Nonstick cookware has found its way into millions of homes. It is generally inexpensive. It makes cleanup a breeze. It requires less fat and oils to cook food. Most who use nonstick cookware like the fast and easy way it works. However, there is a lot of controversy surrounding the use of nonstick cookware. Your Cookware Helper has researched the topic thoroughly and will provide the necessary information to let you decide if it is a material you want to use in your kitchen.
A nonstick coating is not a cookware material like stainless steel, cast iron, aluminum, or glass. Nonstick refers to a coating, often chemical, that is applied to a cookware material to help food release more easily during cooking and cleanup. Your Cookware Helper puts it into the section of cookware materials because of its popularity and widespread use. When buying cookware with a nonstick coating, it is vitally important to know what the real cookware material is underneath the coating and the heating characteristics of that material.
What exactly is the nonstick cookware coating?
Nonstick coatings come in two formulations. Silicone based formulations are applied almost exclusively to bakeware since they are not designed to handle the direct heat of stove top cooking. Silicone formulations are designed to release high sugar content foods and are dishwasher safe.
The second formulation is known as PTFE or Fluoropolymer formulations. These are almost exclusively used with cookware. The main compound, and where the PTFE comes in, is polytetrafluoroethylene. The Cookware Manufacturers Association identifies the ingredients of a non stick coating:
- A resin that binds the coating to the cookware surface
- Color pigmentation
- The release agent – PTFE or silicone
- A carrier agent, an organic solvent or water
- Optional reinforcing to provide better wear protection
The cost and quality of nonstick cookware is directly proportional to the number of layers they apply, how they are applied, and if any reinforcement is applied to increase its durability.
Use and care of nonstick cookware
- Like all cookware, nonstick cookware needs to be washed before its first use.
- Most nonstick surfaces will benefit from a little oil rubbed into the surface.
- Heat is the enemy of all nonstick surfaces. Low to medium heat is recommended.
- NEVER use metal utensils, spatulas, or anything with a sharp edge against the surface.
- Almost all nonstick cookware recommends hand washing. While some advertise as dishwasher safe, even their care and use instructions do not recommend it all the time.
- The surface will wear. How long it will take depends on the quality of the cookware. It is this wear that causes one of the health concerns.
Is nonstick cookware safe and healthy?
Nonstick coating manufacturers like to relegate the safety concerns to conspiracy theorists and whacko nut jobs. They point to how much is out on the market and ask “if it is so dangerous, how did it get so popular?” Anyone can see the flaws in that argument by pointing out numerous examples in our health care industry. There are health advocacy groups raising concerns to government groups, but getting little traction. The advocacy groups have performed independent studies and found significant cause for concern. One study found nonstick coatings, when used with high heat, produce 15 harmful gases and chemicals. Dupont, the primary manufacturer of nonstick coatings and maker of Teflon, has even acknowledged that such fumes can sicken people with a condition known as “polymer fume fever,” often misdiagnosed as the common flu. I don’t know which is worse, that it exists, or that it is so common they even have a name for it!
The issues that concern health conscious cooks are these:
- When used with high heat, the fumes that are known and documented to kill birds, and have effects on humans
- The chemical particles of the surface that wear off into the food we ingest, and the unknown effect these trace particles have on our daily health
What is a cook to do?
Nonstick cookware was first created in the 1940’s out of a desire for convenience. It is easy to see why nonstick surfaces have become so popular. No one wants to scrape their cookware clean. However, a lot has changed since the 1940’s. Today there are quality cookware choices that distribute heat very well with minimal applied heat. This new area of nonstick cookware is often called eco-friendly or “green” cookware. Some of these manufacturers use a ceramic as the nonstick coating, while others have a wide variety of surface coatings to reduce sticking. When used properly, many of these nonstick alternatives cook foods with precision and are very easy to clean up. A health conscious cook has alternatives. You now have the facts. The choice is yours.