There are so many options of cookware available in the market and they are made of a wide variety of materials, from glass to iron. This makes it very hard to choose the best one for your household. Besides choosing cookware that facilitates your daily chores you should also consider which materials are safe when heated and in contact with certain food and substances. Certain materials can release small quantities of toxic substances and contaminate your food when heated and scrubbed. In addition, some materials cannot be recycled and may be harmful to the environment.
The most popular materials used to make pots and pans are: aluminium, copper, stainless steel, iron, ceramic, non-stick materials and glass. We will give you an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of using each of these materials below:
Harvesting and producing aluminium is very harmful to the environment, so keep your old cookware if you can, if not recycle it and buy new ones made of recycled aluminium as it requires about 95% less energy and water and emit 95% less greenhouse gas to be manufactured when compared to virgin aluminium. Aluminium is widely and repeatedly recycled and most cookware is at least partly made of recycled material. This is usually informed by manufacturers.
Copper is a good heat conductor, but only suitable for cooking sugar and sweets as in contact with salt and acidic food it can release copper traces. Although important for our blood and nervous system health, copper in excess can be toxic to humans, causing mental diseases and muscle pains. You should avoid this material unless for sugar cookery. If it is only used to improve heat conduction, lined with another material such as stainless steel, and the copper component is not in contact with food there will be no risk of contamination. In addition, copper is easily recyclable.
Stainless steel is less prone to leaching and even when it occurs, it releases substances that are very beneficial to human health such as manganese and chromium, which are hard to obtain or absorb in a regular diet and contribute to prevent high cholesterol levels and diabetes. Stainless steel alone is a bad heat conductor, meaning food is cooked unevenly, and so it is usually combined with a copper or aluminium core, making it safe and adequate for cooking. It is also easily and frequently recycled.
Similar to stainless steel, even if it leaches it will provide a beneficial substance to your food: iron. Iron deficiency or anaemia is a common disease and extra iron can be an advantage for most people, especially kids, teenagers and pregnant women. Some people find iron cookware too heavy or hard to care for though. Iron is also similar to steel in terms of recycling, they are the two most recycled materials in the world and require simple processes.
Ceramic cookware is safe, good for cooking and easy to clean. Watch out for toxic paints that can leach to your food, some items contain lead and cadmium in the paint. Look for nontoxic options that will be 100 % safe. The only downside of ceramic pieces is that they take longer to heat and may consume more energy to cook, but it is a recyclable material.
Glass cookware has no risk of toxicity and can be scrubbed without concern. It is safe and good for cooking, but can be fragile as any glass and can break when subject to heat shock. Although recyclable, it is made of tempered glass, a stronger type to resist oven and microwave use that needs higher temperatures to melt, complicating the recycling process.
These are in fact just an addition to pots and pans made of a material already mentioned above. These supplements can be PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene), PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) or PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate) and are the most controversial as they have been associated to cancer and other diseases. PFOA, also known as C8, has been related to a small increase in the risk of testicular, kidney and thyroid cancer. PFOS have been associated to preeclampsia in pregnant women and alterations in thyroid hormone and cholesterol levels. PTFE when overheated (over 250°C or 482°F) releases gases that are harmful to human lungs and cause flu-like symptoms. PTFE is the least harmful non-stick material and it is unlikely that such temperatures will be reached.
When opting for non-stick pans and pots look for a PTFE one that is PFOA-free (some contain small amounts of PFOA), use only with low to medium temperatures, cook with wood and silicon utensils and never use steel wool to clean it. If you notice the surface is damaged, send it for recycling. TerraCycle has a recycling program for kitchenware in which you can order a recycling box and share with your neighbours if you do not have much to recycle.
In sum, we evaluate stainless steel, iron, ceramic and glass as the safest materials for cookware. Aluminium and non-stick are controversial materials, but can be safe if certain precautions are followed. Copper is not recommended for its toxicity and lack of versatility. For more tips about appropriate pans and pots for different recipes and how to care for each type of cookware, check the Fix Blog. Take good care of your cookware so they last more and when they get too old discard them properly for recycling. When buying a new one evaluate well your options to Green It Yourself… Now!