Can Reactive Cookware Become Toxic?

Reactive Copper Cookware

When you eat a nice meal, you might not be thinking of the pots and pans in which it was cooked. But just as you try to select your food for freshness and maximum nutrition, you should also prepare it in ways that help reach your goals. Cookware can help or hinder, depending on whether it is reactive or non-reactive.

The ideal pot or pan will conduct heat well and not change the flavor or color of the food being cooked in it. Cookware should not leach into the food. Reactive cookware — made of materials like aluminum, non-stainless steel, iron or copper — can leach into or discolor food. Acid foods are particularly likely to create a problem in reactive cookware, especially if the food remains in contact with the surface for a long period of time.

Ceramics, glass, enamel and stainless steel are non-reactive, but they tend not to be as efficient in conducting heat. They may also have hot spots. On the plus side, once you get them hot, they stay hot for a longer time than reactive cookware, which means you may be able to lower the heat and save energy. Some cookware is clad in ceramic or stainless steel with a copper or aluminum core to improve heat conduction.

Research on whether reactive cookware is toxic has shown conflicting results. Aluminum does react readily to acid foods such as tomatoes, for example, and will leach into the food. A non-acidic food like scrambled eggs might not be a problem. Although cast iron can also leach if cooked with highly acid foods such as tomatoes or wine, it’s fine for cooking most other foods. If you want to play it extra safe, choose stainless steel or enameled cast iron cookware.


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