Ever since we realized the dangers of non-stick cookware, we ditched them for safer alternatives. Out of the healthier alternatives of cookware, cast iron ranks the highest. But, they need to be maintained well. Though it is not a hassle if you do it the right way, many people are afraid to take the plunge. They would rather opt for something easier and maintenance-free like 3-ply stainless steel. These options are mostly made of 304-grade stainless steel which contains 18% chromium and 8% nickel.
But researches have proven that stainless steel cookware leach chromium and nickel, especially when you cook acidic food in it. This happens especially so with brand new cookware which are unused.
Chromium is an essential trace element, which our body needs in limited quantity. Nickel, however, does not have any role in our metabolism. Its consumption above a certain level could lead to adverse skin reactions. So, it is definitely a cause of concern making you wonder whether stainless steel are indeed safe?
Though these metals leach from stainless steel cookware, after about 6-10 cooking cycles, the quantity transferred to the food reduces drastically. In fact, it lies below the permissible levels recommended by WHO.
But, considering that it is a health scare, many consumers prefer to opt for nickel-free stainless steel. Is it really worth it? Let us explore.
Replacing Nickel In Stainless Steel Cookware
Nickel improves the stability and strength of stainless steel cookware. It also enhances corrosion resistance. So manufacturers have to add other elements that can compensate for these qualities that Nickel imparts.
As per researches, adding high quantities of chromium, molybdenum and nitrogen into alloy can compensate for Nickel. All these elements are considered safe for human beings too. In fact, nickel-free stainless steel is predominantly used in surgical and medical applications.
So, overall, there is no doubt that nickel-free stainless steel is safer than 304-grade options.
But should we really pay a premium for them?
To Nickel Or Not?
It is a fact that nickel can cause allergic reactions to many. There is an imminent need to have nickel-free stainless steel in medical applications because steel rods inserted in the body reacts with the fluids and have a higher possibility of causing adverse reactions. But do we need nickel-free cookware?
Unfortunately, we don’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. If you have a known allergy to nickel, then, by all means, avoid it and opt for nickel-free stainless steel or better yet, cast iron, soapstone or clay cookware. Right now, in India, Meyer Select Range is the only nickel-free stainless steel option available online. Note that Meyer’s other ranges like Trivantage and Kitchen Hacks are not nickel-free.
Related reading: 5 Ply Stainless Steel Cookware in India: Is It Worth It?
But, if you don’t have any such health conditions, you probably don’t have to worry much. Though 304-grade stainless steel leaches nickel, it happens significantly only if you cook acidic food in it and during the first few cooking cycles. So, avoid cooking tomato or tamarind based food in stainless steel, especially for the first 10 cooking cycles.
When you get new stainless steel cookware, boil water for 10-15 minutes and clean it thoroughly so that any residue if at all is completely eliminated.
Also, rather than using stainless steel exclusively, have a mix of various materials so that the ill effects, if any, evens out.
To conclude, nickel-free stainless steel cookware which cost about 10-20% more than regular triply cookware is a necessity for those who are allergic to nickel. Else, using regular triply cookware adopting the right practices mentioned above is sufficient to keep you safe.