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Cooking with aluminum . . . bad?


Starkman
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Hello all,

I was wondering what the updated information out there is about cooking with (uncoated) aluminum. There was the theory that aluminum has been found to cause or increase alzheimer's disease. It's also been said that aluminum is toxic to the body (too much of it, at least).

If you do cook with aluminum, do you use coated or straight aluminum?

Thanks,

Starkman

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Frm a health standpoint, there is nothing wrong with cooking with aluminum. The supposed connection to Alzheimer's has been exhaustively debunked. A few examples:

". . . the current consensus is that aluminum does not play a major role in the development of Alzheimer's disease . . ." - Leonard Berg, professor of neurology at the Washington University School of Medicine and former director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center

". . . if aluminum plays a role it is most probably a secondary one. The reasoning for this position is based on the fact that aluminum is one of the most abundant and pervasive elements. It is found everywhere . . ." - Zaven S. Khachaturian, director of the Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute

". . . When the tissue was processed using more sophisticated analytical methods, or when more accurate measures of aluminum content in the Alzheimer's-diseased brain were used, no excess aluminum was found. In addition, studies of the total amount of aluminum in the body of patients with Alzheimer's Disease show no increase in aluminum concentrations as compared to healthy individuals.  In my opinion, the supposed relation between aluminum and Alzheimer's Disease is a simple case of neuromythology." - Charles DeCarli, director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center at the University of Kansas Medical Center

Think about it: aluminum is the third most abundant element in the earth's crust!

As for cooking . . . plenty of restaurants cook on raw aluminum. It's cheap and it has good thermal properties. Most of the time, depending on what you're cooking, there is nothing wrong with using a raw aluminum cooking surface. The only problem is that aluminum is highy reactive, and cooking certain foods on raw aluminum (especially acidic foods) can cause off-flavors. This reduces the versatility of the cookware.

Other than raw aluminum, there is anodized aluminum, which is aluminum that has been treated with an electrolytic process to create a harder surface that is still somewhat reactive, but significantly less so than untreated aluminum. Calphalon is the most widely known example. The problems with anodized aluminum, in my opinion, are that it is very difficult to keep clean, it is fairly expensive, it's soft, and like all unclad aluminum, it has a tendency to warp -- especially at high heat.

Beyond that, you get into clad aluminum and whatnot. But, in these cases, you are using the aluminum only for its (excellent) thermal properties -- the food never actually contacts the aluminum, but rather contacts the cladding.

All this and more in my cookware class: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=25717

--

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The real risk of aluminum is largely unproven at this point, but we ingest aluminum everywhere in our everyday lives; its in municipal water supplies, aspirins, antiperspirants, vaccines, medication, as well as other consumables. The use of aluminum cookware is likely a very small percentage of our aluminum intake.

Even if you used non-stick coating then you also expose yourself to potentially toxic polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is a carcinogen. I've also heard a counter argument to that where if you don't use non-stick coating you have to use more butter or oils to lubricate the surface hence increasing health risks such as heart disease- and now potentially the risk of Alzheimer due to aluminum. Either way you look at it, until there is clear evidence one way or the other I would use what gives you the best results.

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. . . .

Even if you used non-stick coating then you also expose yourself to potentially toxic polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is a carcinogen. 

. . . .

This isn't true. The association with cancer is to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used to produce PTFE. PFOA is a carcinogen, but is scacely traceable in the finished product, if at all. The EPA says:

Consumer products made with fluoropolymers include non-stick cookware, and breathable, all-weather clothing. These products are not PFOA, however. The information that EPA has available does not indicate that the routine use of household products poses a concern. EPA does not have any indication that the public is being exposed to PFOA through the use of Teflon®-coated or other trademarked nonstick cookware.  Teflon® and other trademarked products are not PFOA. At the present time, EPA does not believe there is any reason for consumers to stop using any products because of concerns about PFOA.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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. . . .

Even if you used non-stick coating then you also expose yourself to potentially toxic polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), which is a carcinogen. 

. . . .

This isn't true. The association with cancer is to perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is used to produce PTFE. PFOA is a carcinogen, but is scacely traceable in the finished product, if at all. The EPA says:

Consumer products made with fluoropolymers include non-stick cookware, and breathable, all-weather clothing. These products are not PFOA, however. The information that EPA has available does not indicate that the routine use of household products poses a concern. EPA does not have any indication that the public is being exposed to PFOA through the use of Teflon®-coated or other trademarked nonstick cookware.  Teflon® and other trademarked products are not PFOA. At the present time, EPA does not believe there is any reason for consumers to stop using any products because of concerns about PFOA.

:smile: Your comment illustrates my point, because it wasn't really meant to be true; being that the argument of use of extra oil used cookware that isn't non-stick, as well as the link between aluminum to Alzheimer is also equally dubious as concerns of PTFE. My point being, that there are vague worries and concerns for both sides of the argument; perhaps these concerns can be extrapolated further to many or all food products (fats, carbs, MSG, and the delicious burnt crust on meats). So to quote myself, "until there is clear evidence one way or the other I would use what gives you the best results. "

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I would say that there is more than convincing "proof" (to the extent one can prove a negative) that neither the use of raw aluminum cookware nor PTFE-coated cookware creates any meaningful health risk.

--

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Now, this is strictly from a Chef's point of view, and I lay no claim to any health knowledge.

Stay away from the stuff!!!!

Why?

As other posters pointed out there is straight aluminum and anodized aluminum, with anodized being very expensive and in many cases more expensive than good quality s/s cookware with a "sandwich" (laminated discs of aluminum and s/s) bottom

Straight aluminum I hate with a passion. To date I have not seen a staight aluminum pot or pan with a "sandwich" bottom, and becasue of the lack of one, it warps--very quickly and very badly. For most commercial kitchens this isn't much of an issue since virtually all N. American commercial kitchens have gas ranges, and a warped pot or pan with a pronounced "belly" or warped bottom can still function fairly well. For those with an electric range, it is very--uh--"challanging" to cook with a warped pot/pan.

I hate them becasue the handles are invariably riveted on. The rivets then invariably work themselves loose, and then you have a pot/pan with a built-in "overflow protection devices", which means that any liquids above the rivet line will leak out and dribble all over the range. (or your hands as you saute) In my carreer I must have peened over the rivets on thousands of aluminum saute pans over a cement filled post in the parking lot with a meat hammer--and then inverted the stupid thing and pound flat the "belly" so the pot/pan can actually sit on the burner grate.....

And I hate, really, really, REALLY hate them becasue untreated aluminum oxidizes. Which means that whatever the pot/pan touches will turn black from oxidization: Hands, countertops, cupboard shelves. Certain soaps and detergents can aggravate this oxidation, so watch out what you wash the pot/pan with.

I hate them becasue if you have any white/cream liquids in them and stir with a metal whisk or spoon, your liquid will turn grey/black. Califlower and fennel tend to turn grey too when cooked in liquid in an aluminum pot/pan

I hate them because they pit far worse and far quicker than most other materials. Yes, s/s and even enameled ware will pit if you add undissolved salt to a liquid and then apply heat--some kind of a chemical reaction-don't know what it is or what it's called, but aluminum pits far, far quicker than any other material.

Well, I did say I hated the stuff, didn't I?.......

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I hate them becasue the handles are invariably riveted on.  The rivets then invariably work themselves loose, and then you have a pot/pan with a built-in "overflow protection devices", which means that any liquids above the rivet line will leak out and dribble all over the range.

I think the issue here is cheap-ass pans, not rivets in general. Some of the best pans made have riveted handles (there are restaurants in Europe using copper pans w/ rivited iron handles that are decades old). I have cookware that I've been using since 1991 that has never had a rivet issue.

But I agree with you on the warping and the oxidation. Warping is an issue on any non-sandwiched aluminum pan. You can warp the bejeezus out of anodized cookware (I've had to straighten mine with a hammer a few times).

I do have a 20qt, plain aluminum stock pot. No problems at all with it. Cheap, performs well, and isn't used with highly acid ingredients for the kinds of high heat cooking that causes warping.

Notes from the underbelly

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]

I think the issue here is cheap-ass pans, not rivets in general. Some of the best pans made have riveted handles (there are restaurants in Europe using copper pans w/ rivited iron handles that are decades old). I have cookware that I've been using since 1991 that has never had a rivet issue.

While this is true in many high quality pans, (to which I attest to as well, since I have a very nice laminated copper- s/s saute pan with a riveted on cast iron handle and after 10 years is still rock-solid) aluminum cookware invariably features aluminum rivets, and aluminum rivets are fairly soft and prone to fatigueing quickly. Manufacturers are loathe to use dis-similiar metal rivets on almunimum cookware, and even though welding aluminum is commonly ued in many other applications, I have yet to see an aluminum manufacturer weld handles on or use a combination of spot welding and rivets

IMHO aluminum only has three virtues: Good heat conductivity, is light, (this becomes very advantagous with large pots), and it's fairly cheap. The bad virtues I have listed above.

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