Earlier this week, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division issued a warning statement about the currently popular Moscow mule: The traditional copper mug that it’s served in, the Division warned, could actually be poisoning consumers. This is hardly an issue specific to alcoholic drinks. As many chefs know, you need to be careful what kind of foods you cook in certain types of cookware.
Thought it was safe to simmer a tomato sauce in your aluminum pan? Think again.
Reactive vs. Nonreactive Cookware
The term “reactive” refers to materials that react with other materials when combined. When it comes to cookware, this has ramifications. In the case of the copper mule mugs, for example, copper reacts with the acids in a mule beverage, causing the copper to leach into the drink.
This doesn’t mean copper mugs and cookware are toxic — they are perfectly safe when used with certain food and beverages. It just means you can’t combine them with some substances.
Reactive metals often used in cookware are iron (yes, even cast iron), copper, aluminum and non-stainless steel. Non-reactive cookware types include ceramics and stainless steel.
Cast iron is often thought of as a safe type of dish, and for the most part, it is. However, it is considered reactive because the iron does leach into the food you consume. If you’re purposely trying to get more iron into your diet, this may be perfectly fine. But the cause for concern with some metals, such as copper, is that this leaching over time can lead to toxicity, which can include vomiting, jaundice and even liver failure.
The Role of pH
When it comes to copper, the role of pH — also known as the acidity — of the food or beverage in question plays a major role. When it comes to Moscow mules, they are acidic. As such, when combined with copper, they react.
This is why many seasoned chefs, according to the Washington Post, don’t cook tomato sauces and other acidic foods in copper pots and pans. Copper is a metal that’s great for conducting heat, but it should only be used with non-acidic foods.
What Kind of Cookware to Choose
So, with all this in mind, what cookware should you choose? First off, though it represents an entire issue entirely, steer clear of non-stick cookware (with the exception of cookware that uses only ceramics to avoid sticking), as it is known to contain toxic chemicals.
But back to the issue of reactive versus nonreactive cookware. You certainly can use iron and copper cookware, but in the case of copper, be sure to only use it with non-acidic recipes.
If you want to avoid metals leaching into your foods altogether, stick with stainless steel or ceramic cookware.