Using sustainable cookware made from wrought iron, cast iron and stainless steel is essential for five key reasons.
This article was written in conjunction with Australia’s only 100% made and owned production cookware company, Solidteknics.
The cookware we choose can have an impact on everything from the taste of our food to the level of toxins in our home and the health of the environment more broadly.
Choosing quality, long-lasting pots and pans without synthetic coatings will give you better tasting, healthier food without contributing to landfill or poisoning waterways and soil.
Wrought iron, cast iron and stainless steel cookware have all been around for generations and remain solid, dependable and clean choices for good reasons.
If you can sneak a peek into your local professional kitchen, you’re more likely to see stainless steel or iron pots and pans being used than synthetic non-stick pans. This is for a few reasons: one is that iron and steel are much more resilient to long-term, heavy use. They don’t wear out or flake, they are dependable and they’re sustainable.
Some of us are lucky enough to have inherited an heirloom piece of kitchen goodness in the form of a cast or wrought-iron pot, seasoned to perfection over decades of use, with very little sign of such use.
There aren’t many families who can say they’ve handed down their synthetic non-stick cookware to the next generation without any of the coating having peeled off, or without other issues or breakages.
Another reason you won’t see synthetic non-stick pans in respected professional kitchens is that the taste and texture of the end result is different, and many chefs and experienced cooks prefer the taste that comes from the super hot, quick cooking possible on steel or iron pans.
They get hotter and hold the heat better than other types of cookware. As J. Kenji Lopez-Alt writes on Serious Eats, “The main advantage of iron is that it has very high volumetric heat capacity, which means that once it’s hot, it stays hot.”
He notes that this is vital for searing meat well. Synthetic non-stick cookware has been said to be safe as long as it does not overheat, which when used for cooking is difficult to avoid.
Teflon, the most common synthetic coating of non-stick cookware, was invented in the 1930s. Seemingly a miracle product, it soon became a trusted household name. But in the early 2000s, health agencies raised concerns about the compound PFOA, which was previously used to make Teflon (it’s important to distinguish that whilst PFOA was, at the time, used in the manufacturing process of Teflon, it was not present in the non-stick surface in the final product).
Several studies suggested PFOA exposure was linked to long-term health risks including possible links to testicular, kidney, thyroid, prostate, bladder and ovarian cancer. The World Health Organization classified PFOA as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
Like other ‘forever chemicals’, it can be found at low levels in the soil and groundwater on every continent, in a variety of animal species and even in human breast milk.
Other chemicals have now replaced PFOA, but we don’t yet know what lingering effects the newer synthetic chemicals commonly used in non-stick cookware may have in our bodies, our homes and our wider environment.
Despite some major court cases against Teflon manufacturers, synthetic non-stick cookware still rules the market, but there is now a growing understanding of how cookware can impact our families’ health and an increase in interest in alternative, more natural options.
For an extra bonus, iron cookware can also lend a little bit of the mineral iron to your diet. Unless you’re prone to having too much iron in your system, this could be beneficial.
The original non-stick
There’s a misconception that classic cookware, without any synthetic non-stick coating, is difficult to cook with because the food will stick to the pan.
Iron, cast iron and stainless steel products are actually the original non-stick cookware items – once they’ve been used and seasoned, it’s possible to keep them lightly oiled and naturally non-stick.
If sustainability is the practice of using natural resources responsibly, so they can support both present and future generations, then choosing cookware made from natural resources, that doesn’t shed any synthetic particles and lasts for generations, is clearly the way to go.
Buying once, and buying well, so that you can enjoy your well-made, dependable cookware for decades, will save you money in the long term, avoid wasted resources, add less to landfill, and give you peace of mind when it comes to thinking about chemicals in your kitchen and local environment.
Supporting companies that use safe and ethical manufacturing processes benefits us all, too.