Monday, April 11, 2005

Your Cookware and Your Health

"I am sure you have heard about the use of a caged canary in the old mining shafts to detect poisonous gases and warn the miners to evacuate. If the canary stops singing and falls off his perch, get out. "Well, the emissions from a Teflon pan heating on the stove can kill your birds as many sad and unfortunate parrot owners have found out. The airborne emissions are an addition to the chemicals that are leached into the food being cooked - sounds like time to get out of Teflon." That observation comes from a reader named Robin in a letter titled "No Teflon, Stainless Steel or Aluminum Cookware! Help!!" This is just one of three letters that discuss the pros and cons of different types of cookware, with a special emphasis on the dangers of Teflon. For instance, a reader named Karen writes: "I read the article about the dangers of Teflon cookware and stainless steel and aluminum. What is left that is safe?" Karen receives quite a few responses with detailed information about different cooking surfaces and advice on how to use them. A reader who goes by "RB" writes: "I bought a very expensive frypan with glass lid to avoid the aluminum dangers and the mess of stainless steel sticking. It is made of titanium and can be used on extremely high heat without oils and will never warp or be damaged. Nothing sticks to it at all." A reader named Camen uses a porcelain coated steel pan, and has this to say about other surfaces: "Cast iron and stainless steel have got to be safer than teflon and/or aluminum. I am allergic to nickel and SS cooking has never caused a reaction." Nickel is a toxin, so a reader who goes by "MK" offers this nickel-detection tip: "Regarding nickel in stainless cookware - the person is correct in not wanting stainless with too much nickel - it is not good for you. However, there is a simple test to determine if your stainless - or the stainless you wish to purchase - is okay or not. If a magnet sticks to your pot/pan - you are safe. If it does not, there is too much nickel." Issues of safety aside, if you want to keep food from sticking to a cooking surface, the cooking technique may be more important than the material the surface is made of. Here's some professional advice from a reader named Howard: "ALL pans are non-stick. It's only the cooks who are sticky! LOL. "I've worked in several professional kitchens in the past, and I have NEVER seen a 'Teflon' or other non-stick pan in the building. They are for AMATUERS! There are a number of reasons a professional cook would not use a non-stick pan, and none of them have to do with health. Pro kitchens are all to do with SPEED. You need pans that transfer heat quickly, are light, and easy to clean. This means Aluminum. Sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but if you eat out often, you are eating food cooked in aluminum pans. "If you want your pans, (whatever their base metal) to be non-stick, follow the old chef's maxim: Hot Pan, Cold Oil, Foods Don't Stick! Amateur cooks put a cold pan on the stove, add the fat to the pan, and turn on the heat. This is a GUARANTEE that whatever protein or carb that you add to that pan after it reaches temp, will stick like super-glue. If you want to make your pans non-stick, do this: PRE-HEAT the pan, and then add the oil/fat. Wait for a tell-tale wisp of smoke from the pan before adding your ingredients for cooking. This is the pan's method of telling you that it is 'ready' to cook. "It is useful to know what the smoke point of a particular oil/fat is so you can tailor the cooking process to the dish without imparting a burnt flavor."

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