Are There Dangers of Enamel Cookware?

You might know that nonstick cookware contains poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, which can be released during cooking and potentially cause health and environmental issues. But can enameled cookware, like most Dutch ovens, be similarly worrisome? Usually not, as it turns out. However, if the enamel on your pots and pans has begun to chip, you may want to replace them.

Enamelware still life
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Are There Dangers of Enamel Cookware

How Enameled Cookware Is Made

To create enamelware, companies use a base of iron, steel or aluminum and coat it with porcelain enamel. No poly- or perfluoroalkyl chemicals are used in the production of this cookware, and it's environmentally friendly. The resulting pots and pans are highly resistant to wear; a good enameled pot, like a Le Creuset, can last a lifetime. They're simple to clean, can be used at high heats (up to 842 degrees Fahrenheit) and are resistant to acidic foods, like tomatoes.

What If You Overheat It?

If you overheat a Teflon coated pan, it may release toxic fumes. But the chemicals in enameled ceramic cookware won't break down at high temperatures, making them a safe choice for cooking. Many enameled pots and pans are specifically designed for cooking both on the stove top and inside an oven, making them a good choice for a variety of recipes.

What About Lead?

Cheaper enameled cookware, from countries with lax regulations, may contain lead or cadmium in the coating. However, this should not be an issue when buying products from most reputable manufacturers. Since all ceramic products sold in the United States are required by law to be free of lead and cadmium, the risk of being exposed to toxins are very low.

What If the Ceramic Cracks?

The ceramic coating on an enameled piece of cookware might crack if it is exposed to a sudden dramatic change in temperature, if it is dropped or if using metal utensils on the pot, which can cause scratches on the surface. If the inside of the pot cracks or chips, the danger isn't the base material (which is usually iron, aluminum or steel); the danger is that the ceramic will chip into your food. If you want to risk using a cracked pan, be sure to rub oil on the exposed iron to keep it from rusting. However, many good quality cookware companies have a lifetime warranty on their products. In the event the enamel cracks on your pan, it is worth seeing if you can exchange your chipped cookware for a new model.

How Can I Protect My Ceramic?

To maintain the quality of your ceramic cookware, take some simple precautions. It is recommended that you use only plastic, wooden, silicone or nylon utensils inside the pot or pan. To keep it clean, wash by hand using a mild detergent and avoid steel wool or scour pads. Finally, avoid changing the temperature of the pot from hot to cold too quickly—for instance, by putting it in the sink after cooking and running cold water over it before the pot has had a chance to cool down.