Perfect for frying eggs, flipping pancakes, turning sausages and more, non-stick pans are extremely popular and for good reason. Not only are non-stick pans very easy to use, without food sticking to the surface, but cleaning them is super easy too.
The non-stick cookware’s surface allows you to cook with very little or no oil or butter, making it a healthier option too.
What Is Non-Stick Cookware?
Non-stick cookware such as saucepans and frying pans are coated with PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). PTFE, a friction-reducing synthetic polymer composed of carbon and fluorine atoms was invented purely by accident in 1938 and was trademarked as Teflon by Dupont.
20 years later, Teflon became the key component in non-stick cookware. Teflon provides a non-stick, nonreactive and practically frictionless surface, which makes the non-stick cookware very easy to use and clean.
How Does Non-Stick Cookware Work?
A metal pan has a ragged, irregular surface with thousands of minute holes and crevices. And, when the pan is heated, the metal expands and the holes enlarge, letting the food penetrate and solidify inside, causing the food to stick to the surface of the pan.
When the pan is coated with non-stick material like PTFE, it fills the pan’s pores, making the surface completely smooth, frictionless and non-stick.
Is Non-Stick Cookware Harmful To Health?
In recent years non-stick cookware such as frying pans and saucepans have come under scrutiny and are believed to be harmful to health. The PTFE or Teflon coating is not dangerous by itself, but it is the PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which is used in the manufacturing process, which is a huge problem.
According to research, non-stick pans by themselves are quite safe to use as long as the non-stick coating is intact and very high heat is not used. When the non-stick cookware is heated over 500°F, the fluoropolymer molecules in the PTFE begin to degrade, releasing fluorocarbons and other toxic fumes.
These fumes, when inhaled, can cause polymer fume fever or Teflon flu and the fumes are quite fatal for birds. And so, if you’re using non-stick cookware, it is best to use them at low to medium heat. Another issue with non-stick cookware is that it's easy for the PTFE coating to blister, flake, and peel off if the cookware is used incorrectly.
Although studies show that ingesting particles of the coating may not be harmful, if you use a damaged pan—heating and cooling it continuously—then it is possible that the PFOA can get into the food and cause health problems.
There are also environmental concerns that the PFOA used in the manufacturing process of non-stick cookware persists in the environment and can be carcinogenic to humans and can also cause many health problems. A lot of research is still being conducted in this area.
Safer Non-Stick Alternatives
The growing concerns about PTFE and PFOA have led to the development of newer and safer non-stick coating alternatives that are PTFE and PFOA-free and eco-friendly. Some of the other non-stick alternatives include:
- Ceramic Coated Cookware: Ceramic coatings are free from PTFE, PFOA and other harmful chemicals, making them a good non-stick coating option. On heating at high temperatures, the organic materials in the ceramic coating do not seep into the food. But, ceramic coating is not very durable and wears off quickly.
- Silicone Coated Cookware: Silicone rubber used as a non-stick coating in cookware and bakeware is produced by mixing silicon with water and methyl chloride. Silicone-coated cookware is non-reactive, non-toxic and does not release fumes when heated, making it among the safest coatings.
- Cast-Iron Cookware: When cast-iron is seasoned properly, it becomes non-stick naturally. With the ability to withstand very high temperatures and extremely durable, cast-iron cookware is considered excellent non-stick cookware.
- Enamel Coated Cast-Iron Cookware: This is produced by mixing powdered glass with cast-iron cookware, which is then heated to a very high temperature between 700°F and 850°F.
When the glass melts, it coats the base of the cast-iron cookware to form a slick non-stick surface. Enameled cast-iron cookware is among the most economical, eco-friendly and safest non-stick cookware. But they are quite heavy and the heat distribution is also not very efficient.
What Are Non Stick Pans Made Of? Wrapping Up
In conclusion, non-stick cookware is extremely popular and used widely in kitchens across the globe (except for commercial kitchens – find out why). Cookware is typically coated with PTFE or Teflon, a chemical that gives it its non-stick properties.
Because of the concerns raised by many health agencies about PFOA used in the manufacture of Teflon, it has been PFOA-free since 2013. As long as you use it correctly and the temperatures do not go beyond 500°F, the Teflon non-stick cookware available today is completely safe for regular cooking.
If you want to consider other greener alternatives, today, there are many options including ceramic, cast-iron, silicone, enamel and more that you can choose from.