Ceramic-coated cookware: safety and value

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I do most of my cooking on an induction plate in a large carbon steel wok and some stainless steel pots (all bought at discount venues), and I scrub out anything that sticks immediately after use. I don't own any non-stick cookware---I am normally somewhat skeptical about health scares ("gack! chemicals! away demonic molecules! back, I say!"), but I don't trust myself not to scrape at the Teflon with metal and then eat the Teflon, heh. However, I have been looking to expand my set of cooking instruments, even if I decide to get rid of most of my implements on leaving Germany.

 

Now...last week, Karstadt in Saarbrücken had an excellent sale on non-stick cookware...but ceramic-coated, not Teflon, by what is normally (apparently) an expensive make, Ballarini. Specifically, Ballarini Rivarolo induction-friendly cookware (iron bottom, aluminum layers, white ceramic coating, silicone handle). I thought, "aha! not Teflon, ceramic is the epitome of safe, right?" Bought two pans of different sizes. Allegedly, you can use metal implements on it without immediately scratching it, although it's not recommended.

 

So, I did some quick research after I got home: "ceramic-coated" is not literally ceramic but some sort of nanotech (normally for me, yay) spatter technology, and the health characteristics and durability vary with the make. There was an Israeli consumer report that found that one brand made in Korea and sold cheaply in Israel tended to release the non-healthy sort of heavy metals into food, but the more expensive kinds did not.

 

Thus:

 

1. Is anyone familiar with Ballarini products? I don't recognize the brand (not common in Canada and probably not the USA either). How do they rate compared to e.g. WMF?

 

2. Anyone have any experience cooking on ceramic-coated?

 

I also just bought a whole lot of ingredients to try out an interesting Chinese recipe with which I wanted to inaugurate the purchase, but have held off.

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The material can still be (and should be) described as "literally ceramic" even if it is sputtered or otherwise applied as a coating, not only if it has a massive form. Ceramic refers to a compound of a metal and a non-metal ....aluminium oxide, silicon carbide, and even sodium chloride (NaCl) if you insist. Their name comes from the greek "Keramos" lit- burnt stuff, referring to the method of manufacture in which the raw material is heated to high temperature to densify it. (Early research was conducted on NaCl to show some of the material transport mechanisms involved in densification.)

 

Anyway, suffice to say that the ceramic coatings are indeed "ceramic".

 

One cause of problems with this cookware is that people use too high a temperature while cooking. The ceramic materials have a lower thermal expansion coefficient than the metal substrate - they stretch less than the pan when heated. This can lead to cracking and failure of the coating. Although this usually isn't a problem given the generally inert nature of the materials at relatively low temperatures (cooking temperatures) it may be that a low-quality coating contains impurities which might be damaging to health.

 

The ceramic material also has a high specific heat capacity, It can store more heat and retain it longer so higher temperatures aren't really necessary over a longer period of time.

 

A more likely cause of problems is if the coating has a separate glaze coating on top of it. This coating will again have a different thermal expansion coefficient than any of the layers underneath it (although efforts are generally made to match this parameter closely to improve the life and quality of the pan - probably the function of the aluminium layers in the induction-friendly pan mentioned by the OP). The glaze is usually less scratch-resistant than the ceramic layer (it's function is to seal any porosity in the coating and give a smoother cooking surface). Scatching causes the decrease in "non-stickiness" described in reviews.

 

The Israeli report mentioned by the OP refers to the presence of lead and bismuth in the glaze - chemicals which have not been allowed in traditional ceramic glazes for a very long time in traditional earthenware ceramics.

 

That's the technology as I knew it 25 years ago. I dare say things have changed a bit since then ;)

 

In summary, more expensive utensils are probably better quality and "safer".

 

A "good" product will probably have specific instructions to follow (rather like these here)

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1. Is anyone familiar with Ballarini products? I don't recognize the brand

 

Yes, we have two Ballinari frying pans. My husband bought the first one, white ceramic, on a whim and it is all right but has discoloured to splotchy light brown and is also oddly shaped. We decided to get another one, this time in black to avoid the discolouration, and within about 2 months of normal use, the "ceramic" coating started peeling off. We won't be buying this brand again and have now switched to Silit and Fissler. So far so good.

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Another thought: traditional chinese cooking with a wok involves very high temperatures (relatively speaking) and while the food doesn't stay in the wok very long - the wok itself might be very hot for a much longer time - not good for a coating. Also, I always thought that woks should not be cleaned since anything that can survive those temperatures "deserves to live" ;)

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I only do traditional Chinese occasionally---I also use the wok to make Indian and Thai food and pasta sauces, etc. So I sort of have to clean it between uses, since I don't always want to cuminate my rosé shrimp sauce.

 

Westvan's info is the most alarming. The regular price of the brand is in the vicinity of 100 € a pan for induction-ready ceramic coated. I am just not going to buy eg Silit at full price. I only bought cheap cookware originally because I didn't originally even expect to be in Germany for more than a few months. I'm still not entirely sure how long I really will be here. However I have still lusted after good cookware :) If it's not toxic it may be worth it to keep it until it warps/peels. I don't care so much about the discoloration from an aesthetic point of view.

 

Hmm dilemma.

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Fair enough. The short answer seems to be keep the temperature down - this should reduce cracking and emission of any toxic chemicals.

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That kind of makes it no better than Teflon then. Do I have to eat my years of nonstick avoidance to keep these? :)

 

They're now peering at me like adorable feral cubs.

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Forgot to say that we have a glass-ceramic cooktop, not induction, so the pans we bought may be different than what you were looking at.

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The smaller one is precisely this pan at this sale price.

 

http://www.karstadt.de/Ballarini/Pfanne-Rivarolo-20-cm/p/?pid=4672833&pfad=597722+891621+899253+891634+862908&fromSearch=true

 

The bottom is a somewhat heavy cast iron pitted thing only appearing on the induction-ready cookware.

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Yeah, looks like they have different types of non-stick surfaces. I don't know any more what models we have, but as I said, the white one is fine as far as the coating goes, it has just become very unsightly looking, but the black one is getting thrown out. Even the crappy teflon pans we used to have held up better.

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So it turns out the black ceramic ones from Ballarini actually involve a branded coating they call "Keravis" and is largely on their cheaper models. Keravis is "ceramic reinforced" something or other. I saw them at the store. Actually it's just Teflon with ceramic particles. http://www.ebay.de/gds/Welche-Antihaftbeschichtung-ist-die-richtige-fuer-mich-/10000000015735468/g.html (a pro-Teflon source in German btw)

 

So here's the summary of what I've found so far:

 

1. Unless the glaze is lead-based, the ceramic-surfaced products shouldn't bear much risk of leaching toxic compounds into the food under normal use. In theory, the expensive makes shouldn't be lead-based glaze.

2. Except for people who are paranoid about "nanoparticles", the status of the ceramic itself shouldn't be a concern.

3. It requires more care than Teflon and loses some of its quality more easily, but it's less resistant to metal scratching.

4. RTFM.

5. Supposed to hold up better at high temperatures than Teflon, but YMMV.

 

The ultimately conclusion I get is that Teflon is better for cooking if you're not paranoid about the Teflon itself, but otherwise ceramic non-stick does a passable job. For very high heat quick cooking nothing beats a direct metal.

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Seasoning seems to be an issue on which the interwebs are conflicted about. Some of the ceramic-coated brands recommend initially seasoning the pan the way one seasons a carbon steel wok---by heating oil to the smoke point. The instructions on the Ballarini products is merely to wash the pan and then boil water in it briefly---then to coat it with a little bit of oil, and always to use oil in it and keep it oiled. For the induction surface, always put food in it before heating. Will have to remember this, since I tend to pre-heat my carbon steel wok.

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Of course, I am agonizing over all of this when I am also planning to cook with ingredients with Chinese labels imported from China with a perfunctorily printed German sticker with some salient highlights theoretically from the ingredients list... ;) including something called "preserved vegetable". It's preserved, and it's probably a vegetable.

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Hey, I have some enameled ceramic cast iron stuff from Le Creuset and Chasseur. Found this on the web:

 

 

"For those who like the feel and heat distribution properties of cast iron but dread the seasoning process, ceramic enameled cookware from Le Creuset, World Cuisine and others is a good choice. The smooth and colorful enamel is dishwasher-friendly and somewhat non-stick"

The same site seems to think it is safe.

Safety-wise I simply avoid old-style aluminium (anodised aluminum is supposed to be fnie, though I'm a little dubious) due to the links between aluminium and Alzheimer's / Parkinson's.

 

The cast iron stuff is great to cook on. Especially, my ceramic enameled cast iron gratin dish is awesome, makes for the *best* toad-in-the-hole ever... the only drawback being, it weighs a ton! Not good in the case of the saucepan we have, which requires two hands to lift! But we have a large hob-oven-table pot which, yes, needs 2 hands, but has 2 handles... really excellent for making stews, curries etc. Though not Exactly non-stick, the coating on theseis easy to clean. The only problem is it can be scratched - not so muhc in use / cleaning, but you need to be careful how you store it.

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I owned a casserole dish of that kind in the USA, but the prices here on that stuff seem exorbitant for me to set up a whole (small) kitchen on it. If I had known two years ago that I would be here for more than two years I may have invested in higher-price stuff. It's simply the roaming scientist thing that makes me wary of investing in good stuff.

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I may be paranoid about Alzheimer's, having helped care for a family sufferer... but anyway, i *think* the link to Parkinson's is quite solid, oder? Anyway, I do happen to know a fair bit about metals as toxins (ok, for plants, but... biochemistry is pretty universal!) and Al is quite nasty, so aviodance seems reasonable.

 

As for prices... yes, you need a bit of dedication... I found our big pot secondhand online, had not been used, all the labels still on... but that size go for up to £200 if Le Creuset (ridiculous!) - Chasseur is a bit cheaper, but not that much... anyway, 2nd hand I paid £30. The suacepan was massively discounted on Amazon (about 70% off, god knows why) - and the other bits were wedding presents. If buying again, I would pay for the gratin dish...

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Does the Ikea stuff have a similar coating? Their Senior (really, some of their range names shouldn't have made it past border control) cast iron stuff is cheaper than the alternatives, but I can't find a description or picture which suggests what the inside surface is like.

 

We also use le Creuset, purchased at massive discount or as wedding presents. Our big gripe is that the lids of the really big ones are quite brittle - we have dropped them on lino and they crack, which is a bit crap. And obviously when they are full, they are only good oven-to-table ware if you happen to have a weightlifter staying.

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I'm a bit irrational about buying used cookware, but if new le Creuset came on sale at a reasonable price I would buy it in a heartbeat...but even the small pans on Amazon are 150 yoyos!

 

Aluminum: the science is mixed, particularly whether you should fear the amount you get from aluminum cookware, which is the real issue---the dose. If you google the risks, you get health nut sites AND (to be fair) the real studies to which they most often link. You have to dig deeper to get both sides of the story. Nevertheless, I haven't cooked on aluminum for a long time. Of course, there are risks to nickel and so on that Edelstahl has, especially my cheap stainless steel I suspect.

 

Well, so, I've decided to keep these pans For Science, even though at a total of about 65 Euros paid I still think they're expensive :) I only cook for one, generally, unless I am catering an office party or something, so it actually may be a while before it gets to the state that some people say theirs did. If they turn out to be crap, it's back to cast iron and stainless steel...

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