My pots are starting to scratch and I am afraid to use steel utensils with them. I have some plastic utensils but I am worried about using them on hot food. What cooking vessels should I use?
Please, please do not use that scratched up pot. And please banish the plastic from the kitchen. At least the cooking part of the kitchen. Why not use a pot that doesn’t scratch – such as one made of cast iron or stainless steel? I will let you do your own reading on the hazards of cooking with aluminium, or using plastic for stirring or storing hot foods. I will just briefly comment below.
Why you should not cook in the following materials (and what you should use instead): Teflon: Do I really have to tell you?
Plastic Utensils – When plastic comes in contact with hot food, there is a risk of some of that plastic reacting with the food, exposing those who eat the food to Bisphenol A (BPA) and other synthetic estrogens. The probability of reaction is higher for food that is hot, spicy, acidic or oily. To avoid this risk, don’t use plastic utensils while cooking, serving or storing hot food.
Aluminium: Studies show that the amount of aluminium that we absorb from cooking vessels is not “very much.” How much is not much? Some of the articles try to put that in perspective by pointing out that we also absorb aluminium from other sources such as aspirin, antacid, processed foods, etc. For those of us not eating any of the foregoing substances, this statement does not serve to make us feel any better about the “small” quantity of aluminium absorbed from aluminium cookware. By the same token, we need not feel “that bad” about it either. Of course the longer you cook in that aluminium, the more you will absorb, and if the food is acidic, it will absorb even more. Since we don’t need any aluminium in our diet, there is really no point in cooking with aluminium. We can do better than “not that bad.”
Anodized Aluminium: Anodizing is supposed to seal in the aluminum and prevent it from reacting with the substances cooked in it. If so, then no aluminium absorbed. If the vessel gets scratched however, good bye to anodized and hello aluminium. Again, you can take comfort in the reassurance that aluminium absorbed from cooking is (probably) “not that bad.”
Stainless Steel: Stainless steel is more stable than other metals used for cookware and when properly maintained, i.e. not scratched, does not leach significantly, especially after the first few uses. So when you get a brand new set of stainless steel cookware, you may want to wash it thoroughly in hot water before using. Boil some water in it and throw that out too. Generally steel vessels do not get easily scratched either. So you can use smooth-edged steel utensils with steel vessels. For a gentler touch, use wooden spoons and spatulas with all your vessels. Wash with ordinary dishwashing sponges and avoid scrubbing with very abrasive wool. If food sticks to the pot, soak it so that you can scrub it more easily and you will not scratch your vessels. Stainless steel is relatively lightweight, easy to clean, hard to break, and nearly neutral as far as absorption in food is concerned.
Iron: Instead of struggling to minimize the quantity of metal absorbed, why not cook with a material that is also a vital nutrient? Food cooked in iron pots, pans, griddles and woks will tend to absorb iron every time you cook. Of course the longer you cook in that iron, the more you will absorb, and if the food is acidic, it will absorb even more. Next important question is – how much of this will our bodies actually absorb? A rather small percentage – but every milligram counts. Again, acidic food improves our own absorption of iron. Note: Tomatoes and other acidic food cooked in iron will absorb some color and flavor as well. To avoid prolonged exposure, remove food from the vessel when done.
PHOTO: Astute reader Dushyant Baba sizzles up a stir fry in his iron skillet. His trusty iron griddle is seen on the side burner.
Materials I haven’t addressed include glass, clay, and stone, which are all good from the food safety standpoint, provided there is no lead glaze or lead crystal involved. People report health and culinary benefits as well, but I will save discussion of these heavy weight cookwares for another day.
For further reference:
Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not? from the Harvard Family Health Guide.
M.V. Kröger-Ohlsen, T. Trúgvason, L.H. Skibsted andK.F. Michaelsen, “Release of Iron into Foods Cooked in an Iron Pot: Effect of pH, Salt, and Organic Acids” in Journal of Food Science, November 2002.