Today, there is at times nearly as much concern about the materials with which we store and prepare food as there is about the food itself. Cast iron cookware is an attractive alternative to the chemical-laden stainless steel and aluminum cookware that dominates the majority of American kitchens.
Few kitchen objects can re-introduce that old-fashioned ambiance better than a black cast iron tea pot sitting on the range. However, there are other key reasons why many opt for cast iron cookware over other types of cookware.
The first of these reasons is that cast iron cookware simply cooks food very well. Iron can distribute heat evenly, ensuring that whatever is cooked in cast iron cookware will not be well-done in some places and raw in others. And they are versatile – cast iron cookware can be used for baking in the oven as well as for stove-top cooking.
Another reason is the eternal concern over health. Many of the more commercially hyped cookware, made from substances like Teflon and aluminum, have come to public notice over possible health risks involved with their use. Many are concerned with the chemical origins of synthetic materials, whereas aluminum, though natural, has been linked with Alzheimer’s disease. Cast iron cookware is simply made of iron and is relatively chemical-free. Many environmental and alternative health experts advise consumers to use cast iron cookware in their kitchens.
Also on the subject of health, cast iron cookware has been shown to have beneficial effects on the body because the food cooked in cast iron pots absorbs the iron, an essential nutrient for human health. Therefore, anemia sufferers might consider replacing their old Teflon pans with cast iron. Women of childbearing age, vegetarians and vegans, and other groups at risk for iron deficiencies may also benefit from its use. However, high levels of iron can also be dangerous, so users of cast iron cookware are encouraged not be excessive with it.
The downside of cast iron cookware is that it has to be specially cared for. It has to be “seasoned” for each use, probably because it does not have a protective coating of chemicals. This means that to avoid rust flakes, cast iron cookware must be covered in salt-free oil before cooking; it must also be immediately dried and put away after washing. And, while washing, one must never scour cast iron cookware or use any harsh soaps in cleaning it. However, newer cast iron products are coated with shellac or wax; purchasers of these should scour the new pans with a steel wool pad before use, and cast iron cookware cannot be left to soak or washed in a dishwasher.
There are numerous places where cast iron cookware can be purchased. Typically, it is an iron skillet that people are most interested in owning, although many would enjoy cast iron pots or a quaint cast iron tea pot. Lodge is one of the largest and most respected manufacturers of cast iron cookware on the market today. Their most popular product is probably the “indispensable” iron skillet. A Lodge iron skillet can be up to 15″ in diameter and is very reasonably priced, though the larger and heavier ones are close to $100. Lodge also has excellent cookware sets which include skillets and pots together. Famous chefs like Rachael Ray also have product lines which include a cookware set of cast iron, and one can find a cookware set in chain stores as well. Many of these chain stores, like Linens-N-Things, carry more than one cookware set by famous chefs and standard manufacturers.
Cast iron cookware isn’t always dirt-cheap, but it certainly worth the cost if it can ward off anemia and improve the cooked texture of one’s meals. However, the toxicity of chemical-coated and aluminum pans is not entirely agreed upon, so braver consumers may like to keep their options open. But it is hard to go wrong with something as timeless as cast iron.
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