Functional Food Friday: Cookware Essentials

This week we are going to take some time to provide an overview of the essential cookware that will make your cooking easier and more enjoyable. Choosing the right cookware for the job will ensure successful cooking, roasting, stir frying, sautéing or sauce making.

Since you will ideally be using your cookware on a daily basis for most or all of your meals it is also important to choose wisely to avoid potential health issues that can result from using toxic cookware. The most important issue to consider is the leaching of the cookware surface into the foods that are being cooked. What this essentially means is that part of the cooking surface will transfer to the food and will ultimately be ingested by you. Secondary to the contamination of your food by toxins that leach from the cooking surface is the result of what happens to the cooking surface when it is heated. Heat changes the composition of materials so that the toxins are released as fumes into the air.

There are many types and brands of cookware available from Teflon Coated Non-Stick sets to Anodized Aluminium sets to Stainless Steel Sets – the selection can be intimidating so here are some tips on which to choose. You should absolutely avoid non-stick finishes like Teflon that scratch easily and can release little bits of toxic coating into the food when cooked. In addition, DuPont, the manufacturer of Teflon, acknowledges that when their non stick surface is heated beyond a certain level, it can kill birds and create a sickness in humans they call Polymer Fume Fever. DuPont studies show that Teflon offgases toxic particulates at 446°F. At 680°F Teflon pans release at least six toxic gases, including two carcinogens. Another one to avoid is aluminum cookware which although it is typically less expensive, light-weight, and has good heat capabilities is also reactive. Foods cooked in aluminum can react with the metal to form aluminum salts which have been linked to health issues such as Alzheimer’s disease and impaired visual motor coordination.

The key pieces of cookware required are a dutch oven, a large skillet, a small skillet or crepe pan, a large sauté pan, a large stock pot, a wok or stir-fry pan and a few smaller casserole style pots.

For the dutch oven and skillet, the best choice is undoubtedly cast iron. Cast iron cookware has been a kitchen favorite for centuries. It is thick and dense which makes it highly durable but also results in great heat capacity and heat distribution – although being dense, it does take more time and energy to heat. Another benefit is that cast iron can go from stove top to oven and vice versa. It can also be used on the table and will keep the food being served warm. The one downside is that cast iron cookware is extremely heavy.

With cast iron it is important to season your new cookware to ensure the non-stick which will only improve over time. Seasoning is the term used for treating cast iron with an oil such as olive or coconut oil and baking it at 350 degrees for an hour. This seasoning, and continued use of oil on the cookware, fills in the porous surface of the cookware enhancing the non-stick quality.

Hand washing cast iron is mandatory and it is not advisable to use the dishwasher which will destroy the seasoning, result in rusting of the cookware. When finished cooking, simply let the cookware cool off for a while, hand wash with warm water and natural soap. It important to immediately dry off your cast iron cookware with paper towels or a drying cloth.

Enameled cast iron cookware has an enamel coating applied applied to the outside, and sometimes to the inside which gives it an elegant and luxurious finish with beautiful color. Enamel coating on the inside offers the benefits of heat distribution and retention characteristic of cast iron together with a non-reactive surface that eliminates the need for seasoning and is easier to clean. You can find casserole dishes, Dutch ovens, and even sauce pans in enameled cast iron. When properly cared for, cast iron cookware can last for generations.

Cooking with cast iron also provides a source of an important nutrient – trace amounts of iron are released into the food which is beneficial for most people. Some people however may need to avoid added iron.

The best selling cast iron brands: Lodge, Le Creuset, Staub.

Stainless Steel is considered a safe and healthy cookware as long as the inside cooking surface of stainless steel cookware is 18/10 stainless steel. That 18/10 means 18% chromium and 10% nickel. Stainless steel is best for cooking applications that will be using low heat such as for making stocks. It is not ideal for frying, stir frying or sautéing where high heat is used.

Another safe cookware is ceramic which holds heat very well and has good heat dispersion. It is non-porous and does not react with any kinds of food you may be cooking. Ceramic cookware is also easy to clean and can safely be washed in the dishwasher although since it can chip it should be handled with consideration of that. It is very light and can be used comfortably by anyone in the kitchen. Like cast iron, ceramic cookware can go from the stove top to the oven and will also look great as a serving dish with the one caution that you place a trivet on the dinner table.

Quality cookware will be more expensive than the Teflon non-stick sets you can pick up a Costco but it is better to buy fewer, higher quality items even though they may be a little more expensive initially. This cookware will last a lifetime and provide you with exceptional cooking results. A few key essentials will take you a long way in the kitchen and will be an investment in your health.


About the Author:

Candice is a certified Holistic Lifestyle Coach living in sunny San Diego, California with her husband and seven year old daughter. She is passionate about nutrition and holistic health and sharing what she has learned and continues to learn with others who want to achieve health and vitality.