These products don’t just cook your food; they give it an extra boost.
Concern about the fumes from overheated Teflon pans had some home chefs tossing their skillets. Looking for cookware you can use with confidence? Here are three options that aren’t just safe—they go beyond the call in being healthy for you and the planet.
Often passed down through generations, cast iron is durable and when seasoned properly can be virtually nonstick. It holds heat exceptionally well, can be used both on the stovetop and in the oven, and, according to Clean Food author Terry Walters, “allows you to caramelize and sear to perfection.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency worldwide and the leading cause of anemia in the United States. Cooking in a cast-iron skillet or pot can add iron to food in a way that makes it easy for your body to absorb. Cast iron also is relatively inexpensive when compared with other high-quality cookware. Unglazed surfaces offer the biggest health benefits.
Find it: Lodge has been making cast-iron pots and pans in Tennessee since the late nineteenth century and now offers preseasoned cast iron (lodgemfg.com).
A staple in Asian kitchens for centuries, bamboo steamers offer another affordable way to create a healthy meal. Steaming preserves important nutrients in food as it cooks and does not require the use of additional fats or oils. Easy to use, steamers also minimize cleanup, as you can both cook and serve in the same basket. Rebecca Katz, author of The Longevity Kitchen, appreciates the efficiency of bamboo steamers, stacking the baskets to cook more than one dish at a time. “For example, I can steam salmon and my vegetables simultaneously,” she says. “I think of steaming as a kind and gentle way to lock nutrients into food.” Plus, bamboo is a renewable resource, so it’s as good for the planet as it is for you.
Find it: If you can’t find bamboo steamers at an Asian market or kitchen supply store near you, order one from San Francisco’s historic Chinatown at wokshop.com.
Used in ancient civilizations around the world, unglazed clay pots offer a link to traditional cooking and improve the healthfulness of foods cooked in them. Clay is porous, and pots traditionally are soaked in water for 15 to 20 minutes before cooking; the absorbed water is released when heated, keeping food moist and nutritious. Cooking in clay also can make food more alkaline, something that supports the body’s ability to detoxify, according to a study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. Master potter and Apache medicine man Felipe Ortega contends that food simply tastes better when cooked in a clay pot, due to this alkalizing effect; he won’t drink coffee (which is highly acidic) from anything other than his trusty clay mug.
Find it: Order a traditional, handmade clay pot at felipeortega.com. Or, for a more modern take, try the Vitaclay slow cooker (vitaclaychef.com).
Handle With Care
Treat your cookware with TLC to ensure healthful meals for years to come.
Initial seasoning involves baking very thin layers of oil onto cast iron in a low-heat oven. Seasoning continues after each use; Rebecca Katz, author of The Longevity Kitchen, suggests washing in fresh water without detergent, wiping the pan clean, being sure it is completely dry, then applying a very thin layer of oil.
Line trays with wax paper or bamboo leaves when cooking pungent or sticky food so that the taste does not get absorbed into the bamboo. Cleaning involves simply washing well and rinsing, then allowing the steamer to dry completely before storing.
Delicate by nature, these pots require a soft touch to avoid chips and cracks. Be sure to heat and cool slowly, never adding hot food to a cold pot or vice versa. To clean, allow the pot to cool completely before washing it with mild detergent and a nonmetallic soft scrubber. Stuck-on foods will loosen after soaking in water with a bit of baking soda added.