Ever since the introduction of T-Fal in 1960, cooking has been revolutionized by non-stick surfaces. They make cleanup a breeze and from a weight loss perspective, allow for you to use minimal to no oil.
However from a health perspective, they’ve created a catastrophe.
PFOA, PFOS, and other per- and polyfluorinated compounds (PFASs) are used in the manufacturing of non-stick and stain-resistant coatings. These “forever chemicals” have contaminated the environment –with no good solution in sight.
According to the EPA, dangers of PFOA and PFOS exposure include:
- Cancers of the testicles, kidneys
- Thyroid problems
- Liver damage
- Birth defects
- Immune system malfunctions
How toxic is it? While our own federal government says people need to be warned if their water supplies have 70 parts per trillion or higher.
Not million or billion, but 70 parts per trillion! (1)
Perhaps the only good news, relatively speaking, is that PFOA was not directly used in pots, pans, and baking sheets. Rather, it was used as a “processing aid” to produce PTFE, which is the final non-stick coating. It’s sold under the brand Teflon and others. (2)
Even if your non-stick frying pan or cookie sheet had zero PFOA in it, the non-stick coatings can still be dangerous.
Is Teflon safe? Yes, PTFE in pans is stable in low to medium heat, however at around 550 degrees, they begin breaking down. This produces toxic gases in your kitchen. Pieces may also scrape off into your food. That may not be toxic but do you really want to be ingesting PTFE?
Within the past decade or so, a slew of natural non-stick cookware, or at least marketed as such, have come to market as an alternative to Teflon, T-Fal, Anolon, Circulon, and similar old-school technology.
This new option is known as ceramic. Some companies market it as copper infused ceramic, or copper titanium ceramic cookware. All are basically the same.
What is ceramic cookware?
Ceramic cookware and bakeware are pots and pans which have been coated with clay, kiln-baked, and then glazed. This produces a non-stick coating that performs similar to Teflon.
Popular brands include GreenPan, GreenLife, WearEver, and Xtrema.
In short, it’s like a ceramic glazed dinner plate, except it’s made specifically for the high heat of a cooktop. Some are oven safe, too.
The non-stick coating is essentially made of the same minerals found in sand and stones.
Since pottery can chip and crack easily, most cookware ceramic models use aluminum or another metal for the base. Only the inner coating which touches food is ceramic. An exception to this is Xtrema, which is 100% ceramic.
Enamel vs. ceramic cookware
The difference between enamel and ceramic cookware is the temperature which they were fired at. Baking in a higher heat kiln produces a less porous, glossier surface. Ceramic does this, enamel doesn’t. That’s why food sticks to traditional enameled pans, casserole dishes, and baking sheets.
What is copper-infused ceramic?
Given the popularity of copper-infused compression garments, kitchenware companies have tried to ride this trend, too.
Copper is a highly reactive metal which is actually a pro-oxidant. Meaning, it creates free radicals. It’s not something you want in contact with foods.
The only copper used in copper ceramic cookware is a thin layer between the ceramic top coat and the aluminum body which touches the burner. Copper is not used in the non-stick coating which touches food. Any red or brown copper-like color in the non-stick surface is merely a pigment. Presumably, copper titanium ceramic is a similar setup.
That’s according to a back and forth interaction with the customer service department of a major manufacturer.
In short, it’s a marketing gimmick.
Is ceramic non-stick safe?
Unlike Teflon and similar, ceramic cookware and bakeware is not made with PTFE, which is the non-stick surface that can breakdown and cause side effects. Therefore, ceramic is safe to cook with as long as its glazing is free of heavy metals.
Their non-stick surface is made with more environmentally-friendly inorganic minerals, primarily silicon and oxygen. This is in stark contrast to the “forever chemicals” used in the manufacturing of T Fal, Calphalon, All-Clad, and Anolon.
As with normal clay pots and chinaware, glazes may contain lead, cadmium, and other hazardous metals. This is why it’s important only use non-stick ceramic pans and pots which take this safety issue seriously. Pro-active measures such as testing each batch of glaze and publishing the results is ideal.
Naturally, much of today’s cookware is manufactured in China and other foreign countries where regulations can be looser.
If a frying pan or casserole dish is made in China, that doesn’t mean it’s not safe. However, you will want to make sure it’s from a reputable brand with stringent quality-control.
Are they dangerous with high-heat?
PTFE-based coatings like Teflon begin to deteriorate at around 500 °F (°C). The higher settings on your large burner can easily and quickly cause that temperature, especially if the pan is empty or nearly so.
In contrast, the inorganic compounds found in ceramic non-stick coatings are stable at up to 842°F (450°C). Even in the very unlikely event this temperature is reached, any deterioration of the coating will not cause polymer fume fever like PTFE coatings do. Nicknamed Teflon flu, it can cause chills, headaches, fevers, and high white blood cell counts. (3)
Because they can tolerate high-heat, some brands of ceramic cookware are oven safe. Check the instructions though, because many contain plastic handles and those are not oven safe.
Rather than put your sauce pan in the oven, it’s best to buy ceramic-coated bakeware specifically for that purpose.
Above is the Casaware cookie sheet we use. Actually, we own 4 of them in 2 different kitchens. You can buy it on Amazon like we did.
Are they dishwasher safe?
While many brands of ceramic cookware label themselves as dishwasher safe, it’s still recommended to hand wash them. Doing so will extend their life.
It will also avoid the risk of damaging the non-stick surface in the dishwasher. Fast moving water jets can cause silverware or dinnerware to collide with and scratch it.
What utensils should be used?
As with PTFE-based nonstick coatings, you shouldn’t use metal spoons or spatulas in ceramic pots and pans. Doing so scratches the surface and reduces the lifespan. Ideally, use wooden or natural silicon utensils. Here is the set we use on ours.
What are the best brands?
Similar to how DuPont and Whitford are the two manufacturers which make virtually all of non-stick coatings for PTFE-based pots and pans, there are only three manufacturers which make ceramic:
They call their coating Thermolon and it’s the most popular brand of ceramic. It’s used by GreenPan, Green Life, Zwilling J.A. Henckells, and Thermolon’s own brand.
The name of their coating is Greblon and you’ll find it used by the brands Healthy Legend, Josef Strauss, and Ozeri.
EcoLon is their coating and it’s used by the brand NeoFlam.
The top-rated ceramic cookware sets will be those using Thermolon as their coating. It’s rated as safe and stable at temperature of up to 842°F (450°C). Even if exceeded, no toxic fumes are created. Reviewers praise its durability and chip-resistance.
Among the brands which use it, we like GreenPan. Here is the set we own.
If you want ceramic cookware made in the USA, you’ll be out of luck. Even the best and most expensive brands manufacture overseas, primarily in China.
While this may seem like cutting corners, the fact is that over 70% of the world’s ceramic industry is in China. After all, that’s where chinaware originated!
The best brand for a ceramic cookware set is Xtrema, because it’s solid 100% ceramic. There’s no aluminum base or plastic components used. Since it doesn’t use a coating, it’s in a separate category from Thermolon coated brands like GreenPan.
After making ceramics and glass for 40+ years, in 2004 the US-based company Ceramcor started their ceramic cookware division, Xtrema. Their pans were launched in 2007 and even though more than a decade has passed, they remain the only major 100% ceramic brand on the market.
While they are manufactured in China, they probably have the most rigorous and transparent safety processes. Each batch passes an FDA-regulated 24 hour heavy metal extraction test. That’s why it’s California Prop 65 compliant and unlike other manufactures, they publish their test results.
For example, here are results from the January 2020 batch:
The drawback of Xtrema is that they are not cheap. If you’re only looking to spend a couple hundred dollars, stick with GreenPan, like this set we have.
The drawback of GreenPan is that they’re not solid ceramic and since they have plastic handles and lids, they’re not oven safe.
If you want to make a serious investment in the best, most versatile set of ceramic pots and pans there is, then we would recommend you check out this Xtrema set on Amazon.