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A recent report discusses how the popularity of traditional cookware is increasing over the past few years. Chefs have long loved cast iron, but it is making its way back to household kitchens as health concerns have grown over other non-stick cooking materials.
While this fascination with cast iron may be new-found for many, Indian kitchens have traditionally used utensils made of iron, and other natural materials such as wood, stone, and clay. People are always talking about how recipes handed down by our grandmothers don't quite taste the same when we cook them in 'modern' cookware. In any case, there seems to be a widespread trend to return to traditional cast iron cookware, as users feel the cookware imparts a special taste to the food, retains its nutritive properties better, and even adds some health benefits.
But first, let's understand cast iron cookware a little better.
Cast iron is a group of iron–carbon alloys with a carbon content more than 2%. It also contains different quantities of silicon, manganese, sulphur, and phosphorus. Asian countries like India, Japan, China, and Korea have a history of using cast iron utensils to cook their food since really ancient times.
Cast iron is not to be confused with carbon steel which is also an iron alloy offering almost all the benefits of cast iron. They differ from each other depending on the amount of carbon present and the other elements added to the alloy. The main difference between cast iron and carbon steel is their carbon content. Cast iron contains 2-4% of carbon whereas carbon steel contains up to 1% of carbon.
Cast iron is more brittle due to the presence of more carbon, is less ductile and has a relatively low melting point. Carbon steel on the other hand, is stronger than cast iron, more ductile and has a relatively high melting point.
Now, let’s discuss four advantages and disadvantages of cast iron cookware.
Cast iron is proven to release iron into your food. Traditionally, it was advised for families as women, vegetarian family members and children suffer from iron deficiency.
Well cared for cast iron can last for decades. It is known to last a lifetime, and some families pass it down the generations.
A well- seasoned cast iron tawa or Frypan becomes non-stick, naturally. This offers a huge advantage as you can reduce the amount of oil or fat you need to use for cooking.
Cast iron has very high volumetric heat capacity which means that once it gets hot, it stays hot. This makes cast iron the ideal material for high-heat applications like searing steak.
This heat retention allows for slow cooking of food which helps retain nutrients and preserve the succulence of meat and vegetables. The chances of burning food are lower too.
Compared to aluminium or stainless steel cookware, cast iron can be really heavy. This can be a problem for some cooks, especially those who have issues with muscle and grip strength. This also becomes a burden for backpackers and campers, although cast iron functions so well over open fires or flame stoves.
What’s more, cast iron is really strong, so liable to damage floor tiles if you drop it, or crack ceramic/glass cook tops if you put it down hard.
When cooking acidic foods such as tomato sauce, cast iron reacts to acid, turning the food colour darker and even altering the taste. Triply cookware made by Stahl and others is a safer, more versatile bet if you want to cook all kinds of food in the same cookware. There is no leaching of any metals, minerals, or chemicals with Triply.
Seasoning refers to the process of smoothing a cast iron surface by filling its pores with grease. This ensures that it has a non-stick surface. Without seasoning, food sticks to the pan and creates a mess that is hard to clean. In fact, it is recommended to re-season your cast iron cookware occasionally to maintain the surface. This often seems like too much work so many people avoid cast iron.
If you prefer cookware that requires no maintenance, it's probably better to go for something like Triply stainless steel which needs little maintenance, and provides a complete, hassle-free, and healthy cooking experience while enhancing your food quality.
Cast iron pans are usually cast from a single piece of metal, and although they take longer to heat, can get really hot. So, when cooking and especially baking, the handles get really hot. That can be a problem if you accidentally grab the handle with your bare hands! Users need to be aware and attentive about using a dish towel or oven mitt to lift the cast iron pan.
Kitchens today are usually equipped with a variety of cookware to handle different dishes and types of food. Cast iron cookware definitely has its advantages - that's why our grandmothers used it all their lives! And why it is making a comeback!
But in today's fast-paced world, where time and space are scarce, our pots and pans need to be versatile, ergonomic, safe and easy-to-maintain. While your cast iron tawa may be the best for crispy dosas and other traditional dishes, it's worth augmenting your collection of utensils with some modern innovations as well. (For this, the Stahl website is definitely worth a look-see.)