porcelain enamel cookware

Have you ever wondered what your pots and pans are made from? Or what they’re coated with? Many cookware items contain toxins such as heavy metals and chemicals, which can leach into your food as you cook.

Porcelain enamel cookware may be the answer: in this guide, we’ll explain what this material is, whether it’s safer than other types of cookware, and how to choose the best products.

What is porcelain enamel cookware?

This style of cookware is coated with porcelain enamel, typically over a cast iron, aluminum, or steel base.

Regular porcelain is a type of ceramic material made from white kaolin clay combined with feldspars, quartz, steatite, and other minerals. It is then fired at extremely high temperatures to create a hard but fragile ceramic.

When porcelain is combined with a strong metal such as iron and then fired, this creates porcelain enamel that is essentially a form of glass but is highly durable.

porcelain enamel pot on a stove

Porcelain enamel has the following characteristics:

  • 100% inert and non-toxic
  • Light but strong
  • Non-porous and naturally non-stick

All of these properties are ideal for cookware that is completely safe and great to cook with.

Why should you consider porcelain enamel cookware over other types?

Research shows that the materials our cookware is made with or is used to coat its surfaces can infuse small amounts of chemicals or components into the food we cook. Leaching is more likely to happen if you simmer your meals for a long time, or cook certain types of food, especially highly acidic foods.

Depending on the material, these components may be harmless, or they may be toxic. In some cases, these components may be beneficial in certain quantities, like iron for example.

Porcelain enamel cookware is an excellent choice because the porcelain enamel coating is inert, so it won’t leach any chemicals or metals into your food while you cook. It is also durable, lightweight, and naturally non-stick.

Why you should avoid some types of cookware

Non-stick pans, specifically those coated with Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE), are highly controversial. Manufacturers vehemently argue that Teflon is harmless, however, there are a number of studies that show this coating can be toxic.

a pan with teflon coating
A pan with Teflon coating

The issue with Teflon is not that chemicals can leach into your food, but rather that it releases toxic fumes when heated.

There are also concerns with using aluminum cookware, as high levels of this metal have been linked to a range of disorders, including Anemia and Parkinson’s. Note that this is only a concern if the item has an aluminum surface that touches your food – anything that has an aluminum core coated with a safe material is fine.

Similarly, cookware made from unprotected copper is a concern. High levels of copper can be toxic, and many foods react to copper, causing large amounts of the metal to leach into your food.

copper cooking pot on a stove
When purchasing copper cookware, make sure the inside surfaces are not lined with copper

Clay can also leach metals into your food, unless it is properly glazed. Clay comes in many different compositions, so can potentially contain toxic metals such as aluminum, cadmium, and lead.

You’ll even see cookware made of plastic these days. You’ve probably heard that you don’t want to use plastic containers in the microwave because they can leach phthalates and BPA.

Porcelain vs. ceramic cookware

People often get porcelain and ceramic cookware confused. While porcelain is made from white kaolin clay combined with feldspars, quartz, steatite, and other minerals, ceramics can be made from a variety of different clays, earthen elements, and powders.

When porcelain is fired at high temperatures with a strong metal, this creates porcelain enamel, a type of glass that is strong, light, non-toxic, and non-porous.

Porcelain enamel vs ceramic cup
Porcelain enamel vs ceramic cup

Like porcelain enamel, ceramic is also non-toxic so it’s a good option for cookware.

The problem is that it is often coated with a potentially toxic non-stick coating. On the other hand, porcelain enamel cookware has a built-in coating which is completely safe to cook with.

Another key difference between the two materials is durability: ceramics can break or chip relatively easily. At the same time, porcelain enamel is highly durable and usually comes over an even more durable metal base.

Is porcelain enamel the safest type of cookware?

Porcelain enamel is certainly one of the safest types of cookware you can use. It is durable, light, non-porous, and non-toxic, so it won’t leach harmful metals or chemicals into your food.

This puts it far ahead of other options like aluminum, copper, clay, plastic, and anything coated with Teflon.

However, it is not the only type of cookware you can use without putting your family’s health at risk.

Other safe cookware options are:

  • Ceramic – Genuine ceramic cookware is completely safe and wonderful to cook with. However, most ceramic cookware on the market today has a non-stick coating which often contains toxic chemicals.
  • Carbon steel – Carbon steel is safe to use – the only thing it may leach into your food is small amounts of iron.
  • Tempered glass – Like enamel, glass is inert and won’t leach any chemicals into your food.
  • Lava rock – Though not common, you can find cooking platters made of lava rock, which is also non-toxic.

On the other hand, these materials can be safe, as long as you use discretion:

  • Cast iron – This material can leach iron into your food while you cook. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as iron is a vital nutrient that we all need in our diet. However, like anything, you can have too much iron, so it’s a good idea not to use this type of cookware every day.
  • Stainless steel – Stainless steel pots and pans are generally safe to use, but again in moderation. Stainless steel is a mix of metals, including nickel. Furthermore, high-quality stainless steel usually contains a higher percentage of nickel, which can leach into your food as you cook. Nickel is not harmful to humans in low quantities, but can be an issue if quantities build up in the body, which could happen if you use stainless steel cookware every day.
  • Titanium – Titanium is widely used in medicine and dentistry because it Is non-toxic and biocompatible. For the same reason, this material is ideal for cookware! However, it’s important to be cautious when buying titanium cookware because it often comes with a toxic, non-stick finish.

We’ve summed up the most common types of cookware available today and categorized them according to safety.

You can confidently use the types of cookware we’ve listed as “safe” use every day without worrying about what they may be leaching into your food. Those shown as “use sparingly” will be ok if you don’t use them every day, or choose the product carefully.

You’re best to stay away from the “avoid” list entirely, as they are generally hazardous to you and your family’s health.

SafeUse sparinglyAvoid
Porcelain enamelCast ironAluminum
CeramicStainless steelUnprotected copper
Carbon steelTitaniumNon-stick / Teflon
Lava rock Plastic
Tempered glass Unglazed Clay

How to choose porcelain enamel cookware

Porcelain enamel is a safe type of cookware that’s also great to cook with. Like many things, however, it’s important to be discerning when it comes to the products you choose.

Quality

The best porcelain enamel cookware comes with a thick enamel coating which makes the piece durable. This coating makes porcelain enamel items excellent to cook with because they are naturally non-stick, easy to clean, and won’t stain or scratch easily.

For the best experience, look for cookware with a thick porcelain enamel coating. If the coating is too thin, it can crack or chip, so you won’t enjoy all these benefits!

You should also check the base/interior of the pot or pan you want to buy – the best porcelain enamel cookware has a cast iron or stainless steel interior.

Is it coated or glazed?

Porcelain enamel is naturally non-stick, so doesn’t need any kind of coating. We should acknowledge that this kind of surface is not the same as magical Teflon, so it does require a bit of getting used to.

Perhaps this is why some manufacturers glaze their porcelain enamel cookware or coat them with a chemical non-stick coating. Therefore, you need to check the product description carefully to ensure it does not have any coatings or glazes containing toxic components.

Does the enamel coating contain lead?

It’s doubly important to check whether the enamel coating contains lead, which is highly toxic, so you don’t want this leaching into your food! All quality brands do not use lead in their coatings, but it’s a good idea to check just in case.

Is it dishwasher-friendly?

You want your cookware to be easy to use and clean, so it’s worth checking whether the product is dishwasher safe. Most porcelain enamel pots and pans can go in the dishwasher, though some manufacturers recommend hand washing to extend the product life.

What are the lids and handles made from?

Most important thing is the material that will touch your food, which should be only porcelain enamel. However, it’s a good idea to check what the handles, lids, and any other components are made from.

You want to make sure that these materials are non-toxic, durable, and preferably dishwasher-safe.

Final thoughts

There are few things more important in life than our health. In order to stay healthy and protect the health of your family, it’s important to examine the household items we use every day, including our cookware.

Some cookware can contain toxins that may leach into your food as you cook. Luckily there are safe, non-toxic cookware options – namely anything made from porcelain enamel, ceramic, tempered glass, carbon steel, or lava rock.

Porcelain enamel is probably our favorite, because it’s durable, light, naturally non-stick, and 100% safe.  Furthermore, unlike some other “safe” options, it’s unlikely to come with a potentially toxic coating.

If you found this guide to porcelain enamel cookware helpful, please do share it with your family and friends!

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