Is Nonstick Cookware Safe? Understanding Non Stick Coating and Its Uses

‘Non Stick’ cookware has become the new benchmark in domestic cooking utensils, even Chefs of some very reputable organizations recommend using Non Stick cookware for its versatility, ease of maintenance and superlative performance, compared to other traditional forms of cookware. Whereas non stick cookware has become hugely popular in the last few years, it is also true that a lot of criticism has been directed towards it in terms of its longevity, the quality of the materials used etc. Let us try and decode the mystery behind the product and try and understand why it is one of the best mediums to cook, although obviously it does have a few flaws that should also be considered while selecting this variety of cookware.

 

1-WHAT IS NON STICK COATING MADE UP OF ?

Like most things of great repute, the non stick coating was also created by accident by a scientist known as Roy Plunlkett who, while working for the DuPont chemicals company was trying to find the alternatives to the commonly used refrigerant Freon through his experiments. During one such experiment, Plunkett tried to freeze and compress a chemical gas known as Tetrafluoroethylene and found that it has turned into an extremely slippery and frictionless solid that was waxy (No Pun Intended!) and white in color.

Plunkett thought that it could have uses as coating for metallic surfaces and DuPont patented the product that they later called Polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE for short, commonly known by its now very famous business name- ‘Teflon’. Today, Teflon is among the most widely recognized names in the world of cookware and is used in most non-stick cookware today as a surface coating, right from pots, pans, skillets, waffle irons , woks , saucepans and virtually all other kinds of cookware. The most popular Non Stick coatings of today are actually made up of five major components

  1. The binder or resin that acts as a glue and sticks to the surface of the cookware and provides cohesion as well as adhesive qualities to the coating material.
  2. The most important ingredient- PTFE or silicone that is basically the non stick component
  3. The carrier solvent in which the other materials are suspended to make a homogenous mixture. This solvent typically evaporates when the coating is heated and cured.
  4. The coloring pigment, mostly black but more and more colors of non stick coatings are now being used and experimented with.
  5. Some strengthening agents are also used for reinforcement and making the coating durable to resist wear and tear.

 

2-HOW IS THE QUALITY OF NON STICK COATINGS DIFFERENT?

There are various levels or parameters to which Non Stick coatings can be measured against to gauge their quality. For most part, the quality of the materials used as well as the actual number of coating layers applied on the surface which dictates the quality and longevity of a non stick coating. These various types of Non Stick Coatings can be broadly divided into the following three types:

-OPP/Promotional: These are cookware that have a single coat of non stick coating and are generally used for the entry level, inexpensive cookware that does not perform so well and are not really long lasting.

-Moderate/OPP: This is the next level of coating where the top coat has a higher amount of PTFE and the first coat is basically customized for good adhesion. This first coating is also known as a primer coat.

-Upper Moderate/ Gourmet: These have three coating layers of non stick material and are generally reinforced internally using high quality microscopic, hard reinforcing agents that are mixed into the coating to increase the resistance to abrasion and wear and tear. These are generally used for high end, gourmet level cookware that is exclusive and expensive. (Used In MARBELLOUS Series)

-Ceramic Coatings (Used In STONETEC Series)

Ceramic is a newer phenomenon in the cookware coating industry, introduced commercially only in 2009  but is fast gaining popularity owing to its perception as more environment friendly than Teflon as well as more versatile in terms of colors and finishes. Ceramic coated cookware is also considered to be more durable and sturdier than the Teflon surfaced ones. In terms of price, both are almost equal, at least at the entry level and are now freely available across supermarkets and online stores. It is true however, that most non stick cookware made today still uses the Teflon as a coating medium.

 

3-HOW DOES A NON STICK COATING WORK?

Basically non stick cookware if examined microscopically will show that the surface is covered with thousands of tiny nooks and crannies which enlarge on application of heat . As a matter of fact, the fluorine atoms present in PTFE provides a kind of low friction shield between the food product and the actual metal surface hence dissuading the product to stick to the surface on applying heat. The non stick material basically fills these little nooks and crannies so that the surface becomes smooth and provides the functions of non stick cookware. The same function is obtained by using oil on surfaces that are not coated industrially with a non stick material such as PTFE or ceramic.

 

4-WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS REGARDING NON STICK COATINGS?

Although there have been some concerns raised about the chemical components of PTFE and its various ill effects, especially when heated to high temperatures above 500F, most of these have not been found to be harmful for humans. There have been some concerns also raised about the environmentally unfriendliness of some coating surfaces, but again those are extreme views and the industry has been able to address most of it.

In a nutshell, all kinds of Non Stick cookware are absolutely safe and most also now practice sustainable production methods causing minimum harm to the environment. In fact most major chemical manufacturing companies have committed to ending the use of PFOA-Perfluorooctanoic acid that is supposed to have harmful effects on humans.

Stay safe and enjoy cooking!


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