Because aluminum is abundant and cheap, it is commonly used in manufacturing cookware. The problem with this material is that it can leach into your food and potentially cause a myriad of serious side effects. Enter hard anodized cookware.
High quality hard anodized cookware supposedly retains the positive qualities of aluminum while making it safe for food contact. Plus, it’s said to be more nonstick, making it a good option for healthy cooking.
Just how safe is hard anodized cookware really though? Are there any risks that you need to know about? Well, I’m back with a hard look at the safety and pros/ cons of this type of cookware you need to know for the health of you and y our family.
What is Hard Anodized Cookware?
Aluminum gets anodized when you leave it exposed to the air. It oxidizes and form a thin but strong layer of aluminum oxide which protects the metal from further oxidation.
Hard anodized aluminum is achieved by immersing the aluminum in a chemical bath. An electric current is then applied to cause controlled, rapid oxidation which eventually hardens into very thick aluminum oxide.
To give you an idea of how strong aluminum oxide is, gemstones like rubies, sapphires, and emeralds are made from this material.
So, what does hard anodized mean practically? Basically, it makes the resultant aluminum much stronger and more durable.
Some popular cookware brands that offer hard anodized cookware are Circulon, All-Clad, and Anolon.
Is Hard Anodized Cookware Safe?
The short answer is yes, hard anodized cookware is safe. There are, however, some precautions that you need to take to ensure that it stays safe. Before we get into that, let’s first explore in detail the concerns about hard anodized cookware.
Is Hard Anodized Cookware Reactive?
Plain aluminum is reactive but hard anodized aluminum isn’t. The thick layer of aluminum oxide that forms after the electrolytic passivation is completed is inert. This layer prevents the plain aluminum base from coming into contact with your food.
Since hard anodized cookware is not reactive, you can safely cook acidic ingredients like tomato sauce in it without worrying about it changing color or flavor.
Does Hard Anodized Cookware Leach Aluminum?
The aluminum oxide layer acts as a barrier between your food and the reactive aluminum base. Since the layer that makes contact with your food is inert, even if you cook acidic ingredients, it won’t leach aluminum into your food. This is similar to how seasoning a cast iron pan creates a layer that prevents the iron from mixing with your food.
Of course, if the hard anodized layer has been compromised, the plain aluminum will be exposed and can leach into your food. This is why it’s important to properly care for your hard anodized cookware. You should also replace it once the surface has been damaged.
Is Aluminum Safe?
Let’s say that you accidentally use a hard anodized pan with the raw aluminum exposed and it leaches into your food. Would the amount of aluminum that you ingest be harmful?
There are several factors that affect how much aluminum gets into your food. Acidic foods like tomato sauce and lemon juice increase leaching. Storing the cooked food in the aluminum cookware can further add to the aluminum getting leached.
Cook’s Illustrated did a test where they cooked tomato sauce for two hours and stored it in the same aluminum pot overnight. Testing showed that the tomato sauce only contained .0024 milligrams of aluminum per cup. Meanwhile, Livestrong cited a 1985 study which showed that aluminum pans can only add up to 3.5 mg of aluminum on average to the daily diet.
For comparison, antacid tablets contain as much as 100 to 200 mg of aluminum. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also released a report which said that the average American adult eats about 7 to 9 mg aluminum per day in their food.
Additionally, aluminum is very poorly absorbed. According to the CDC, only 0.01 to 5% of ingested aluminum is absorbed. In another report, the agency mentioned that the total body burden of aluminum that the average adult can safely handle is 30 to 50 mg.
It should be noted though that these tests are done on regular aluminum cookware. Hence, even for a scratched hard anodized pan, the aluminum it can leach is virtually negligible.
What Are the Health Risks of Aluminum Leaching?
Next, let’s look at the most common concerns linked to aluminum leaching.
The Alzheimer Society, however, claims that there aren’t enough studies to solidly prove this and that earlier animal studies weren’t reliable because they used an animal species that was susceptible to aluminum poisoning. The World Health Organization (WHO) backs this up as well.
Instead, renowned neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter said that brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, ADHD, and depression are caused by too much carbohydrates and grains.
This means that cooking on hard anodized cookware is highly unlikely to cause Alzheimer’s disease.
Patients with chronic renal failure can’t efficiently get rid of the ingested aluminum in their body. Over time, it builds up and can potentially cause aluminum poisoning.
To be on the safe side, I do not recommend hard anodized cookware if you have or are cooking for someone with kidney disease.
Are Hard Anodized Cookware PTFE and PFOA-free?
With the focus being on aluminum leaching, people overlook toxic chemicals like PTFE and PFOA which are used to make the nonstick coating on a lot of cookware. A quick look at the most popular hard anodized cookware in the market showed that most of these products, though PFOA-free, still had PTFE. So, what are these two?
PTFE or more commonly known as Teflon by the company Chemours, is a man-made, almost frictionless chemical that is applied to cookware to make them nonstick. PFOA is an industrial surfactant that was used in manufacturing PTFE.
As for PTFE, it is generally a stable and safe compound. That is until it starts releasing highly toxic PFIB fumes once it reaches 464°F (264°C). Inhaling these fumes can lead to polyfume fever to humans. If you have pet birds, you have to be extra careful since it can cause death to birds.
As mentioned, most anodized cookware on the market these days are free from PFOA but still rely on PTFE to give them that superior non stick coating that consumers demand. In general they are safe as long as you heed the precautions above on handling cookware with PTFE. Or, there are select hard anodized cookware that are free from both chemicals:
Recommended Hard Anodized Cookware that are BOTH PFOA and PTFE FREE:
- Hard anodized aluminum construction is super conductive and durable, made for fast and even heat distribution. It is easy cleanup, healthy cooking with little oil or fat.
- Interior includes three layers of nonstick coating - two layers provide durability and the third layer offers easy release performance.
- Contemporary interior design brings elegance to your kitchen.
- Set includes: 1.5-qt. saucepan with lid 2.5-qt. saucepan with lid 4-qt. saucepan with lid 8-qt. stock pot with lid 8" open fry pan 10" open fry pan 8 cm. stainless steel universal steamer insert (fits...
- Safe for all stove types including induction, gas, ceramic top, and electric range
- Each cooking vessel in this Epicurious Hard Anodized Nonstick 11-Piece Cookware Set will surpass your expectations; hard anodized aluminum is twice as strong as stainless steel and helps distribute...
How to Mitigate the Risks of Hard Anodized Cookware
In general, hard anodized cookware only becomes a health risk when the surface has been damaged or is exposed to high heat. This means that by avoiding these two factors, you can safely use this type of cookware.
- Even if the manufacturer states that it can be placed in the dishwasher, we still recommend washing hard anodized cookware by hand to make the coating last longer.
- Abrasive and scratchy cleaners should never be used.
- Use only mild soap to prevent discoloration and coating damage. Otherwise, the caustic soda and phosphorus from the harsh detergent will cause a chemical reaction that will stain your cookware and leave it with a chalky residue.
- Stacking your hard anodized cookware can cause scratches to the surface. To store, hang them or line them with pot protectors before stacking.
- Never use metal utensils that can scratch the hard anodized layer. Instead, use silicone or wooden utensils.
- Do not use your hard anodized cookware to store your food.
- When cooking with hard anodized cookware, only use low to medium heat. For high heat cooking, there are other types of cookware that can safely get the job done.
- When baking with hard anodized cookware, stick to temperatures under 500°F (260°C). This is enough for most baking needs.
- Avoid preheating an empty PTFE-coated pan. Aluminum heats up quickly especially in the absence of food.
- As much as possible, turn on your exhaust fan or open the window to encourage ventilation when cooking with PTFE-coated hard anodized pots and pans.
- Do not cut or chop foods directly on your hard anodized cookware.
Hard Anodized Cookware Pros and Cons
Now that we’ve established that hard anodized cookware is safe when used properly, let’s take a look at the reasons why it makes for a great cooking partner.
- Durable – Hard anodized aluminum is twice as hard as stainless steel. Because of this, it’s considered one of the most durable cookware out there.
- Does Not Peel Off – The hard anodized aluminum is not like nonstick coatings which can peel off. The thick layer of aluminum oxide is completely fused to the base aluminum so it does not peel off or chip.
- Light – Despite being tough, it still retains the lightness of aluminum. Since it’s easy to carry and move around in the kitchen, even people with weak wrists or arthritis can use it.
- Excellent Heat Distribution and Conductivity – Because of its aluminum core, hard anodized cookware heats up fast, saving you time. It also doesn’t have any hotspots thanks to its even heating.
- Attractive Aesthetics – The smooth dark finish of this type of cookware looks very pleasing and fits right in in most modern kitchens.
- Longer Lifespan – Compared to nonstick coating like Teflon, hard anodized cookware has a much longer lifespan especially if given proper care. However, it will still wear out eventually.
- Oven-Safe – As long as the set you buy has metal handles, you can use it in the oven without worrying about the coating deteriorating. This gives you more freedom as to how you cook your meals.
- Non-Reactive – Thanks to the electrochemical process that the aluminum undergoes, you won’t have to worry about the food changing color or flavor even if you cook acidic foods like tomatoes and lemon juice.
- Non-Toxic – Most hard anodized cookware do not use PFOA, and some are even free of PTFE based non stick coating.
- Easy to Clean – Hard anodized aluminum might not be truly nonstick but it is still low-stick. Check out the video below to see how this type of cookware should be washed:
Of course, hard anodized cookware has some disadvantages as well:
- High Maintenance – Hard anodized cookware is durable but you have to take care of it properly for it to really last long.
- Not 100% Nonstick – Unlike Teflon cookware or a well-seasoned cast iron pan, hard anodized aluminum isn’t truly nonstick without additional treatments. You’ll still have to use some oil and proper temperature control to keep the food from sticking.
- Avoid High Heat – Aluminum heats up so quickly that if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with burnt food. Especially when you’re preheating your pan for frying, do not use high heat.
- Not Induction-Safe – Unless stated, this type of cookware is usually not compatible with induction cooktops. If you’re looking for induction-safe hard anodized cookware, we recommend going for the Circulon Symmetry.
- Not Suitable for Kidney Disease Patients – Though the risks of aluminum leaching is almost nonexistent as long as the hard anodized layer is intact, we still do not recommend this type of cookware for people suffering from kidney disease.
At the end of the day, there is a lot going on for hard anodized aluminium cookware. It’s as light as regular aluminium cookware, but a lot more durable.
Safety wise most quality cookware sets are free from PFOA, lead and cadmium. Many still use PTFE however for its superior non stick properties. The health risks of this type of coating can be mitigated by sticking to low to medium heat cooking. Or if you’re still concerned, look at the recommendations above for hard anodized cookware that are both PFOA and PTFE free. Happy cooking!