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I used Nonstick cookware for a long time. Nonstick cookware was awesome because food wouldn’t stick to the pans without much oil. It was easy to cook and clean. However, one day I found out nonstick cookware can be toxic. Since then, I’ve slowly changed all my cookware to non toxic cookware. When my toddler eats food that I cook, I really want to be sure my cookware is non toxic. In this post, I’ve divided cookware into three categories: toxic or reactive, moderately reactive and non-reactive. You will see why nonstick cookware including ceramic coated cookware is not safe and other materials like stainless steel or glass is safe and non toxic. Each cookware materials have pros and cons, I hope this guide will help you decide right non toxic cookware for you and your family.
Toxic Or Reactive Cookware
Reactive cookware reacts with food when cooking and leach heavy metals or chemicals into the food. Some cookware materials may not react with certain food but they are toxic.
Nonstick Cookware (Teflon)
A well-known brand name for a nonstick cookware is Teflon. Teflon nonstick cookware is coated with a material called polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). This synthetic chemical was made with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the past. PFOA is toxic to our health causing health effects such as liver disease, thyroid disorders and testicular cancer. The problem with nonstick cookware is toxic chemicals leach when cooking in really high temperature. Above 500°F (260°C), nonstick coating begins to break down and release toxic fumes and chemicals into the air or into the food. When non stick layer is damaged or worn off, it will also release toxic chemicals. Some of these chemicals are carcinogenic. Many nonstick cookware doesn’t use PFOA any more since 2015. However, for some PTFE, toxic PFOA is still used in the process of making PTFE. For some PTFE, PFOA has been replaced with other chemicals such as GenX but other replacement chemicals supposedly has the similar toxicity as PFOA. (PTFE-coated non-stick cookware and toxicity concerns: a perspective)
Ceramic Coated Nonstick Cookware
Ceramic coated nonstick cookware is often marketed as healthy cookware. It is often called non toxic nonstick cookware. Examples of cookware that uses ceramic nonstick coating are Calphalon, Greenpan or Farberware nonstick ceramic cookware. Ceramic coated nonstick cookware is usually made of metal such as hard anodized aluminum coated with a nonstick layer of ceramic. Many people turn to ceramic coated cookware since ceramic coated nonstick cookware offer Teflon-like performance but without the undesirable PFOA or PFOS chemicals. Ceramic coated cookware is also affordable. However, although ceramic coating is free of PFOA or PFOS, it contains nanoparticles which can enter our bodies through air or food. Thermolon, for example, is a nonstick coating found on Green Pans and is made with the sol-gel process which uses nanoparticles.
Nanoproducts is pretty new and it became available in the market without enough research and monitoring on how they affect human health and environment over the years. However, there has been increasing concerns with nano products about how they affect our health. A study from the University of Southern Denmark shows that nano-silver can penetrate our cells and cause damage. Other studies also found that nanoparticles don’t get recognized by our immune system and enter our lungs, cells and brain. A study published in 2016 has also found that chronic oral exposure to titanium dioxide nanoparticles results in immune disruption and pre-cancer lesions in the gut. Generally titanium dioxide is safe material. However, titanium dioxide nanoparticles are so small that they can travel in our bloodstream and cause damage to our health such as brain damage, DNA deletion in fetus or possibly even cancer.
The study published in 2016 has also found that nanoparticles gets released when ceramic coated cookware has surface wear and damage from scratch or chipping. Nonstick properties of ceramic coated cookware can wear off easily with normal use making the pan’s coating thin and vulnerable to damage. When nonstick coating is thin, ceramic coating can easily be scratched and chipped by something like metal utensils. Once coating is chipped, cookware will release nanoparticles and aluminum into food. (Nanoparticles Released By Quasi Ceramic Pans)
Aluminum can leach aluminum into food. It is especially reactive with acidic and salty foods such as tomato sauce. Aluminum is a concern because elevated amount of aluminum has been found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. There is also a concern that use of aluminum-containing antiperspirants may cause a breast cancer. This means there is a possibility Aluminum can be deposited in our body and can have serious health effects. Anodized aluminum cookware which is made to be non reactive to food, leaches aluminum at a very small amount. However, the surface of the protective layer can still be damaged and expose aluminum to the food. In addition, it often has non stick coating on it.
Copper cookware leaches copper into food when heated. Therefore, often it is lined with tin, nickel or stainless steel. However, the protective layer can wear off if damaged, exposed to acidic food or rubbed hard with abrasive on the surface. HealthCanada advises not to use copper cookware with tin or nickel coating. Copper cookware with nickel, for example, can release nickel which can cause allergic reactions to some people.
Moderately Reactive Cookware
Moderately reactive cookware is pretty safe except when cooking salty or acidic food especially for a long duration.
Cast Iron – Non Toxic Cookware
Cast iron has a good heat retention and it is preferred for cooking meat, frying food or cooking egg dishes. However, cast iron cookware leaches iron into food especially when cooking acidic dishes. Our body needs iron for our health, however, too much iron can be harmful, especially for those with hereditary hemochromatosis. Too much iron can cause iron poisoning for some people. Excess iron can accumulate in internal organs causing potentially serious damage. I would avoid cooking acidic food for a long cooking duration with cast iron cookware since they can make cast iron cookware leach iron significantly more.
On the other hand, cast iron skillet is the best material for frying eggs, cooking omelettes, pancakes, toasts and meats. I tried other materials such as stainless steel or ceramic, cast iron has the best result. Seasoning of the cast iron skillet makes the skillet nonstick naturally. If you have a hard time with eggs sticking to a stainless steel or ceramic pan, get yourself a cast iron skillet. Many people get a cast iron frying pan separately even if they have a cookware set. If you are worried about iron intake from a cast iron skillet, you can use a cast iron skillet alternatively with other cookware or avoid cooking acidic food in the cast iron skillet.
Lodge makes great quality cast iron skillets, dutch ovens and griddles. Their cast iron products are made in USA. Le Creuset, a well-known French company that makes porcelain enamel cookware also makes cast iron skillets.
Lodge Cast Iron Skillet
Carbon Steel – Non Toxic Cookware
Carbon steel is very similar to cast iron and it is usually used for frying pan or wok. It is slightly heavier than stainless steel but a lot lighter than cast iron. It is reactive with acidic foods so it will leach iron when cooking acidic foods. Carbon steel pans also need a seasoning which will give the pan nonstick surface. It is great for high heat cooking, frying, stir-frying and sautéing.
Matfer Bourgeat and De Buyer are two French companies that makes great quality carbon steel pans. Their products are made in France. Also, Wok Shop’s wok is made in USA.
Stainless Steel – Non Toxic Cookware
Stainless Steel is generally safe but it is also reactive with salty, acidic food. Stainless steel can leach nickel, iron and chromium when cooking acidic foods such as tomato pasta sauce especially for a long duration. Our body uses Iron and chromium, therefore, they shouldn’t be too much of a concern unless you already have iron and chromium related health problems. Our body, on the other hand, does not use nickel. In addition, some people are allergic to nickel. However, the amount of iron, chromium or nickel gets released from stainless steel cookware is generally not enough to cause a concern according to Health Canada.
You can check out what type of stainless steel is used when you buy stainless steel coookware. If you are worried about nickel, you can check how much nickel stainless steel contains. Most common stainless steel grade used for food is 304, 316, 430 and 304 is used the most. Most common grade used for 304 is 18/10 or 18/8. 18/10 means 18% chromium and 10% nickel. Low nickel stainless steel cookware available in the market are usually 18/8 or 18/10.
Stainless Steel is an overall most versatile cookware for many people. However, if you want to avoid cooking acidic food in the stainless steel cookware, you can get a glass or porcelain enameled pot separately for those cooking needs. In addition, you can also get a cast iron frying pan separately if you don’t like cooking eggs on a stainless steel material. I personally I do not like cooking eggs or pancakes on stainless steel pans, therefore, I have a cast iron skillet by Lodge for cooking eggs, toasts or pancakes. However, some people, like my sister are good at cooking an egg on a stainless steel pan. She actually prefers a stainless steel frying pan over a cast iron one since she doesn’t like the heaviness of a cast iron skillet. Depending on your preference and cooking needs, you can add a piece of frying pan or a pot to your kitchen. (Stainless Steel Leaches Nickel and Chromium into Foods During Cooking)
All Clad makes a superb quality stainless steel cookware in USA. Calphalon also makes 18/8~10 stainless steel cookware and their products are also made in USA. Uniware carries 18/8 stainless steel cookware.
All CLAD (18/10 Triple or 5 Ply Stainless Steel)
Calphalon (18/8~10 Triple Ply Stainless Steel)
Uniware (18/8 Stainless Steel)
Ceramic – Non Toxic Cookware
Ceramic I am talking about here is 100% ceramic cookware, not ceramic coated pots and pans such as Green Pan, Calphalon or Farberware nonstick ceramic cookware. Ceramic coated nonstick cookware poses harm to our health by using nanoparticles as I mentioned above. 100% ceramic cookware is not coated with anything so you don’t have to worry about coatings being worn off. However, glaze of ceramic cookware can contain lead or cadmium. Acidic food can leach lead out of the cookware. Therefore, you should only get a ceramic cookware from a company that has been tested for lead and cadmium. In addition, ceramic cookware is not completely nonstick so you have to get used to cooking with less nonstick surface.
Xtrema is the only company that makes 100% ceramic cookware. Ceramic is made of natural materials so there is a concern for contamination of lead and cadmium. However, their cookware is in compliance with stringent California Proposition 65 limits for accessible lead and cadmium. Their test result show that their products are safe from lead and cadmium. (view test result.)
Porcelain Enamel -Non Toxic Cookware
Porcelain Enamel is cast iron with an enamel coating. Usually enamel coating is made of clay. Therefore some people are concerned that the clay can leach lead and cadmium. Le Creuset is a company that makes a superb quality porcelain enamel cookware in France. Their cookware is pricey compared to other cookware. They have told met that their entire production process is to be in compliance with California Proposal 65 which is the most rigid standard in the world for lead and cadmium (approx. 10 times lower than “acceptable” limits). However, outer pot can contain cadmium since cadmium is used for colouration purposes in achieving bright exterior colours such as Flame and Cherry. The interior enamel which makes contact with food is either sand, white, or black. Therefore, there should be no concern of cadmium contamination in food when cooking according to Le Creuset.
Non-Reactive cookware is the safest cookware. It doesn’t react with food even with salty, acidic food.
Tempered Glass – Non Toxic Cookware
Glass is a very safe material and it is known to be inert. Therefore, it is not only used as cookware but also as a food storage material. Tempered glass is so much stronger than plain glass (about 4-5 times stronger), it can withstand tension more than the regular glass. It is also safer since it breaks into small, circular pieces rather than shatters into jagged shards when it breaks. Still tempered glass is a glass material so it can break if it experiences sudden changes in temperature from extreme hot to extreme cold temperature or vice versa. (thermal shock)
Visions is a company who makes a great quality tempered glass cookware. Their cookware is made in France and the lids are made in China. There are some concerns with lead and cadmium with some glass products, however, Visions cookware is free of lead and cadmium. For glass material, food can stick if you don’t have enough oil so I would use glass cookware for boiling food.
Nonstick cookware can leach harmful chemicals into food while cooking in high temperature. Ceramic coated nonstick cookware also poses harm due to its nanoparticles in ceramic nonstick coating. Healthy, non toxic cookware includes 100% ceramic, porcelain enamel, tempered glass, stainless steel, cast iron and carbon steel. Each cookware has pros and cons. With ceramic and porcelain enamel cookware though, I would research first to see if the cookware contain lead or cadmium. Ceramic, glass or porcelain enamel pots or sauce pans are great for cooking acidic foods if they don’t contain lead or cadmium. Stainless steel is much lighter than ceramic & porcelain and is excellent for cooking foods other than acidic food. Cast iron works great for cooking eggs, pancakes and meats. Carbon steel is awesome for stir-frying food like noodles or fried rice. If you already have a cookware set, add an individual piece for your non toxic cooking needs. If you are looking for a cookware set, stainless steel, ceramic, enamel porcelain, glass is all great except I would add a cast iron or carbon steel skillet. Happy cooking!
If you are interested in non toxic bakeware, please read my next post, ‘Non Toxic Bakeware Guide – Which Bakeware Is Safe And Non Toxic?‘
If you are interested in pressure cooker, Instant Pot, please read my post, ‘Non Toxic Pressure Cooker – Is Instant Pot Pressure Cooker Non Toxic?‘
If you are interested in non toxic rice cookers, please read my post ‘Non Toxic Rice Cookers – Rice Cookers With A Stainless Steel Inner Pot‘.
If you are interested in safe turkey bakeware, please read my post, ‘Non Toxic Turkey Roasting Pans – Which Turkey Bakeware Is Safe?‘
You can read my review on Instant Pot Duo Plus 60 9-in-1 pressure cooker in my post ‘Instant Pot Pressure Cooker Review – How Instant Pot Changed My Life.’