Best Non-Toxic Alternatives to Teflon Frying Pans
Non-stick frying pans made of Teflon (also known as polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE) have many benefits: they allow cooks to use less oil to prepare low-fat meals, their surfaces are easy to clean, and they are lighter than cast iron pans. However, despite all the wonderful benefits they can offer, Teflon pans might be coming to a sticky end. The manufacturing process for PTFE (Teflon) cookware uses a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which has been shown to contribute to the development of certain types of tumors in laboratory animals and which seems to increase the risk of thyroid disease in humans. PFOA has also been shown to kill birds when its fumes are released into the air.
However, health agencies insist that further research into the potential health risks to humans is needed before any conclusions can be drawn, and therefore, it is up to the consumers to decide whether they want to keep using Teflon cookware or look for chemical-free frying pans made of alternative materials.
If you're trying to find the best non-toxic alternative to PFOA-containing Teflon frying pans, here are a few pans you should definitely look into:
Cast Iron Frying Pans
Heavy cast iron pans are perhaps not the trendiest pans out there, but they are inarguably some of the safest pans (in terms of toxicity) you can find. Cast iron does not leach any toxic chemicals into your food – the only thing it can release is iron – which can actually be a good thing! Today, many people around the world, especially women and people following a vegan diet, are deficient in iron, a trace mineral that is needed for the formation of hemoglobin which transports oxygen from the lungs to your body's cells.
If you're planning to get a cast iron skillet in order to fortify your food with some extra iron, take note: A study published in the July 1986 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association acidic foods with a high water content (such has apple sauce or tomato sauce) absorbed the most dietary iron from the skillet.
Health benefits aside, cast iron skillets are also extremely durable, and if you take good care of your pan, it will serve you and your children (and perhaps even their children) for many many years.
On the downside, food tends to stick to cast iron pans – the main reason why these sturdy skillets fell out of favour when the Teflon craze hit in the 1960s and 1970s. However, with appropriate seasoning or curing, you can actually turn a cast iron skillet into a non-stick pan. It won't be as slick as a brand new Teflon pan, but it sure will help a lot in preventing food from sticking on the pan.
Stainless Steel Skillets
While cookware made of high-quality stainless steel is generally considered one of the best options out there if you're looking for non-toxic cookware, it isn't nonstick. Furthermore, unlike cast iron skillets, stainless steel pans cannot be seasoned to turn them into non-stick cookware. Therefore, these type of pans require the use of a significant amount of oil – or water – to keep the food from sticking.
With the growing concerns about the safety of PFOA in cookware made of PTFE, manufacturers of kitchenware have began to develop alternative materials that can offer the same benefits as PTFE-coated pans without the potential negative health effects associated with PTFE-containing pans. Zwilling J.A. Henckels' Spirit Frying Pans, for example, use Thermolon non-stick coating, a patented ceramic technology that has been hailed as the next breakthrough in nonstick cookware.
The manufacturer of Thermolon claims that this new technology is completely safe; however, like most new technologies, Thermolon suffers from a lack of extensive independent scientific research to prove – or disprove – its safety. Furthermore, the exact composition and process used to make this novel non-stick coating are not known due to trade secret practices. We do know that raw ingredients used to make Thermolon include silica, silicone, oxygen, and carbon, but that's about it.
The Bottom Line
New non-stick alternatives to Teflon frying pans are certainly worth paying attention to. However, the safety of old-fashioned cast iron skillets has been researched much more thoroughly, and anyone using a cast iron skillet can be quite confident that no toxic chemicals are leaching into their food during the cooking process. And, with a little TLC, a sticky iron skillet can even be turned into a relatively non-sticky skillet.
Think it's time to invest in a cast iron skillet that you can love for years to come and perhaps one day pass on to the next generation? Check out Lodge Logic's Dual Pan Set (available from Amazon.com) which comprises a 3-quart Dutch oven and a 10-1/4-inch iron case skillet that doubles as a lid for the Dutch oven.