A few years ago, buying ‘green’ cookware meant jumping on the fashion bandwagon and picking up a set of kiwi-colored Le Creuset. Now the selling point is all about the environmental warm and fuzzies, with a sense of personal well-being thrown in.
Unlike other industries, where the word ‘green’ carries many different meanings, cookware manufacturers use a specific definition that puts aside the whole global warming thing and concentrates on health – which makes sense since we are talking about food preparation here.
'Green' cookware is defined as non-stick aluminum hardware that’s free of two chemicals technically known as PFOA and PTFE. PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is the substance that adheres non-stick coatings to pans, while PTFE, polytetrafluoroethylene, is that coating itself, better known by its brand name, Teflon. PFOA is a carcinogen that is released during the manufacturing process. It is set to be phased-out of use completely by 2015. PTFE decomposes at over 660 degrees, producing gases that can kill birds and cause flu-like symptoms in humans.
Americans love non-stick because it’s a cinch to clean and requires little or no cooking oil or fat, but they don’t love harmful chemicals, so manufacturers came up with a solution – or several.
Stephanie Beck, Senior Sales Director of Meyer Corporation, the largest manufacturer of cookware in the US, says their EarthPan is a direct response to consumer concerns. Meyer’s proprietary sand-based, non-stick PFOA- and PTFE-free coating is called SandFlow. It earned the EarthPan a top ranking from “Consumer Reports” in food-release, hardness (the resistance to wear and tear) and durability.
Of course, Consumer Reports also heated up both new and used cookware made with PFOA, collected air samples and found very little PFOA in them. Beck says that consumers don’t realize that PFOA is removed when the pots and pans are being made, “like the alcohol in Bananas Foster is all burned-off before you eat it,” she explains. “Research showed that consumers didn’t make that distinction, so we listened.” The EarthPan is a fantastic product, ranked number one, she says, but like many green pieces of cookware it doesn’t hold up to the durability of Meyer’s popular Circulon line of non-stick pans. “The best green product is not going to be up to the performance of our higher-end non-stick cookware.” Consumers must have realistic expectations, advises Beck.
Competitor Swiss Diamond makes a non-stick, PFOA-free cookware that uses a patented “diamond-based nano composite,” says company president, Allan Wolk. “We put billions of tiny diamond particles in our non-stick.” The smaller the diamond particles the more diamond surface in the pan, he says. “Think of a bowl with 10 sugar cubes,” says Wolk. “Slice each cube into thirds and put them back in the bowl. You have a lot more sugar surface now. That’s how our diamonds work.” The more diamonds, he says, the greater the durability, hardness and conductivity. Diamonds, he says, are the best heat conductors around, but that hasn’t stopped others from pursuing different methods.
World-renowned chef Todd English launched his GreenPan line of cookware on Home Shopping Network three years ago. His PFOA- and PTFE-free Thermolon coating was the first ceramic-based non-stick that could withstand high heat, up to 850 degrees. Martha Stewart’s EcoCook collection also uses Thermolon. A similar surface on Cuisinart’s GreenGourmet Cookware is called Cuisinart Ceramica, while Starfrit’s is Ceram-Eco. Who comes up these names? And does it even matter?
While all three lines from Denmark’s Scanpan are PFOA-free, Scanpan’s Brand Manager Chris Peasley says 'green' isn’t part of their marketing. “How ‘green’ can a pan actually be given the chemicals used in manufacturing,” he asks. Pans are not, he points out, things you can compost. “‘Green’ is overused and misinterpreted. All of our cookware is made from top-grade recycled aluminum and stainless steel. All of our packaging is made from recycled materials. We’re PFOA-free. Does that make us 'green'? I guess it depends on what ‘green’ means to you.”
Scanpan uses a patented ceramic and titanium alloy non-stick that they bond to their pans at 30,000 degrees and then seal off with a layer of their Green-Tek coating. “Our non-stick is part of our pan. It’s fired into it. It’s ten times harder than steel and almost indestructible. You can’t damage it,” Peasley says. You can sear scallops on it oil-free, broil with it and even – gasp - use metal utensils on it. According to Peasley, “traditional non-stick rules do not apply.”
Going green means many things to many people. Given the range of available green cookware, consumers no longer have to merely believe-in it to make the plunge, they can actually buy it because it cooks pretty well. If a green non-stick pan fits your particular cooking style, all the better.