Well let’s just begin by saying that there are only two other substances on the Earth’s surface, Oxygen and Silicone that are more abundant than Aluminum. More than 50% of all cookware sold throughout the world is made of Aluminum, most of which is anodized or coated with a finish or both. There are a lot of myths that have been circulating about the safety of Aluminum cookware and we thought it will be worthwhile to try and analyze the veracity of those claims and find if there is any truth in them.
How did It All Start
In the 1970’s, researchers in Canada claimed that the levels of aluminum were higher in the brains of people with Alzheimer disease. The report they published reported that the exposure to Aluminum can be one of the causes for behind the occurrence of Alzheimer’s. This caused a major upheaval in the aluminum cookware market and many people immediately reacted by discarding their aluminum pots and pans. Although subsequent studies laid this finding to rest by proving that there is perhaps a very little connection, if at all between the exposure to Aluminum and the incidence of Alzheimer’s. According to Alzheimer Society- Canada’s report, there is no convincing proof at the moment that aluminum increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
What did Subsequent Studies Prove?
For over 40 years, a lot of studies have been conducted over the link of Alzheimer’s disease to aluminum. There have been many findings over the years, many of it is quite conflicting in nature. In a gist it can be said that in some studies there has been an increased level of aluminum detected in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease, whereas the other patients have shown no evidence of the same. Researchers have also not been able to establish that there is a link between Alzheimer’s disease and the occupational exposure to aluminum. It was also found out that Tea that is one of the plants that has large amounts of aluminum naturally occurring and which can be absorbed in the beverage, does not have any link of its drinkers having higher incidences of Alzheimer’s. It was also found out that the animal studies were more prone to aluminum poisoning and therefore the reports might have been inaccurate.
In any case it was found that the amount of aluminum a person can ingest on exposure to food cooked in aluminum cookware is insignificant and is far lesser to many other ways in which aluminum can be ingested, say the use of antacids. Therefore, almost all over the world the myth that cooking food in aluminum vessels contributes to higher incidences of Alzheimer’s has been found to be misleading, if not completely untrue. It was also reported that even if the Aluminum cookware did have a role to play in the development of Alzheimer’s , it will still be quite difficult to reduce the aluminum exposure just by avoiding the cookware and aluminum cans etc since it is so widely present in the nature and in many other sources such as water and food.
Aluminum is the best conductor of thermal heat and the heat is transferred faster and in a more distributed manner from the heat source to the vessel, pot or pan. The next best conductor of heat, copper, is far more expensive. Aluminum is also quite lightweight and durable, two of the attributes that all cookware must have in the interest of practicality and efficiency. In fact most steel cookware also has aluminum in between the sheets of its bottom surface to aid in uniform and fast transmission of heat.
It is true however that Raw Aluminum is not such a great cookware material. It is highly reactive to both acids and alkalies, which can cause changes in the taste and physical appearance of many foods, such as potatoes. Raw aluminum is also quite soft and does not have the inherent strength to serve as a long lasting cookware. Raw aluminum will also be more prone to scratches, might stain and can bend under very high, sustained heat. Even with all these drawbacks , Raw aluminum cookware is still used in many high volume kitchens for the very large utensils since it conducts heat extremely well, is quite affordable and is very light. A combination of these characteristics makes aluminum cookware quite popular in large kitchens with stovetop utensils. Aluminum is also one of the most popular metals for use in bake ware since it is gets hot very fast and evenly. Most high volume bakeries have moulds and trays that are made of aluminum.
Since aluminum is an excellent cookware material but still has a lot of limitations in its raw form, especially for domestic use, manufacturers decided to clad it with different coatings so as to retain the good features of aluminum as well as make it more attractive, durable and still retain the cost advantage it provides. Anodizing aluminum has been a very popular process towards strengthening aluminum and making it less reactive to acids and alkalis. Stainless steel is also used commonly as a cladding in the interior and exterior surface of aluminum so as to use the light weight and cheap in price characteristics of aluminum and match those with the strength and durability of stainless steel. Stainless steel cladded aluminum cookware is also non reactive and has better fit and finish. There is also a variant that has stainless steel cladding on the inside of the aluminum cookware and copper on the outside. This makes the cookware look quite good and also retains the functionalities of all the three metals, the light weight of the aluminum, the thermal conductivity of the copper and the strength of the stainless steel.
It can be easily understood from the above discussion that whereas there might be some plausible apprehension in the mind of some people that there might be a connection between Aluminum and some health hazards, none of that has been conclusively proven yet. In fact there is enough evidence now on the table to the contrary of that. It is a fact beyond doubt that Aluminum is one of the, if not the most abundant and easily extractable metal and has all the qualities that defines good cookware. With the latest technological advancements and innovations, aluminum is now second to none in terms of its usability, looks, fit, finish and versatility.