Cookware: What's safe and what's not? A review by Be Good Organics
WHY NOT TEFLON PANS
In my recipe for Sesame Ginger Noodles, I’ve used cast iron to cook the tofu. But why not non-stick cookware, like we’re used to? Most non-stick pans are made with a coating of polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE, commonly known as “Teflon”. It’s a clear polymer coat which prevents food from sticking, and makes them easy to wash. Problem is – the coating can chip and flake into food (especially if you get angry and give it a scrape with your metal spatula), and the PTFE can release harmful chemicals into your food when it’s heated.
In fact, several studies have shown that even when cooking at regular temperatures (180 to 260°C), PTFE coated pans begin to degrade and release toxic chemicals into your food. Some research even suggests that given this degradation, these pans should only be used for 3 years, before they cause serious harm. This process of toxic chemical release is enhanced even further if you scratch the pan before your 3 years up. Ingestion of these toxins into our food travels to the blood stream, can even be transferred from mother to infant in utero, and has been associated with reduced birth weight and abnormal thyroid function in children and adults.
Some newer Teflon pans use better quality materials, which are less likely to accumulate in the body, however they jury is still definitely still out on the long term effects.
Another problem is, these pans don’t degrade, which is a major environmental hazard. In New Zealand alone, over 100,000 non-stick Teflon style pans go to landfill every year. And that’s just in little Aotearoa.
WHAT ARE THE SAFEST COOKWARE?
So what are the safer alternatives? Getting back to basics and the cooking methods we used to use. In addition to these being safer for you from a toxin perspective, they also last much longer. In an era of disposable convenience, I’m a huge proponent of buying well, little, and for a lifetime.
Here’s what I recommend, and have shifted to over the last few years:
- Stainless – good for cooking rice/pasta/grains/legumes, sauces, and steaming veggies. Also baking pans for baking.
- Glass – a good alternative for baking brownies, slices, muesli bars, lasagnes.
- Cast Iron – perfect for pan-frying and searing tofu, tempeh, eggplant, mushrooms, baking frittatas, cooking stove-top bread (I make these Ugly Rolls in mine)
BENEFITS OF CAST IRON
It's easy to show how brilliant the right cast iron pan can be at browning and searing things like tofu. I’ve tried a few cast iron pans, but my hands down favourite (and the brand who I’ve partnered with for my Sesame Ginger Noodles) is Ironclad.
So what’s so good about cast iron? It’s…
- Been used for almost 2000 years
- Is a truly sustainable cookware, lasting 100+ years
- Can go from the stove top to oven so you can cook off a dish on the stove, then finish it or keep it warm in the oven (you can use them on your BBQ as well)
- Can actually impart iron into your food, increasing the iron content – which can be beneficial if you suffer from iron deficiency anaemia
- Retains an even heat, so you can turn it off but leave the food in so it continues to cook – this is perfect for the toasted sesame seeds in this recipe
- Over time, actually makes your food taste better
WHY I LOVE MY IRONCLAD?
I’ve had the benefit of being sent a few cast iron pans over the years to try, and can hands down say that my Ironclads are the best. Which is why I reached out to Joe and Kate (the kiwi founders of Ironclad) to see if they’d like to do a recipe collaboration together! Here’s what sets them above the rest:
- The only cast iron pan made locally in New Zealand
- Sustainably made with 100% recycled iron
- Comes unseasoned meaning no risk of chemicals, coatings or dyes
- Has a 100 year replacement guarantee (that’s 3 generations of use)
- And, is made by a small kiwi company, dedicated to changing the world of disposable chemical-laden cookware
HOW TO MAKE YOUR CAST IRON NON-STICK
But is cast iron really non-stick? No was the answer in my mind until I got my Ironclads. However, if you prepare it properly, you can genuinely turn it into a natural non-stick pan – without the chemicals. Being able to fry tofu in it with virtually no added oil, was a revelation for this plant-loving passionado.
Here’s how to season it:
- Give it a quick scrub with natural detergent
- Dry it in an oven for 10 minutes so it’s really dry
- Rub it with vegetable oil with a cloth until shiny (grapeseed oil is ideal as it has a high smoke point and neutral flavour)
- Put it in the oven upside down for 1 hour at 180°C, then let it cool
After each use, I wash mine gently with cold water, let it completely dry (put it back into the warm oven if you used it to do this), then rub it again with vegetable oil (I don’t do the handle every time). The more you use it and season it, the better the non-stick surface becomes. That’s when you’ll be able to cook tofu to a perfect golden brown like I have here, with hardly any oil at all.
If you’re just starting out with cast iron, I recommend going for one large pan (mine is 25cm diameter). Then if you’re loving it, you can add a smaller pan – I recently got a smaller lighter 18cm which I’ve been loving for quick jobs like toasting nuts, seeds, and panfrying tofu and tempeh.
Give cast iron a try and let me know what you think! I’m an absolute convert, so know you will be too.
By Buffy Ellen, founder of Be Good Organics and qualified Nutritionist, Naturopath and Medical Herbalist.