Ditch the Chemicals—10 Benefits of Cast Iron Cooking

Monday Aug 26, 2013 | BY |
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Cast Iron

Think cast iron is sticky and hard to clean?
Think again—properly seasoned, cast iron is naturally “non-stick.”

In 2003, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a study on non-stick cookware (Teflon). Results showed that the cookware reached temperatures that produced toxic particles and fumes potentially dangerous to human health long before manufacturer DuPont had previously admitted.

According to the study results, in two to five minutes on a conventional stovetop, Teflon cookware was found to exceed temperatures at which coating breaks apart and emits toxic particles and gases linked to pet bird deaths and potential human illnesses.

In 2007, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives published an article discussing the potential health effects of both perfluorooctanyl sulfonate (PFOS) or “Scotchguard,” and perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA) or “Teflon.” They noted the following about PFOA:

  • It hangs around in the body, eliminated after 3.8 years.
  • Animal studies have shown that high doses can cause cancer, physical development delays, endocrine disruption, and neonatal mortality.
  • In older animals, the compound can cause liver and pancreatic tumors.
  • Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University found PFOA in 100% of 297 serum samples collected in 2004 and 2005 from the umbilical cords of children born in Baltimore. The study also revealed a correlation between the babies’ PFOA levels and decreased birth weight and head circumference.
  • Other research has suggested that levels of these chemicals may be impacting the immune systems of bottlenose dolphins, which are believed to have the highest levels reported in any wildlife species.

In 2012, another study noted that children living downstream of a chemical plant on the Ohio River carried PFOA in their blood. Those with the highest levels were more likely than less exposed to have thyroid disease.

There are a number of other studies that at the very least, raise concerns about PFOAs. Though the companies using PFOA agreed to reduce levels in products by 95% in 2010 and to eliminate their use by 2015, thousands of households are still using them.

What’s a better alternative to non-stick cookware? Professional chefs agree—cast iron cookware.

Why You Should Try Cast Iron Cooking

Cast iron cookware has been around for a long time. Some may think of it as old school, too difficult to use, and way too difficult to maintain and clean, but the professionals know better. They know that when “well seasoned,” cast iron is nearly as nonstick as any chemically coated pan, and releases no toxic fumes. Here’s more on the benefits of this type of cooking—and why if you haven’t given these pans a try, you should!

  1. Evenly distributes heat: Cast iron creates an even, intense heat that makes it really flexible and effective for all sorts of cooking. That means it helps seal in juices and keeps food moist and delicious.
  2. Versatile: You can deep fry in it, sauté in it, and bake in it, as it easily goes from stovetop to oven. You can sear a steak and bake a pie in the same skillet.
  3. Inexpensive: Compared to other high-quality pots and pans, cast iron is a great deal, averaging about $25 a piece. One pan can take the place of a large bread pan, soup and stock pot, searing pan, and cornbread pan and griddle.
  4. Long lasting: Cast iron lasts a really long time, often passed down from one generation to the next. Old and worn pieces can be refurbished with a little scrubbing, making this a great eco-friendly option.
  5. Naturally non-stick: Once it’s seasoned, cast iron, used correctly, won’t cause foods to stick, and it does not emit the toxic fumes that non-stick pans do.
  6. Easy to clean: Simply use a stiff brush and hot water. No soap necessary, so you’re using fewer resources. (Soap is not recommended since it erodes the seasoning.)
  7. Healthy: Emits small amounts of iron into your food, adding needed nutrients that boost energy and help strengthen the immune system. Totally chemical free.
  8. You can use less oil: A well-seasoned pan is virtually non-stick, which means you can use less oil in your recipes, cutting down on the fat where desired.
  9. Sturdy: You can use your silverware without fear, since cast iron does not scratch. You can drop it and it won’t be damaged. Cast iron takes abuse and still lasts.
  10. Emergency-ready: You can use cast iron over any heating source, so even in a natural disaster, you’ve got a way to cook your food even over a fire.

You do have to season cast iron, or your food will stick. If you’re new to “seasoning” a cast iron pan, it’s easy—either buy preseasoned cookware, which is now available out there, or follow these tips:

  • Wash well and dry.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Warm the pan gently over low heat on top of the stove.
  • Using a brush or paper towel, spread a tablespoon of fresh, neutral oil (corn or grape seed) in the pan. Cover the surface, but leave no excess.
  • Put the pan in the oven.
  • Bake for about an hour, let cool.
  • You’re done!

Or, try this method instead:

  • Cover the bottom of the pan with a thick layer of kosher salt and a half-inch of cooking oil.
  • Heat until the oil starts to smoke.
  • Pour the salt and oil into a bowl.
  • Use a ball of paper towels (or a clean cloth) to rub the inside of the pan until it is smooth.

If you then use oil in the pan for your first few cooking excursions, it will become increasingly smooth.

Do you regularly use cast iron? Please share your tips.

* * *

Sources
“EWG finds heated Teflon pans can turn toxic faster than DePont claims,” May 15, 2003, http://www.ewg.org/research/canaries-kitchen.

Kellyn S. Betts, “Perfluoroalkyl Acids: What is the Evidence Telling Us?” Environ Health Perspect May 2007, 115(5):A250-A256, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1867999/.

Glenys Webster, “Higher PFOA exposure increases risk of thyroid disease in children,” Environmental Health News, June 14, 2012, http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/2012/04/2012-0531-kids-high-pfoa-alters-thyroid/.

Mark Bittman, “Ever So Humble, Cast Iron Outshines Fancy Pans,” New York Times, December 7, 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/12/07/dining/07mini.html?_r=0.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 15 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, web copy, newsletters, research-based projects and more.

Colleen is a self-described health nut, and understands from experience that “junk” foods and lack of sleep lead to fuzzy thinking, which isn’t helpful when facing project deadlines! She enjoys interviewing top scientific researchers, alternative medicine gurus, and cancer survivors from all over the nation who have overcome great challenges to find new purpose and vitality in life. In telling their stories and sharing their insights, she feels a sense of belonging in a wider community of individuals who seek to experience life in the most vibrant way possible.

Colleen’s fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” is forthcoming from Jupiter Gardens Press. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is scheduled for an August 2015 release with Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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