When you are looking for new ways to improve the quality of your diet, you should not overlook the cookware you use for cooking your healthy meals. The pots and pans you use directly affect the taste and nutritional value of your meals. Certain cookware materials are known to react with foods or release toxic gases when heated at high temperatures.
As a result of the growing customer demand and government policies, there is a variety of so-called safe cookware on the market. Some old-fashioned cooking methods have also made a comeback in kitchens and restaurants around the world.
Clay pot cooking is a method of cooking food in an unglazed clay pot that has been soaked in water to release steam while cooking. Cooking with earthenware pots is an ancient tradition that offers a distinct taste and preserves the nutritional value of food.
Types of Clay Pots
The most common ways of categorizing clay pots are according to the type of clay they’re made of and the required firing temperature.
Earthenware clay pots are usually made from impure, secondary clays that have been transported from their original locations by water or wind. These clays contain particles of rocks, sand, and other impurities. The iron content gives the fired clay a reddish color. Earthenware pots are fired at lower temperatures (1700®F to 2100®F) than stoneware and porcelain and cannot be used for cooking on the stove. Earthenware is soft and porous clay that requires glazing in order to be waterproof.
Stoneware is made from unrefined clay with fewer impurities. It is fired at higher temperatures than earthenware (2100®F to 2300®F). Stoneware is semi-vitreous, sturdy, chip-resistant, and more durable than earthenware.
Porcelain is made from the purest form of clay, called kaolin. It has a firing range of 2335®F to 2550®F. After firing, porcelain is non-porous, vitreous in texture, and translucent. When the glaze is applied, it gets a very smooth and shiny surface.
Flameware pots are made with special “flameproof” clay that is designed to handle very high temperatures and resist thermal shock. Flameware can be used on all types of stoves and in all ovens.
Is Clay Cookware Safe?
Earthenware clay is a mixture of clays from different areas that were carried by a stream to a new site. These transported clays are usually contaminated with non-clay minerals such as iron oxide, various amounts of different metals, and other unwanted impurities.
The clay used in producing cookware should be free of any harmful substances. Clay purity should be validated by a certified third-party laboratory. To ensure clay safety, the purity test is performed during both pre-production and post-production stages. Reputable companies regularly test the complete composition of clay to ensure the finest quality and absence of impurities. Unglazed earthenware made from tested pure clay is 100% non-reactive.
Health Concerns about the Glaze
Earthenware clay is usually glazed to reduce porosity, make cookware more functional, and allow for easy cleaning. The composition of the glaze for kitchen earthware is regulated by both federal and state agencies.
What about Lead-Based Glazes?
Lead-based glazes, which have traditionally been used on earthenware, can pose a health hazard. Lead glazes are inexpensive materials and are attractive for creating an eye-pleasing glossy finish. However, if the glaze is not properly formulated and fired, lead can leach from the glaze and get into the food. We can be exposed to lead by using unsafe lead-glazed earthenware for preparing, storing, and serving food and beverages. Lead is considered to be among the most toxic metals and can significantly affect people’s health.
Lead can be found in the glazes of some traditional homemade clay pieces made abroad and brought into the United States as souvenirs by individuals.
Due to the hazardous effects of lead, the FDA regulates extractable lead limits in tableware to ensure its safety. Substances used in food contact materials should be lead-free or contain levels of lead that meet current FDA limits. Tableware exceeding the FDA levels, including glazed pottery, cannot be legally sold in the U.S.
How to Choose a Lead-Free Clay Pot?
The earthenware made or sold in the United States must meet safety guidelines for lead content and is considered safe to use for food.
Make sure to purchase clay cookware from a reliable manufacturer and look for a label that states that the item is “food safe.” Also, opt for a lead-free-labeled product. Avoid highly decorated tableware and handcrafted items made by individuals.
Do not use pottery made in Mexico or Latin America or highly decorative Asian dishware for food cooking purposes because those items may contain high levels of lead. Developing countries also don’t have strict rules regarding lead. FDA recommends avoiding using those pieces for food, even when they are labeled “lead-free”.
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Benefits of Unglazed Clay Cookware
1. Less Fat and Calories
A clay pot with a lid doesn’t allow vapor to escape as it would with metal cooking pots. The food is cooked in its natural juices. The steam that circulates throughout cooking provides plenty of moisture and eliminates the need for adding extra fats or liquids. The result is that cooked food contains lower amounts of fat and calories compared with food prepared with metal pots.
Cookware made of clay that has passed purity testing is safe for almost all types of cooking. You can use it to fry, bake, braise, grill, brown, and serve hot and cold foods. It is safe to put into a microwave. Almost any basic recipe can be easily adapted for clay pot cooking.
3. Flavorful and Nutritious Dishes
The porous nature of earthenware allows for slow and even cooking and helps to retain the natural juices. The ingredients slowly blend together to create fuller flavors and an enhanced aroma.
4. Preserved Nutritional Value
A clay pot is a good base for a healthy and flavorful meal. The food is cooked slowly in a closed environment inside the pot. There is no loss of nutrients and all cooking fluids are incorporated into the dish, making the taste more delicious.
5. Heat Retaining Capability
All foods are cooked at low to medium heat, using less energy. The heat-retaining capability of a clay pot helps food stay hot longer. You can turn off the stove 5 minutes before your food is fully cooked and the residual heat will finish cooking. Clay also can keep food warm for several hours after taking the pot out of the oven.
Claypot ABC Soup Recipe – Video by BunnyDIY
- Clay pots can break easily if you accidentally drop them. Also, sudden temperature extremes can cause clay pots to crack.
- Clay pots are heavy and may be difficult to handle, especially when hot.
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