Is ceramic-coated cookware safe? Dangers explained

Ceramic-coated cookware is popping up everywhere as they are touted as easy to clean and nonstick. Many people enjoy cooking with ceramic-coated cookware because they heat up quickly, don’t scratch easily, and are relatively lightweight. But is it safe? And does the coating on these pots and pans make them toxic?

Ceramic-based coated cookware is generally safer as there is no evidence that silicon from the sol-gel coating is harmful or toxic. The leaching of metal into food is unlikely to constitute a health hazard. Moreover, the coating has to be degraded for the leaching to occur. Importantly, go for established brands or purchase from regulated countries if you’re concern with lead poisoning, and you should be fine!

This article will dive deeper into whether it is safe to prepare food using a ceramic pan or pot coated with a ceramic glaze that provides a nonstick surface. 

Difference between ceramic and ceramic coated cookware

Before we delve into the meat of this article, let’s clear up a common question: is pure ceramic and ceramic coated cookware the same?

Ceramic-coated cookware is any cookware that has a layer of ceramic-based nonstick on top. The core component varies depending on the manufacturer, but they all use some form of metal. Some companies use cast aluminum for its durability and better heat distribution, while others may use cast iron or stainless steel for its ability to sustain high temperatures.

Pure ceramic cookware is 100% pure ceramic that doesn’t contain any metal; they are constructed using all-natural organic material. This means using pure ceramic cookware has no risk of leaching metal into food at all.

How is ceramic-coated cookware made?

Unlike pure ceramic cookware, ceramic-coated cookware is not made of ceramic but rather metal with a layer of ceramic-based nonstick coating. While the core metal used might differ among brands, most ceramic coatings are made from Sol-gel, consisting of silica and other inorganic materials. Sol-gel is typically sprayed onto the metal substrate and cured at high temperatures between 400-800 degrees Fahrenheit. Aside from producing a slick surface that mimics nonstick properties, this technology also creates a more durable and rigid surface that can withstand higher temperatures than the typical Teflon (PTFE) cookware.  

What is ceramic-coated cookware good for?

Ceramic-coated cookware is a common alternative for Teflon nonstick cookware due to health concerns associated with Teflon coating. Here are several reasons why some prefer ceramic-coated cookware:

  1. It provides a nonstick surface which eliminates the need to use unhealthy cooking sprays, butter, or oil. It prevents coagulation of fats during high temperatures, saving food from sticking and burning during cooking.
  2. It has very high heat conductivity, and it’s non-reactive. This means that nothing leaches into food, and they don’t produce any unwanted flavors to your food.
  3. It can withstand higher temperatures than Teflon due to its Sol-gel technology.
  4. They are relatively easy to clean; some warm water and a soft sponge should suffice.

Is ceramic nonstick cookware safe for cooking?

Now let’s address the elephant in the room – does ceramic coated cookware constitute any health hazard? There are two aspects to the dangers of using ceramic coated cookware: firstly, the ceramic coating on top of the metal substrate, and secondly, the metal component used for the cookware.

Ceramic-based nonstick coating (Sol-gel)

There’s no scientific evidence that shows silica’s adverse health effects, which is the main composition of Sol-gel. However, there are studies done on its use in medical equipment, and they haven’t found any adverse side effects. Silicon has been widely deemed safe for consumption by authorities, but additional research will need to occur before anything conclusive can be said. So far, it seems like food-grade Silicon -or just plain old sand at home- isn’t doing much damage when ingested orally.

Lead or cadmium in the ceramic coating

While there have been reports of lead or cadmium poisoning from ceramic-coated cookware, these are commonly from Mexico, China, and some European countries. The surface of ceramic products is traditionally coated with lead because they are easy to use, add color, and provide a smooth, bright finish.

However, it’s highly unlikely for ceramic cookware made in the USA or from a USA brand to result in lead or cadmium poisoning because they are highly regulated. In the US, cookware is regulated by the FDA, ensuring that companies adhere to strict rules. Similarly, Canada is governed by legislation (SOR/98-176 Glazed Ceramics and Glassware Regulation).

The metal base of ceramic coated cookware

Even though the Sol-gel coating is deemed safe, one potential danger of using ceramic coated cookware is the metal leaching into food when it’s exposed from scratches or general wear and tear. The common core metals used by companies are either aluminum or cast iron, which can leach into your food.

Aluminum leaching

It’s conclusive that aluminum can leach into food from cookware, particularly from cooking acidic food, which can increase your aluminum intake. According to NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) and a study published in the “Journal of Food Protection,” cooking in aluminum cookware can result in an insignificant increase in aluminum content – an amount that would not be sufficient to constitute a health hazard.

The myth that aluminum cookware causes Alzheimer’s has been debunked multiple times. This myth originated from discovering unusually high aluminum concentration in a deceased Alzheimer’s patient’s brain some decades ago. Since then, many renowned organizations like the Alzheimer’s Society and the FDA have reported that there’s no evidence for causation and usage of the aluminum product has any negative impact on health.

Iron leaching

You’ve probably heard that cooking in a cast iron pan releases iron into your food; by the same principle, the exposed iron from ceramic-coated cookware can also leach into food. However, research has shown that one is more likely to be iron deficient; this means the chances of iron overload are pretty slim. But, if you are genetically more likely to overload on iron or are a frequent red meat eater, it may be helpful to learn more about your daily iron intake. Additionally, depending on the acidity of the food cooked and the duration the food is in contact with the exposed iron, the amount of iron leaching into your food can be significant, and in some cases, even exceeding the recommended dietary intake.

Verdict: I’m inclined to say that ceramic-based coated cookware is safe as there is no evidence or studies to determine that silicon from the sol-gel coating is harmful. The leaching of metal into food is also unlikely to constitute a health hazard. Moreover, the coating would need to be degraded or scratched for the metal to leach into food. As for lead poisoning, as long as you pick one from established brands or from places that are regulated, you should be fine!

Is ceramic coating safer than Teflon?

Ceramic coating is often touted as a better alternative to Teflon coating, commonly used in traditional nonstick cookware. Teflon is the trade name for polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), and its application to cookware is primarily due to its nonstick property. Teflon is a safe and relatively stable compound that withstands high temperatures. But, at temperatures above 570°F (300 °C), Teflon coatings on nonstick cookware start to break down. The toxic chemicals released into the air and inhaling these fumes may lead to Polymer Fume Fever, also known as “Teflonsyndrom.” That said, it doesn’t mean that Teflon cookware is not safe, and they are certainly not toxic as long as we follow some basic precautions. In essence, avoid cooking at a temperature above 570°F (300 °C) and avoid inhaling any fumes released. 

Some misconceptions mislead many into thinking Teflon pans are toxic. However, concerns over toxins have to do with another synthetic chemical compound – Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). The chemical PFOA was once used in the process of making Teflon. It is potentially a health concern as it can stay in the human body for a prolonged period. Even though PFOA is essentially burned off from the final product during the process, it has been replaced with a safer alternative in all Teflon products since 2013. This is due to growing evidence linking it to an increased risk for cancer among humans. 

Verdict: While Teflon cookware is deemed safe, the ceramic-based coating can withstand a higher temperature without the concern of any toxic fumes. So in that aspect, ceramic coating can be said to be safer.

Note: in general, Teflon nonstick coating is more durable and lasts longer than ceramic-based coating. Thus, if you plan to use your cookware for a prolonged period, ceramic-coated cookware may result in more metal leaching into your food.

How to tell if your pan is ceramic-coated?

There is no easy way to tell ceramic-coated cookware apart from a Teflon-coated one, except that Teflon cookware is almost certainly cheaper, assuming that the cookwares in question are unbranded. If they are branded, you could simply look up the specs online.

Tips on maintaining your ceramic pan

  1. Use mild soap in warm water with a dishcloth or sponge. Wash by hand – even if the manufacturer says its dishwasher safe
  2. Cook on low to medium heat. Avoid exposing your cookware to extremely high temperatures.
  3. Avoid sudden temperature changes. Heat up slowly, and do not put hot cookware in water.
  4. Ceramic coatings are prone to scratches, so use plastic or wooden utensils. Metal utensils may end up scratching the surface and degrade the coating.
  5. Always use a light brush of oil or butter when cooking in a ceramic-coated nonstick pan. This helps prolong the life of the nonstick, helps with food release, and makes the food taste better!
  6. It is often overlooked, but it’s essential to store them with care. Perhaps invest in a soft cookware protector to prevent scratches and chips.

Ceramic coated cookware alternatives

  • Stainless steel: Stainless steel is excellent for sautéing and browning food. It is durable and scratch-resistant. It’s also dishwasher safe, making it easy to clean.
  • Cast-iron cookware: Cast iron is a long-lasting, versatile cooking vessel that can withstand high heat. It also maintains its nonstick surface over time and cleans easily when you want to switch up your dishes!
  • Stoneware: For thousands of years, stoneware has been used for cooking and baking. It can be heated evenly without burning the food on its surface because it’s nonstick once properly seasoned and is immune to scratches and knife marks!
  • Anodized aluminum cookware: They are produced with aluminum that goes through an electrochemical process known as anodization, forming a layer of aluminum oxide. Due to its stable, non-reactive, and resistant properties, the resulting metal has twice as much strength as stainless steel.
  • Silicone cookware: Silicone is an excellent alternative to metal and wooden utensils because it’s heat-resistant and can withstand high temperatures. However, it doesn’t stand up well to direct heat, so it’s more commonly used in bakeware and utensils instead of pots and pans.

Final thoughts

We hope we’ve answered some of your questions and concerns about ceramic-coated cookware. Ceramic cookware is an excellent choice for those who are more health-conscious. While ceramic-coated cookware may not be 100% free from toxins, it’s a safer alternative to Teflon without sacrificing performance. If you’re looking to buy new cookware, consider how important the above pointers are for you when deciding what kind of material to purchase!

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