Cast Iron is a great material for cooking and believed to have been used for two thousand years. Just because something has been used for ages doesn’t mean it’s safe nonstick cookware. Take tobacco for instance. That said, there is little belief that there is any meaningful harm in using cast iron as a cooking surface.
The primary concern around the use of cast iron is the seasoning layer which gives cast iron its non-stick surface. The seasoning layer is essentially carbon deposits left from the oil used to season the surface. During the seasoning process free radicals are released. Free radicals are believed to interact poorly in the human body and be a source of cancer. However, the free radicals are released when the oil reaches its smoke point and escapes in the smoke itself. It’s believed that there are no free radicals left on the surface after seasoning.
Ultimately, my personal opinion is that this is a very natural way of cooking when compared to PTFE-coated pans. PTFE (aka Teflon) can release gas when it exceeds 500º F. Also, since it is a coating it can flake off over time with use and end up in your food. It likely passes through your system harmlessly however the idea of it makes me a little uneasy. Another concern with PTFE is the use of PFOA which is a chemical used in the manufacturing process and is known to cause cancer. If you have used Teflon coated products and are concerned you can read more at Cancer.org. I have no concerns with cast iron and its seasoned surface. I prefer the idea of this age-old method of cooking but follow your gut on this one and do your own research if you are very concerned.
There are many new non-PTFE products on the market claiming to be non-stick surface cookware. Here are 3 respected brands.
My personal opinion obviously is that cast iron is the best all around cookware not just the best safe nonstick cookware. It’s all natural with no fear of chemicals and is very non-stick. For those that are put off by cast iron or PTFE( and PFOA) give you concern I’d wholeheartedly recommend you look into some of these great alternatives. Our friends at OrganicAuthority.com have an excellent review on 9 Non-Toxic Cookware Brands To Keep Chemicals Out Of Your Food.
Other cookware alternatives to consider:
These alternatives will have varying degrees of non-stick ability. With all you’ll need to look into non-stick cooking sprays or other methods to help prevent a real chore when it comes time to clean your cookware
What can I substitute for nonstick cooking spray?
Shortening, vegetable oil, butter, and bacon fat are all great alternatives that will do a very similar job. Butter and bacon fat will add to the flavor profile of your cooking significantly, especially bacon fat. Vegetable oil and shortening are fairly neutral in flavor and similar to the main ingredient of non-stick cooking sprays which is usually a combination of oils.
Olive oil is not the best when it comes to trying to minimize sticking. Olive oil has a relatively low smoke point and its flavor profile doesn’t complement all food types well. Flaxseed oil, which is the best oil for seasoning cast iron, would be an excellent choice however it’s quite expensive. Vegetable oil is a great economical option and doesn’t have a strong flavor profile while also having a higher smoke point.
DuPont, inventors of Teflon (PTFE) say that Teflon coated cookware should be replaced every 3 to 5 years due to wear and tear. Scratching and flaking of the Teflon coating will begin around this point. Non-PTFE cookware with newer coatings will vary. Cast iron cookware should be kept indefinitely if well maintained. In fact, antique cast iron is prized and many pay a premium for well maintained examples.
Using scratched non-stick isn’t recommended but it isn’t believed to be harmful either. While it may be a little unsettling to think about consuming Teflon, it should simply pass through your system harmlessly. DuPont, the creators of Teflon suggest replacing Teflon-coated cookware every 3 to 5 years because of the non-stick coating becoming scratched with regular use. That said, I found this little pan squirreled away amongst the others in my cabinet. Ain’t she a beaut’! Yikes!
So, is cast iron a safe nonstick cookware? Absolutely! Cast iron cookware is very non-stick and is a healthy source of iron in your diet. That said, cast iron isn’t always the best choice for certain foods or types of cooking and it’s good to have a wide arsenal of options.
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