does become more non-stick over time, especially if you care for the pans well.

Enamel-coated cast iron is a bit pricier than the other two, but well worth the splurge. It’s cast iron with an enamel coating is composed of fine glass particles. Glass is nonreactive and very safe. It also retains the heat well and is extremely durable. I use my enamel-coated cast iron dutch oven so often it just lives on the top of my stove. There is no point in putting it away.

Stainless steel is another solid safe material for pots and pans. It’s lightweight and sturdy. Just don’t store acidic foods in it (tomato sauce, rhubarb) as this can start to break it down.

I prefer these three materials to any of the new “green” pans on the market. Many of these contain proprietary materials and “green” chemicals that make them similar to the non-stick pans I hope you’re replacing. I don’t want to cook in anything proprietary! And these just aren’t as durable as the tried and true materials mentioned above. I have heard from a lot of readers that they’ve bought various new “green” pans and they wound up falling apart quickly. Cast iron won’t fall apart!

Hope this helps you with your decision. If you’re looking for other kitchenware, check out The Conscious Kitchen for additional tips.

Best,

Alexandra

Q&A: Safe Cookware

  • May 12, 2011 10:08 am

THE QUESTION

Hi Alexandra–I absolutely love The Complete Organic Pregnancy! My hubby and I are actively trying to get pregnant, and I’m using your book as our bible to help get my body and our home baby-ready.

I have a quick question about cookware–I own a set of Farberware that has etched on the bottom “aluminum clad stainless steel.” Does this mean the stainless steel is layered within the aluminum? Or vice versa? If it’s the former, I’m thinking I should replace it with a cast iron or stainless steel set.
Many thanks in advance for your help!

Wishing you joy,
Marcela

THE ANSWER

Hi Marcela,

Actively trying to get pregnant can be a, um, fun time! Thinking about cookware? Less fun. So, thanks for the great question. Safe cookware is so incredibly important and can be so complicated. Aluminum Clad Stainless Steel is a tricky thing. Do a little research and different sources (including manufacturers) say different things. It seems like Aluminum Clad should mean a layer of stainless steel between two layers of aluminum; a metal clad with something means covered by it. However, some sites describe Aluminum Clad Stainless Steel as the exact opposite: a layer of aluminum between two layers of stainless steel. Oof. I’m not hugely fond of aluminum as a cooking surface. And if it is coated with a nonstick layer, which happens not infrequently, I would toss it right in the trash. Like, pronto. Stainless steel, on the other hand, is a perfectly fine surface for your food to come into contact with.

The best advice I can offer you is to do what I would do: read the product information very carefully and call your manufacturer (Faberware, in this case) with any questions about what the surface material is. If you have any lingering doubt after speaking with them, just go for the good stuff.  Lodge Cookware is an affordable, tried and true, and reliable option. I have a friend who “recycled” her old cookware and now uses her aluminum/nonstick pasta pot as a training potty for her son. True story.

Here is an excerpt from an recent post about safety and cookware that explains why we have to choose cooking surfaces so carefully when outfitting our kitchen:

As I discuss in The Conscious Kitchen, until recently most non-stick cookware was made with a chemical that has been linked to cancer, infertility, and complications during pregnancy. This chemical—perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA—is so persistent it has been found in low levels in the blood of 98 percent of the general U.S. population. In 2005, DuPont settled with the EPA for $16.5 million for allegedly withholding PFOA health risk information. The EPA called on them and six other chemical companies to voluntarily eliminate PFOA and similar substances from plant emissions and products by 2015. In the kitchen, we’re exposed to it mainly through scratched pans, and these things scratch easily. They can also break down at high temperatures and the fumes can cause flu like symptoms in humans, and death in birds. Hello, canary in the coalmine.

There are new chemicals now being used to produce non-stick cookware as this phases out. The replacements are largely unknown, so their safety is also unknown. The safest thing to do is cook everything in tried and true durable materials: cast iron, enamel coated cast iron, and stainless steel.

What’s in your kitchen?