What tawa? Are we all inhaling toxic fumes from our Teflon cookware?

The cookware you choose can have significant impact on your health and on the environment.


With a plethora of cookware available in the market, the purchase of pans and pots can be a daunting task if you are not a foodie or a seasoned cook. But did you know that the cookware you choose can have a significant impact on your health and on the environment?

Teflon caught in a sticky situation

The modern non-stick pans have a coating of Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE). Recently, concern has grown over how safe these coatings are especially in the context of reports like this one that the non-stick coating used in Teflon pans release one or more toxic chemicals at high temperatures. Inhalation of these fumes besides being unsafe for pregnant women, is accompanied by adverse impacts to avian and animal life. People exposed to chemicals in non-stick cookware have also been found to have a higher chance of developing other health conditions like infertility, high cholesterol, and thyroid problems.

This graphic shows what happens to Teflon at different temperatures.

The growing awareness regarding the negative impact of Teflon coated cookware is seen in the resurgence of traditional utensils like clay pots which have found their way back into our kitchens and even those of high-end restaurants for their aesthetic appeal and their health benefits.

Here is a guide to finding the right cookware, conventional and otherwise to best suit your culinary needs while going easy on the environment.

Five alternatives to Teflon

1) Cast Iron

Cast-iron pot

Cast-iron pot

Cast-iron utensils have been around since Adam and are known for their incredible cooking abilities and extreme durability. They retain heat for a longer time and can be used outdoors too. In addition to being relatively inexpensive, they have been passed down over generations and you can even find some in your grandmother’s kitchen. You may have moved on to stainless steel and aluminium but grandma knows best. However, they require proper care and maintenance and it’s best to season them in order to prevent rust formation.

2) Stainless Steel

Stainless steel utensils

Stainless steel utensils

The most common of all, this is an alloy of steel, carbon, magnesium and chromium or titanium. It is relatively cheap and very low maintenance. Stainless steel stands tough against stains, scratches, warping, and even corrosion. The metal does not react with food and there is no scope for growth of bacteria because of its porosity. The only downside is that cooking may take a while since it does not conduct heat as well as cast-iron. You could always buy a pan with an aluminium or copper core sandwiched in the base.

3) Copper

The professional chef's favourite

The professional chef’s favourite

Copper is good to look at, expensive and the go-to cookware for professionals. It is the  best conductor of heat, cooking quickly and uniformly and reacting well to sudden temperature changes. However, it’s extremely high maintenance and can never be out in dishwasher. Also, it discolours when overheated. Copper has its own unique ability to change tastes and flavours.

4) Anodised Aluminium

Image taken from flickr.

flickr cc Timothy Vollmer

Aluminium is present in most of our food, cosmetics, consumer goods, even in antacids and vaccines! Chronic exposure to aluminium has raised health concerns, including its suspected role in Alzheimers and dementia. The leaching of aluminium from the utensil or packaging to contaminate cooked or stored food has been a concern especially when using ingredients that are highly basic (baking soda) or highly acidic (citrus fruits, tamarind, vinegar, tomatoes).

 

 

A safer alternative to aluminium is anodised aluminium  Anodising is an electrochemical process that changes the molecular structure of the aluminum and seals it into the cookware,  making it harder, more durable, protecting it from corrosive agents, and preventing the metal from leaching into the food during cooking. Make sure that the surface of the utensil that comes in contact with the food is made of anodized aluminium and not of a non-stick coating.

5) Clay

Clay pots

Clay pots

Clay utensils are relatively inexpensive and beautiful to look at. Their superior cooking abilities can be attributed to the fact that they are porous and therefore, heat and moisture are well circulated throughout the space during cooking. The cooking is slow, even and delicate. What makes these pots special is that the clay is alkaline in nature and will interact with the acidity in the food, restoring its pH balance. Consumers can also go for soft-metals coated with ceramics since they do not employ chemicals of questionable safety. They not only last longer but do no disintegrate at higher temperatures.

It’s safe to say with all this information that easy does not equal safe. Do not let the cost factor override quality and be mindful of the environmental impacts of your choices.

 

The Natural Beauty and Wellness Hub is our journey into discovering ideas for personal care that are natural, free of harsh chemicals and over-processing, are non-polluting and fair to everyone involved in the process, just as much as it is an inquiry into the idea of beauty and wellness itself. All content on the hub is produced with 100% editorial independence by The Alternative. 

The Hub is supported by  logo st that produces a line of organic certified skin care solutions made with natural ingredients and eco-friendly processes and in true Ayurvedic tradition. SoulTree® is India’s first and the only range of certified natural beauty & personal care products crafted from natural origin ingredients, using natural oils and carefully selected Ayurvedic herbs which are grown organically or wild-crafted in the Himalayas and through strictly regulated processes to ensure that synthetic and harmful ingredients do not make their way intothe products. Every SoulTree product comes in a recyclable packaging. Their products and processes can be found on www.soultree.in.


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