Cast Iron Cooking – Myths & Facts
Cooking in iron has been around since the Iron age, 2500 years ago. In the olden days stone and cast iron were the only forms of cookware used. From a Macrobiotic perspective, the energetics of cooking in cast iron makes you stronger, it will help with any condition that depletes energy. By this I mean conditions like iron deficiencies, or any other where you need to build up immunity as well. Let’s first look at facts about cast iron cooking.
- 98% of cast iron cookware is actually iron, so that’s quite high (considering most modern cookware use artificially created substances).
- Iron is an essential dietary mineral for the body, so naturally cooking in it will initiate some mineral transfer to the body as well. Here you also need to know that iron overloading will happen in people that are predisposed to eating meat, postmenopausal women, a condition called haemochromatosis (a hereditary condition in which iron salts are deposits in tissues, causing liver damage, diabetes).
- You increase the iron content in foods when you use cast iron cookware (for example: rice when cooked in a regular pan has 0.86 mg of iron, when cooked in a cast iron pan has 1.97 mg or pancakes ordinarily has 0.81 mg, when cooked in a cast iron pan the iron content goes up to 1.31 mg. Rule of thumb is, that the iron content of foods goes up by 6 to 8 milligrams.
- If you suffer from anemia, then cooking in cast iron is your aid for sure.
The next thing that comes up under discussion is, that if you do not want your cast iron to leach too much iron into your foods then what should you do?
The answer to this is make sure your pan is well seasoned. What is seasoning? This is not the same as seasoning a dish; a cast iron pan has a layer of carbonized oil that has been baked on to your pan, forming a protective layer on top of the pan or any cast iron cookware. This acts as a barrier between the acidic foods used in cooking and the iron. This is what gives the pan its finish, and makes cooking easier. The more you cook in your cast iron dishes, the thicker this payer of oil gets, making your plan better and better for future use.
The following factors could increase the leaching process of iron into foods –
- Increasing cooking time.
- Using liquid to cook.
- Mixing the food often, when cooking (something all Indian homes do a lot).
I would like to add here that cast iron may not be optimal for Indian curries, etc; so, you will need to be mindful as to what dishes you will cook in them.
Here are some myths surrounding cast iron.
Cooking tomatoes in a cast iron skillet or pan?
Myth 1: Tomatoes cannot be cooked in a cast iron pan.
This is not true. Acidic foods like tomatoes can be cooked for a shorter duration in a cast iron pan. However, it is good if you are breaking in your cast iron pan for the first time, you cook something else first before you cook the tomatoes. As acidic foods like tomatoes may take in some of that iron and make your food taste like metal.
Myth 2 – A pan that gets rusted is of no use.
This is not true. Cast iron can be wiped clean and be used again. What this means is you can let the oil dry up on it and re-use it. If the cookware is badly rusted then scrape the rust off it and use it.
Myth 3 – You should never wash cast iron cookware with soap.
This is not true. Do not use a lot of soap, but some soap can be used and this will not destroy your cookware. Don’t scrub the pan with steel wool, or abrasive scourers. Your cast iron pan will take a lot of time to age, and it will be a while before you will throw it away. So try and wash all your cookware yourself.
Myth 4 – Cast iron is difficult to maintain.
This is also not true. Buying a cast iron pan or any cookware is like having a baby. You will need to nurture it over time. Initially you will need to be gentle with it, and then it will start growing up obediently, just as you mould it, and finally age well. Cast iron cookware is always built to last, and they become an heirloom of the family.
Myth 5 – Cast iron heats evenly.
This is not true. It does not heat evenly, so for dishes which require even heating, you may want to use stainless steel. When you put a cast iron pan on your cooking stove, there are clear hot spots right on the top (where the flame is), while the rest of the pan remains cool. However, once it heats up, it stays that way for a while.
Myth 6: – Cast iron pans are as good as non-stick pans.
This is true. The better the pan with seasoning, the more it acts like a non-stick pan; but will not get as close to a Teflon non-stick pan. However, it is still a better option than a Teflon pan.
Myth 7: Use wooden spoons with cast iron and not metallic spoons.
This is true. The seasoning in cast iron cookware is delicate, and will erode with metallic spoons. It’s better to use wooden spoons.
How do you take care of your cast iron cookware?
- Season it when you get it – Even if it has been seasoned already, you can repeat this process again several times. Heat it up on the stove, until it is very hot, then rub a little oil into it and let it cool. Repeat this process a few times.
- Don’t let cast iron cookware stay wet – This may make it rust, so dry it out, dry it then coat it with a little oil.
- Clean it after using it – Use minimal soap and water to clean it. I use a sponge to do this.
- Use cookware often and fry I them – The more you use your cookware, the better the seasoning gets.
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