When it comes to nonstick cooking, Teflon cookware is one of the first things people often think of, since it is well-known for its excellent nonstick qualities. The problem is there are many safety controversies surrounding Teflon cookware. Just how true are these allegations though? Are the newer ceramic-coated cookware a better option for nonstick cooking?
Although both Teflon and ceramic-coated cookware display outstanding nonstick properties, the latter is more environmentally friendly and safer for cooking. Teflon cookware uses toxic chemicals like PTFE and PFOA, which are proven to be harmful to human health and the environment. Despite the fact that traditional ceramic cookware used to contain lead and cadmium, modern day ceramic cookware made by reputable companies nowadays are safe thanks to the FDA’s safety guidelines.
According to a Johns Hopkins research, home cooking is key to a healthier diet. And fortunately, a survey done by ORC International for Peapod found that more millennials and teens now prefer homecooked meals.
When it comes to a healthy diet, cutting down on saturated fats is a must, making nonstick cookware a necessity.
There are a lot of different types of nonstick cookware in the market today. But, they’re not all equal. Let’s take a look at two popular contenders in the nonstick department – ceramic cookware compared to Teflon cookware.
Ceramic Cookware Overview
Ceramic cookware is one of the newer types of nonstick cookware. There are two types of ceramic cookware on the market.
- Solid or 100% Ceramic Cookware – This type of cookware is made using a mixture of clay, minerals and quartz sand. Once it is formed into the desired shape, it is kiln-baked in temperatures of up to 1915°F. Afterward, it is dipped into a glaze, which gives it a shiny look and makes it stain-resistant. Xtrema is a popular brand that produces solid ceramic cookware.
- Ceramic-Coated Cookware – This is the more common type of ceramic cookware. It typically has an aluminum base with a mineral-based coating. This coating is derived from silica, one of the components of sand. T-Fal and Rachel Ray are some of the reputable brands selling quality ceramic-coated cookware.
Teflon Cookware Overview
Teflon is a brand name for the nonstick coating that is often found in nonstick cookware. The coating, which is a synthetic resin made of perfluorochemicals, is applied in several layers. As such, the manufacturing process of Teflon cookware takes longer than ceramic cookware.
Now, it’s the resin’s slipperiness that makes Teflon coating extremely nonstick. But, how do they make it adhere to the pans if it’s so slippery? Here’s a quick video about the three methods used to do it:
Ceramic vs Teflon Cookware: What Are the Differences?
Most ceramic-coated cookware have an aluminum bottom, which is why they aren’t induction-ready. Still, some are oven-safe, although the threshold temperature may vary depending on the material used for the lid and handle.
On the other hand, Teflon cookware with a magnetic base are compatible with induction cooktops. There are also some Teflon cookware which are said to be oven-safe.
Both types of cookware have superb nonstick capabilities. You can cook food in Teflon and ceramic-coated cookware without oil and not worry about your food sticking. In the video below, you can see that the latter can even pass the fried egg test:
Durability and Maintenance
The general consensus is that Teflon coating lasts longer than ceramic coating, with the later usually retaining its nonstick properties for only about 1 year. However, it all comes down to how often you use the cookware and how you maintain it. Here are some usage and maintenance tips that will help you make the most of your investment:
- Regardless of the type of coating, refrain from using nonstick cooking spray with your nonstick cookware, as it can affect the lifespan of your cookware. When you cook with nonstick cooking spray, you’ll have to use more detergent and scrub it vigorously to get rid of all the oil, which decreases the lifespan of the nonstick coating. On the other hand, if you don’t clean it properly, the residue will build up and prematurely age your nonstick cookware as well.
- Use a mild detergent and a soft sponge when cleaning your nonstick cookware. Never use abrasive cleaners, which can damage the surface of the pan.
- Manually washing Teflon and ceramic cookware even if they are labeled to be dishwasher safe to make the nonstick properties last longer.
- Only use wooden or silicone kitchen utensils to protect the coating of your cookware.
- Refrain from using your ceramic cookware under high heat, as it can make the coating deteriorate faster. The same goes for Teflon cookware, but for safety purposes.
Exposure to High Temperatures
Once a Teflon pan reaches 464°F, it starts releasing particles and toxic gases which are harmful to our health. When you overheat your Teflon cookware, it will start releasing gasses that can cause polymer fume fever or Teflon flu. Symptoms include chills, fever, headache and body aches.
This is an important thing to remember, since not all buyers are aware that Teflon cookware should only be used for low and medium heat cooking. Moreover, accidents happen and it is normal for people to sometimes accidentally heat their pans too high when cooking.
Unlike Teflon cookware, ceramic cookware do not off-gas even under high heat. But, as I’ve mentioned above, it is still better if you limit your usage of ceramic cookware to low and medium heat cooking to make its coating last longer.
PTFE and PFOA: Are They Bad for Our Health?
Teflon cookware uses perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) to make its polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) or nonstick coating. Unfortunately, a West Virginia University study and a National Toxicology Program report both found that PFOA can harm the immune system, liver, and thyroid, as well as cause chronic kidney disease and cancer. It can even impair male reproductive health. And, since PFOA is a very stable man-made compound, it can stay in our system for years. It can even be passed through breastmilk and unborn children can absorb it from their mother’s blood.
Now, you might be wondering why such dangerous chemicals have been allowed to be used in products that are used for food preparation. Turns out, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M) and American company DuPont covered up their findings about PFOA. 3M knew since the 1970s knew that this chemical compound can affect the immune system. As for DuPont, they already had evidence that PFOA is toxic in 1961, yet they continued with commercial exploration of the chemical compound regardless.
These findings were covered up for decades, and it was only in recent years that they were released after pressure from other studies, organizations, and lawsuits. In 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took action against DuPont’s failure to report the risks of PFOA and Teflon. In 2005, DuPont was ordered to pay $16.5 million as a penalty. Not long after, the EPA started a PFOA stewardship program that aimed to reduce PFOA usage.
In accordance with this, Teflon cookware no longer uses PFOA to make its nonstick coating. Instead, they now use shorter-chained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) like GenX or PFBS. The regrettable thing is that GenX and PFBS have also been found to be toxic and dangerous to our health.
What Are the Dangers of Ceramic Cookware?
The main concern about ceramic cookware is cadmium or lead leaching. According to Mayo Clinic, lead poisoning can affect newborn weight, hamper development, reduce sperm count, and more. It is also linked to osteoporosis and renal impairment. As for exposure to cadmium, diseases such as lung disease, artery disease, chronic renal failure, bone disease, and anemia are associated.
Cadmium and lead can be found in the glaze that is used to give the ceramic cookware its shiny appearance. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is aware of the risks and have put up safety guidelines that industry manufacturers need to follow. While most of the ceramic cookware brands nowadays no longer contain cadmium or lead, you still need to pay attention when buying traditional ceramic cookware.
The Teflon cookware’s PFOA is harmful not only to humans, but to animals and the environment as well. In fact, DuPont had to pay millions of dollars to settle thousands of lawsuits after PFOA leaked from their West Virginia plant and contaminated local water supplies. Aside from studies published in 2000 and 2012, there have also been many bird death cases that are linked to Teflon. The UN scientific committee even recommended banning PFOA because of its harmful effects on human health and the environment.
On the other hand, ceramic cookware is considered to be one of the most eco-friendly types of cookware, since it is mostly made up of inorganic materials and minerals. Plus, compared to Teflon, ceramic cookware requires less curing time, saving energy and emitting significantly less carbon dioxide.
Now that we’ve finished comparing ceramic and Teflon cookware, let’s do a quick recap of the benefits and drawbacks that they can bring to your kitchen.
Ceramic Cookware Advantages
- Nonstick coating promotes healthier cooking
- Non-toxic, quality ceramic cookware do not contain lead and cadmium
- Though manual cleaning is recommended, nonstick surface makes it easy to clean
- Does not emit toxic fumes even when accidentally overheated
- Some are oven-safe depending on the handles and lids
- Comes in a variety of colors
Ceramic Cookware Disadvantages
- Not compatible with induction cooktops
- Can only retain its nonstick properties for about a year
- Metal utensils can damage its delicate coating
- Coating deteriorates with high heat cooking
Teflon Cookware Advantages
- Some are induction-compatible and oven-safe
- Easy to clean even when washed by hand
- Suitable for low to medium heat cooking
Teflon Cookware Disadvantages
- Nonstick coating releases toxic gasses when exposed to high heat
- Has toxic PTFE and PFOA, replacements are not much safe either
- Can contaminate the environment and harm animals
- Not compatible with metal utensils
All in all, I wouldn’t recommend Teflon cookware because of the many risks that come with using it. Though current Teflon pans no longer have PTFE and PFOA, the chemicals they now use to make the nonstick coating aren’t any better. Of course, no one wants to give their family food laden with toxic chemicals, right?
Instead of buying Teflon cookware, I highly suggest opting for ceramic cookware, since they perform just as well minus the risks. It’s not without drawbacks though, since the coating is fragile and only lasts for about a year. Still, it’s a no-brainer for me. I’d rather invest in cookware that will actually keep me and my family safe and healthy, instead of a chemical-laden pan that can possibly cost me more in the long run.