How Cooking In Cast Iron Can Improve Health

The benefits of cooking in cast iron. You’ve probably heard at one point or another that cooking in a cast-iron pan releases iron into your food.… Rina - August 18, 2020

The benefits of cooking in cast iron. You’ve probably heard at one point or another that cooking in a cast-iron pan releases iron into your food. While cast iron doesn’t leach chemicals, it can leach some iron into your food- and that’s a good thing. Iron deficiency is fairly common worldwide. In fact, 10% of American women are iron deficient. Cooking food, especially something acidic like tomato sauce, in cast iron can increase iron content by as much as 20 times. Cooking in cast iron pots can significantly increase the iron content of food, particularly foods with high moisture content, high acidity, and those cooked for a long time.

For example, a serving of spaghetti sauce normally contains less than one milligram of iron, but when cooked in an iron pot, that can climb to nearly six milligrams. Researchers found that cooking in an iron skillet greatly increases the iron content of many foods. Acidic foods that have a higher moisture content, such as applesauce and spaghetti sauce, absorbed the most iron. As a matter of fact, the big winners in the foods tested were these two items. For 100 grams of each (about 3 oz.), the applesauce increased in iron content from 0.35 mg. to 7.3 mg. and the spaghetti sauce jumped from 0.6 mg. to 5.7 mg. of iron. While foods that were cooked for longer periods of time absorbed more iron than food that was heated more quickly. They also found foods prepared with a newer iron skillet absorbed more iron than those cooked in an older one.

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1. Benefits of cooking in cast iron

For starters, it’s non-stick. Cast iron pans have a lot of mass so they hold the heat better than thinner and lighter non-stick pans, but it takes longer for a cast pan to warm up too. However heavier pans with nonstick coatings make the difference pretty slight. If food sticks to your cast iron pan, your pan is not seasoned right and you need to re-season it.

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Cast iron is a natural non-stick surface and if your pan is seasoned correctly it will not stick! Always preheat your cast iron frying pans before frying in them. While your cast-iron skillet might be tough, it isn’t indestructible. There are a few surefire ways to ruin the seasoning, or worse, destroy your cookware entirely. Avoid these pitfalls to keep your pan in tip-top cooking condition. A seasoned pan will look shiny and fairly uniform in the dark color of the iron. Another sign is if things stick. A seasoned iron skillet will allow you to make a thin crepe and flip it without any sticking.

A cast-iron pan with fish. Shutterstock

2. They are Chemical-Free.

Another one of the benefits of cast iron cookware is that they are chemical-free. So they are a great alternative to nonstick pans since most contain perfluorocarbons, which is a chemical linked to cancer, developmental problems, liver damage and more. Every time cast iron cookware is used at boiling or frying temperatures, it is so hot that any bacteria or viruses on the surface are destroyed. Most nonstick pans are coated with polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon.

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There are a lot of rumors out there that Teflon might be toxic and that these pans may not be safe to use. A University of Florida researcher Warren Guy found complex fluorine molecules in his own blood in 1975. He published the results and alerted 3M, asking the company if the molecules may be PFOA or PFOS coming from Teflon or Scotchgard water repellent, as he knew these materials had the same type of molecules. 3M told him they had no clue but the company scientists conducted an investigation and found out that the molecule Guy found in his blood was indeed 3M’s wonder molecule. In Europe, PFOS has been banned since 2008 and PFOA will be totally prohibited by 2020.

Cast-iron oven and stovetop. Picfair

3. Long Life Span.

Cast iron cookware has a long life span as well. How long? The simple answer is many generations. There are many pieces of cast iron that are 100-150 years old and still going strong. If it has well cared for it can last a long time. Storing your pans doesn’t require any special solution. Julia Child chose to store hers on a pegboard wall. Because the pans are attractive and hearty, storing them on top of your stove is a popular option.

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The drawer below your stove is a fine spot or even in the oven (just don’t preheat it while the pan is inside). How long does it take for cast iron to become non-stick? Put it in the oven and turn the oven on to 350°F and bake the oiled cast iron pan for 1 hour. Turn off the oven heat and leave the pan in the oven until it has cooled down to room temperature. Repeat this process anytime you notice that food is sticking on the pan or there is an uneven color on the inside of the pan.

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4. Adds Iron To Your Food.

Cooking in a cast-iron skillet can add significant amounts of iron to your food and into your body if you eat it. This was proven by researchers who tested 20 foods, the results of which were published in the July 1986 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. They measured the iron and moisture content of these items when raw, and after cooking in an iron skillet and a non-iron (Corning ware) dish, separately. A new, seasoned iron skillet was used, in the event, prior use might have affected iron absorption. The researchers also compared iron absorption when using a new iron skillet versus an older one. Foods that were cooked and stirred more frequently absorbed a greater amount of iron as well, probably because they came into contact with the iron more often. Hamburger, corn tortillas, cornbread, and liver with onions didn’t absorb as much iron.

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This was probably due to the shorter cooking times, and the fact that they were either turned once or not at all, resulting in less contact with the iron. Foods tested (100 g./3 oz.) Iron content – raw Iron content – cooked in Cast iron: Applesauce, unsweetened .35 mg. 7.38 mg. Spaghetti sauce 0.61 5.77, Chili with meat and beans .96 6.27, Medium white sauce .22 3.30, Scrambled egg 1.49 4.76, Spaghetti sauce with meat .71 3.58, Beef vegetable stew .66 3.4, Fried egg 1.92 3.48, Spanish rice .87 2.25, Rice, white .67 1.97, Pan broiled bacon .77 1.92, Poached egg 1.87 2.32, Fried chicken .88 1.89, Pancakes .63 1.31, Pan-fried green beans .64 1.18, Pan broiled hamburger 1.49 2.29, Fried potatoes .42 .8, Fried corn tortillas .86 1.23, Pan-fried beef liver with onions 3.1 3.87, and Baked cornbread .67 .86

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5. Use on the stove and in the oven

To get the most out of your cast iron-meat searing experience, preheat the pan over the flame so it has time to absorb the heat. As an added bonus, the cast iron is oven-safe, so you can take it from the stovetop directly into the oven. All you have to do is wipe the inside with a light coating of oil or shortening and bake the pan upside down (put a piece of heavy-duty foil on the rack below the pan to catch any excess oil) in a 400°F oven for an hour.

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Turn off the oven and leave the skillet in the oven until cool. With a cast iron pan, you can begin your recipe on the stovetop, and then move it to the oven to finish. Do not use a cast-iron pan in your microwave. Just remember – always use hot-pads, oven mitts, or potholders while moving or removing cast iron cookware on or from the stove or oven.

Easy to clean cast iron pan. Shutterstock

6. Easy to Clean

The easiest way to clean cast-iron is- Get right to it: Clean the skillet immediately after use, while it is still hot or warm. Add hot water: Wash the skillet by hand using hot water and a sponge or stiff brush. Scrub off stuck-on bits: To remove stuck-on food, scrub the pan with a paste of coarse kosher salt and water.

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Then rinse or wipe with a paper towel. Stubborn food residue may also be loosened by boiling water in the pan. Dry the skillet: Thoroughly towel dry the skillet or dry it on the stove over low heat. Cast iron cookware should be washed by hand. A dishwasher will remove the seasoning and likely cause rust.

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7. Less Expensive

Is there a difference between cheap and expensive cast iron? The biggest difference between this bargain option and a higher-end, the higher-price model is the finish: While the cheaper stuff tends to have a rough, sandpapery surface, the top-quality brands produce glossy, smooth-polished products.

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Cast iron is a mixture of iron and carbon. It is probably the least expensive material available for making cookware. Aluminum and stainless cost far more per pound of raw material. One of the reasons that the expensive skillets are expensive is that they’re made with thicker metal. Thicker metal will hold heat more evenly, which means that your food will cook evenly.

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8. Cast iron was invented in China

Cast iron was invented in China in the 5th century BC and poured into molds to make plowshares and pots as well as weapons and pagodas. Although steel was more desirable, cast iron was cheaper and thus was more commonly used for implements in ancient China, while wrought iron or steel was used for weapons. The strength of both cast iron and steel is also controversial, as some think steel is stronger than cast iron and others think that iron and steel are the same things, but the truth is that cast iron has more compressive strength, and steel is more tensile. Steel is an alloy of iron, and cast iron is a hard grey metal.

Cast-iron tea kettle. Pixabay

9. Tea Please

Cast Iron teapots have become popular in the Western tea-drinking world because they are well suited to Western brewing conventions. These metal pots were not traditionally used as we use them today. Today’s cast iron pots are modeled after traditional Japanese tetsubin, which were placed over charcoal stoves to heat water. Tetsubin are still valued by many serious tea drinkers (as they are said to improve water quality) but are also difficult to care for and use.

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Constant contact with water makes rust an eternal threat to the long-term integrity of the iron, and dramatic temperature changes can cause stress fractures in the aging, brittle metal. Cast iron teapots can withstand more knocks and are virtually indestructible, meaning they should last longer than ceramic or glass teapots. Cast iron has better heat distribution than ceramic and glass. This is believed to help during steeping by giving an even brew throughout.

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10. Cast iron cookware

Cast iron is made by melting blocks of iron and steel together in a factory. Then chemicals are added to the mixture in order to raise its carbon levels. Next, the molten metal is poured into a mold made of sand, water, and powdered clay. Pig iron is the intermediate product extracted from iron ore in a blast furnace. It is used as a raw material in steel making.

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Pig iron gets its name from the old fashioned method of casting the iron into molds arranged in sand beds so that they could be fed from a common runner. Cast iron can be made directly from the molten pig iron or by re-melting pig iron, often along with substantial quantities of iron, steel, limestone, carbon (coke) and taking various steps to remove undesirable contaminants. After melting is complete, the molten cast iron is poured into a holding furnace or ladle.

Iron sculpture. Pixabay

11. Cookware invention

Abraham Darby (1677-1717) born into an English Quaker family played an important role in the Industrial Revolution, Darby developed a method of producing pig iron in a blast furnace fuelled by coke rather than charcoal. This was a major step forward in the production of iron as a raw material for the Industrial Revolution.

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He developed the coke burning blast furnace that made it possible to produce commercial grade iron cost-effectively. His work helped launch the Industrial Revolution and contributed to the development of the iron and steel industries. Englishman Abraham Darby is credited with revolutionizing cast iron cookware; in 1707, he patented a method for casting iron into relatively thin pots and kettles, a process that made them cheaper to produce.

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12. Homey Feeling

A cast-iron skillet may seem like an old-fashioned cookware choice. But this dependable object is a must in the modern kitchen. Cast iron conducts heat beautifully, seamlessly transitions from stovetop to oven and lasts for decades. Plus, cooking with cast iron can be good for your health. Why? You Can Use Less Oil – That lovely sheen on cast-iron cookware is the sign of a well-seasoned pan, which renders it virtually nonstick.

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The health bonus, of course, is that you won’t need to use gads of oil to brown crispy potatoes or sear chicken when cooking in cast iron. It’s a Chemical-Free Alternative to Nonstick Pans. It Fortifies Your Food with Iron. A cast-iron recipe has an additional bonus: keeping the food in its cooking vessel will keep the recipe warm. For serving, be sure you place a hot pad underneath the skillet and have an oven mitt or hot pad to manage the handle.

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13. Most American households

had at least one cast-iron cooking pan, and brands such as Griswold, which began manufacturing in 1865, Wagner Ware, which began manufacturing in 1881, and Lodge Manufacturing, which entered the marketplace in 1896 as Blacklock Foundry, all competed for market share. The cast-iron skillet was first introduced into American cooking in the late 1890s. Cast-iron cookware was especially popular among homemakers during the first half of the 20th century because of its durability and ease of use. Most American households had at least one if not more than one cast-iron cooking pan.

cast iron pan. Youtube

14. Can it break?

Similar to the properties of glass, cast iron is strong but brittle; it will break before it bends. There are several ways a piece of cast iron cookware can be damaged, as noted above: chipping, cracking, warping, and pitting. The internal carbon particles create internal stress points conducive to fracture. Cast iron is harder, more brittle, and less malleable than wrought iron. It cannot be bent, stretched, or hammered into shape since its weak tensile strength means that it will fracture before it bends or distorts.

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Soaking cast iron in water is a recipe for rust. If you need to remove sticky or stubborn stuck-on food, use a nylon scrubbing brush or a pan scraper and rinse under warm water. Be sure to thoroughly dry your pan. Note: If you do accidentally leave your pan in water for too long and it develops rust, don’t panic. Most culinary authorities say it’s completely salvageable. Experts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign agree that a little bit of rust on cookware isn’t likely to harm you. (Even rust in drinking water isn’t considered a health hazard).

Bread pan. Unsplash

15. You can bake bread in it

A Dutch oven is a thick-walled cooking pot with a tight-fitting lid. Dutch ovens are usually made of seasoned cast iron; however, some Dutch ovens are instead made of cast aluminum or ceramic. Some metal varieties are enameled rather than being seasoned. The Dutch oven is essentially a large pot or kettle, usually made of cast iron, with a tight-fitting lid so the steam can’t escape.

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Dutch ovens are used for moist-cooking methods such as braising and stewing (though with the lid off, they’re also great for frying or even baking bread). A Dutch oven is a perfect vessel for baking bread that has a crispy, golden crust and tender crumb. The almost magical transformation of the dough is thanks to the searing heat and steam created in the pot while it preheats. Baking gluten-free bread has never been easier or more rewarding.

Sauteeing tomatoes in a cast iron pan. Pixabay.

16. Acidic foods

Research has shown an increased level of iron in foods cooked in cast iron cookware, especially high-acid foods that encourage the leaching of iron out of the pan, like applesauce, eggs, and tomato-based recipes. The greater the acidity of the food and the longer you cook it, the more iron is transferred. A well-seasoned skillet can withstand the acid in most foods. However, it’s a bad idea to cook tomato sauce, or any other super acidic food, in cast iron. The acid reacts with the metal and can cause some of the iron to leach out into your food.

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17. You can barbecue with it

Everyone loves a good barbecue, but research has shown that grilling meats at high heat can cause carcinogens heterocyclic amine (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to form. That is not an insignificant amount. While many grills, particularly of the gas variety, can struggle with even cooking temperatures. Cast iron’s ability to absorb and distribute heat makes it the perfect solution. Place a heavy cast-iron skillet or griddle directly over the flame and let it heat up for ten minutes. Unless you have an absolutely pristine and well-oiled grill, cast-iron is the safer choice for grilling delicate foods that are highly prone to sticking.

Can you store food in cast iron? Shutterstock

18. Storing food cast iron

As a general rule, you want to keep your cast-iron pan very dry to preserve its seasoning and prevent rust. The acids in food left in the pan will break down the seasoning, plus storing food in the pan for prolonged periods makes it more likely to impart metallic flavor. The main reasons not to store food in cast iron are: Foods, especially acidic foods, may continue to react with the iron, developing off-flavors. Moisture encourages cast iron to rust. It is not good for maintenance of your pan’s seasoning, which is part of what makes cast iron pans so desirable for cooking.

Spinach with eggs and toast. Unsplash

19. Cooks food quickly

Cast-iron heats and cooks your food evenly, you can use it in the oven or on the stove, and, if it’s properly seasoned, it works just as well (if not better) than a cheap, non-stick skillet. It takes a while to heat up but once it is hot, it stays hot and cooks food quickly. Which is a great way to keep the nutrients intact in cooked food. One of the most common causes of cast iron pans smoking is due to heat. When cast iron pans get too hot, they start smoking, especially if there is oil in them. Cast iron pans take longer to heat up but get hotter at a lower stove temperature than other types of metal.

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20. Cast iron Cauldrons

Cast-iron cauldrons and cooking pots were valued as kitchen items for their durability and their ability to retain heat evenly, thus improving the quality of cooked food. A cauldron is generally cast Iron and used to cook over an open flame. Soups and stews and casseroles are very handy to cook, as well as anything boiled. Most experts say that this first time is the only time you should use soap in your cast iron. Once you’ve washed it, rinse it thoroughly and dry it completely. Coat your cauldron with a very thin layer of cooking oil, both on the inside and out. If your cauldron has a lid, cover that too.

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21. Stir fry

A cast-iron skillet can retain just as much heat as a wok, which makes it an ideal vessel for making stir fry. A successful stir fry is crispy, and the only way you’ll end up with rice, meat, and vegetables that are that texture is if you cook them in a pan that doesn’t lose heat when you add food to it. Using a cast-iron skillet you will need less than half the oil you would with a wok. You will only need half or even one third the oil if you’re cooking stir-fry. They can stand very high heat (most of them can be heated up to 500 degrees F, while most stir-fried dishes require 400 F heat or less). Cooking a stir-fry is a great way to lose weight without having to suffer through the typical boring, tasteless, low-fat meals. My Stir-fry meal recipes are quick and easy to prepare, delicious, and nutritious. Especially if you serve stir-fried meals with brown rice.

cast iron pan. Unsplash.

22. Cast iron cleaning

Clean cast-iron skillet after every use. Wipe the interior surface of the still-warm skillet with paper towels to remove any excess food and oil. Rinse under hot running water, scrubbing with nonmetal brush or nonabrasive scrub pad to remove any traces of food. (Use a small amount of soap if you like; rinse well.) Avoid using the dishwasher, soap, or steel wool, as these may strip the pan’s seasoning. Scrub off stuck-on bits: To remove stuck-on food, scrub the pan with a paste of coarse kosher salt and water. Then rinse or wipe with a paper towel. Stubborn food residue may also be loosened by boiling water in the pan.

Breakfast while camping. Shutterstock

23. Inside and outside

We all know cast-iron is great for cooking on the stovetop and in the oven, but your hardest-working pan is just as useful outside of the kitchen. Yes, what you’re looking at in that photo is a cast iron skillet set right on a grill. Cast iron works on the grill just like it does on your kitchen’s stovetop. Place it directly on your grill’s grates and let it get ripping hot. Cast iron pans were designed for cooking over an open fire, so it only makes sense that we should throw them on the grill from time to time too. The final reason to stick a skillet right on the coals is to turn your cast iron skillet into a smoker! Put soaked wood chips into a cast iron skillet and place them right on the charcoal. The cast iron will slowly burn the wood, making your grill an inexpensive and effective smoker.

Fried chicken. Unsplash

24. Not just about frying

A better method of frying, which uses less oil, is to use a large cast-iron skillet. The Amateur Gourmet explains: My theory is that, because it’s cast iron, it maintains the heat better than any large vessel (like a Dutch oven) can at home. It better replicates a deep fryer at a restaurant. Since it has the ability to retain heat also lends itself to healthy cooking, says Kerri-Ann Jennings, a Vermont-based registered dietitian, and nutrition coach.

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That includes water-based methods such as braising and poaching as well as quick broiling and grilling, which don’t require much oil. Once a cast-iron pan is hot, it will stay that way much more effectively than stainless steel. Just make sure to preheat it well in advance, as it tends to get hot spots if you don’t. You’ll end up consuming some extra iron when you cook with cast iron in general. Just don’t depend on your pan to fulfill all your nutritional needs.”You’re still going to need to eat leafy greens and beans and meat,” says Jennings.

Cast iron in the kitchen. Shutterstock

25. In summary

Cast iron is great for a lot of reasons. Cast iron is cheap, it can and will last a lifetime and get better with age, and you can safely throw it into a super hot oven. All that heavy iron also means that these pans retain heat really well, so they excel in tasks like searing a thick and juicy steak. It has good casting properties, high machinability, good wear resistance as well as good vibration damping. Cast iron can withstand greater load and has a good degree of resistance against corrosion. However, it has low tensile strength and elongation properties. Cast iron is a very dense metal, making it nearly impervious to damage and the king of holding on to heat.

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Even heating means that meats brown better and vegetables cook faster without having to constantly manage the heat source or rotate pans in the oven. A cast-iron skillet may seem like an old-fashioned cookware choice. But this dependable object is a must in the modern kitchen. Cast iron conducts heat beautifully, seamlessly transitions from stovetop to oven and lasts for decades. Plus, cooking with cast iron can be good for your health. You can avoid nasty, hard-to-pronounce chemicals. One,y in particular, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, has been deemed “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

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