I originally started this as a section in a blog post on kitchens as part of my series on Sustainable Ethical Interiors but it just grew legs and was in danger of taking of the post so I gave it a post all of its own. Also as you’ll find out I discovered that sustainable conflicts with toxin-free in this post and so the title Sustainable Ethical Kitchens wouldn’t really have been apt. Read on to find out the best choices in relation to toxin-free minimal kitchenware
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Cookware & Bakeware
I have researched and written about the possible health risks of using non-stick and silicone cookware in my blog post on zero waste cooking and thought I was quite well-informed about this issue until I came across a very well researched and supported article from the US on the Safe Non-toxic Brands of Cookware.
This article is quite an eye-opener and challenges my previously held view on what constitute toxin-free, safe cookware, including some staples well-loved by the zero waste community, like cast iron and stainless steel. It’s well worth reading the article in full, but if you’re short on time here is a summary of what to avoid.
- any non-stick cookware
- any aluminium cookware – uncoated, coated or enamelled
- ceramic coated cookware like Le Creuset
- glazed stoneware, porcelain ware
- clay-based cookware without heavy metal testing
- unlined copper cookware
- silicone cookware
Their list of what to buy comes with a caveat. It would seem that all cookware – except glassware – has the potential to leach metals into your food and so the authors of the article suggest you rotate your cookware to limit your exposure to any particular toxin. Here is what they propose you buy
- uncoated cast iron
- uncoated glass cookware – see section below on lead
- stainless steel lined copperware
- uncoated high-quality stainless steel pans
- uncoated carbon steel pans (I’ve added this one in, because I can’t see why it wouldn’t be included)
The article lists brands that have shown themselves to be safe through testing. Some of the brands may not be available in Ireland but I did recognise a few including Fissler, All-Clad, Cuisineart, Le Crueset (stainess steel range), Lagoustina, Viking professional and Pyrex. There was one brand of ceramic cookware that this blogger recommends, Xtrema by Ceramcor, saying that it passes the stringent CA Prop 65 leach testing.
I should mention that the writer of the article I link to uses affiliate links for any recommendations on her articles so so bear that in mind when making a purchasing decision. For the record I don’t use affiliate links, nor do I receive payments from brands, as I believe it would affect my credibility. If you like the idea of a blogger supported by readers rather than brands please consider supporting me with a wee monthly donation on Patreon.
I often see a Belgium brand of ceramic coated cookware called Green Pan being mentioned in the Zero Waste Ireland Facebook group. According to the company’s website their pans don’t contain the harmful chemicals in traditional non-stick pans and the company uses upcycled stainless steel and aluminium where possible. The author of the article I link at the top of this post says that all ceramic coated cookware should be avoided because of nano-particles in the coatings leaching into food and they list Greenpan as one of the brands to avoid. I’ve also heard a few owners of Green Pans saying that the coating on them have started to flake around the sides, which is surprising given that their pans come with a lifetime warranty. Green Pan can be bought in Ireland in Debenhams.
I’ve found that most bakeware in Ireland is either non-stick or aluminium. I have been hunting down stainless steel bakeware in Ireland for 2 years with no luck. If you want to buy stainless steel items you’re going to have to go online to do it.
Whatever the type of cookware you opt for I suggest you avoid cookware with plastic or silicone handles. I find that these break over time making the piece unusable. I also find that handles joined to the pot can break over time and that handles that are integral to the pot last longer. That said my Fissler pots are jointed and they’re solid as a rock after 20 years of use, proving that quality lasts and is worth the investment.
The website Buy Me Once is a great resource for finding durable, long-lasting goods. If I need to buy new I visit catering supply company Sweeney O’Rourke on Pearse St in Dublin 2. They’re so friendly and their stuff is well priced, and it’s free parking outside 10-12pm Mon to Sat.
If you own a cast iron pan or here’s a great post on how to care for a cast iron pan by the Zero Waste Chef and thankfully uncoated cast iron pans are infinitely recyclable so just place them in the metal bin at your recycling centre at the end of their lives. As I mentioned above we’re told to be careful of cooking in cast iron pans because metal in the pans leech into the food, particularly acidic food like tomato sauces. Interestingly on a vegan-friendly website I was on recently they advocated cooking in cast iron pots specifically to input more iron into your food!
Carbon steel also contains a high percentage of iron. If you have one of these pans here’s a great video on how to season a carbon steel pan
Some people complain of having food stick to their stainless steel pan. The best way to avoid sticking when cooking with stainless steel is to thoroughly preheat the pan before adding any ingredients. Preheating will also help prevent hot or cold spots on the pan and will allow food to cook more evenly. The advice is to wait until 1/8 teaspoon of water forms a perfect bubble and glides around the pan before adding oil and your food. (Source: Our Savory Life) I’ve been using this method for about 6 months now and it really does work. You can also seasoned a stainless steel pan and here’s a blog post on how to season a stainless steel pan to make it non-stick. Like cast iron stainless steel is infinitely recyclable at the end of their life, just remove any plastic handles before placing in the metal bin at your recycling centre.
Unfortunately the upshot of this post is that the healthiest option isn’t always the most sustainable. Oven-proof glassware (aka borosilicate glass) may pose the least risk to health but it’s brittle, easy to break and contrary to what most people expect is not recyclable and so must be disposed of in the black bin (landfill / incineration) bin. Zero Waste 0, Healthy Living 1
What you need to buy for your kitchen depends on what you like to cook. If you bake a lot you’re going to need more bakeware than if you don’t. My recommendation for the cookware to buy for your kitchen is as follows;
- 3 uncoated stainlesss steel pots of different sizes with lids – I love my Fissler ones
- 1 uncoated stainless steel steamer insert to fit pots above
- 1 uncoated stainless steel stock pot for boiling ham, making stock, lots of soup and boiling tea towels! – I’ve a Judge one that’s lasting very well.
- 1 uncoated steel wok – we use this for stir fries and for things that need frying before a sauce is added. We got ours in an Asian Supermarket and it comes with a wooden handle.
- 1 uncoated cast iron skillet – for frying and baking bread in
- 1 uncoated stainless steel frying pan – I’ve been using this one from IKEA for approx 3 years now.
- 2 uncoated stainless steel or glass baking sheets / trays
- 2 uncoated stainless steel or glass circular pizza trays
- 1 large lidded uncoated stainless steel or glass roasting tray – you can use this for roasting and for casseroles. Great way to avoid tinfoil when roasting meat.
- 2 uncoated stainless steel or glass round cake tins – for traditional Victorian sponges and birthday cakes
- 1 uncoated stainless steel cupcake / bun / fairy cake tray
- 1 uncoated stainless steel or glass flan tray
- 1 uncoated stainless steel or glass loaf tin – for loaf cakes and small loafs of bread
- 1 uncoated stainless steel or glass rectangular cake tray – for tray bakes like brownies and flapjacks, can also be used for lasagne and moussaka too
Anecdotally I had heard that bacteria was less likely to survive on wooden chopping boards than plastic chopping boards, which was music to my ears of course. But me being me I’m not happy to accept anecdotal evidence so I went in search of some studies on the matter. All is all it would appear that the jury is out on this question. Some studies found bacteria survived longer on wooden boards, some found it lasts longer on plastic. The researchers that found bacteria survived longer on plastic argued that they tested used cutting boards, both plastic and wooden in order simulate the home environment, whereas the tests that found plastic cutting boards better used new boards, which would have less scratches on them. Seeing as it’s not a clear-cut (pardon the pun) issue I’m happy to continue to use the wooden chopping boards I’ve had for over 20 years. If you’d like to read more on the which is best? wood or plastic chopping boards click here.
There are lots and lots of companies offering the beautiful chopping boards. When considering who to buy from aim to buy from companies that use Irish wood or wood from certified sustainable forests. You also want something that is only finished with natural edible oils. Here are a companies in Ireland and Scotland to consider;
Caulfield Country Boards operate on the basis of minimising waste, even using the offcuts of their wine racks to make egg cups! They minimise packaging and recycle as much as possible. They source their timber from sustainable forests in Ireland and beyond, although not all are certified by the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) or Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC). Everything is handmade and sawdust and chippings are used in their workshop’s heating system. They’re located in Co Meath but available throughout the country
Ballyshane handmake their boards from locally sourced Irish Hardwoods. They’re made in Carlow but available throughout the country.
Bunbury in Carlow are part of the Lisvanagh Timber Project. Some of their products are created from timber that can be more than century old, and which is sourced mainly from Lisnavagh Estate in Ireland or other historic and sustainably-managed Irish woodland. Each product comes with a number that allows you to find out exactly which tree it was made from. The Lisvanagh Timber Project ensures that any trees that fall are sustainable replaced with native trees on its 200 acres of woodland. Also pieces of timber left over from their crafting process are used as firewood logs, passed on to schools and other places for woodwork projects, or turned into chippings for use in their heating system.
Fruitful Woods in Edinburgh. I wasn’t intending on including makers outside of Ireland but i love the social development aspect of this organisation. They make homeware items from sustainably sourced Scottish elm, which is coppiced for the local council as a therapeutic forestry management programme. Each item is made in a nurturing environment designed to restore self-esteem and tech skills to people recovering from mental health illnesses. They’re goods are available to buy from Aerende and Edge & Company
I would recommend buying the following sizes
- large chopping board with juice groove – ideal for carving meat but useful for juicy fruit too
- large chopping board for veg and bread
- 2 small chopping board for fruit, veg and meat
I don’t use a wooden chopping board for fish because I don’t want to risk it getting smelly. Instead I use scissors to cut up the fish or a knife on a ceramic plate.
Utensil-wise I’d recommend aiming for single-piece stainless steel versions. I say single-piece because there is less likelihood of bits breaking off and dirt to get trapped in grooves. They don’t have to break the bank either and I’ve found some great ones in charity shops.
Where stainless steel is not suitable aim to use well made wooden utensils made from timber sourced from sustainable forests (FSC certified).
If you are considering bamboo utensils be careful. A lot of bamboo utensils are simply bamboo pieces or fibre bonded together with plastic and often coated with plastic, making them non-biodegradable and possibly hazardous to your health. The only brand of bamboo utensils I would buy is Bambu. It is the only certified brand of organic bamboo utensils and use only natural certified organic oil to finish their products. If you’re not sure why that’s important read the section on organic farming in my post on Sustainable Ethical Groceries. Bambu have also found ways to do away with the need for glues and lacquers in most of their products. Apart from the beeswax in their finishing oil their products are vegan and they work to minimise packaging as much as possible, using recycled or sustainably sourced paper and low-impact vegetable based inks in lieu of plastic wherever possible. Their kids range has been shown to be free of BPA and phalates in independent tests. Bambu products are easily found in health and zero waste stores in Ireland.
You’d be surprised how few utensils you need. I’d suggest
- wooden spoon/s
- wooden spatula/s
- stainless steel spatula- flat or angled
- stainless steel ladle
- stainless steel slotted spoon – large
- stainless steel spoon – large
- stainless steel tongs (I adore mine and use it every day)
- bamboo or silicone scraper for cleaning out the inside of bowls – I know a bamboo scraper is longer lasting and more sustainable but I think a silicone one cleans the bowl better.
- good quality non-serated knife with integral handle. I own a few Le Creuset knifes with phenolic handles, which have lasted really well.
- serated bread knife
- knife sharpener
- stainless steel veg peeler
- Stainless Steel grater – I like the flat kind cause they’re easier to clean. Buy a good quality one as the inexpensive ones don’t grate as well. You’ll need a fine, medium and coarse grating option. You can find some with all three on them but make sure the grating plane is large enough to be useful. If not buy separate graters for the different gauges.
- metal skewers – great for homemade kebabs and for testing if cakes are cooked.
- potato masher – if you like mashed potato
- kitchen scissors – invest in a really good quality one, it’ll last far longer
- pizza wheel – better than knifes for cutting pizza and homemade pasta
- hand whisk – buy one that easy to clean and doesn’t have any nooks and crannies for food to get lodged in
- bottle opener / corkscrew.
- pastry brush – silicone brushes are okay for meat marinades but I think only bristles and wood works properly on pastry
- metal measuring cups and metal measuring spoons
- weighing scales – one that allows you to use your own bowl
- stainless steel metal sieve
- stainless steel strainer – I think the stainless steel ones are best and last the longest.
- silicone / metal / natural cloth pot stand / trivet
- stainless steel or glass mixing bowls
- measuring jug. One with the measurements on the inside is really handy.
- fruit juicer – acid reacts to a lot of metals of glass or plastic ones are best. I prefer the glass ones a they’re the healthier option and it’s the one I use.
- pestel and mortar – you’ll need this if you want to cook from scratch. Get the heaviest one you can find and dark colours show stains less. Mine is made from stone.
As I’ve mentioned above charity shops can be a great source of stainless steel utensils, and for new I like catering supply company Sweeney O’Rourke on Pearse St in Dublin 2.
A lot of us are still using plastic Tupperware to store food but research in 2008 found that BPA in plastic was released 55 times more rapidly after being exposed to hot water. Eek! And if you’re thinking that BPA-free containers are the solution researchers found that some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.
Again health conflicts with sustainability but I’ve decided not to bin my plastic tupperware until they reach the end of their life. Instead I’ll restrict their use to carrying food home from the shops, and then into glass jars and containers in the cupboards and fridge. When my plastic tupperware runs out I’ll replace them with high quality metal ones because they’re the most durable and lightest alternative to plastic and are fully recyclable. Now knowing that metal containers can leach metals into our food I’ll be sure to swap food bought in it into glass storage containers when I get home. I’ve bought metal lunch boxes made by Made or Slice of Green, which are lasting very well and would be two I’d recommend. (PS – I don’t accept payment from brands so this is all my own opinion)
The glass containers I’ve bought in the past have been from IKEA and by Pyrex. Both work well but IKEA change the shape of their containers as they change supplier which means that (annoyingly) you can’t buy a replacement lid or bottom for older containers if you happen to break one. Pyrex are more standardised and a better long-term investment, although I find their stretchy lids tear after time and you can’t buy replacements separately. Kilner also do a range of glass storage containers but it’s the same issue with lids. You can buy Kilner containers in Arnotts, Kitchen Whisk and Stock Design in Dublin city centre, Skerries Hardware in Co Dublin, The Orchard Garden Centre in Co Kildare and Johnstown Garden Centre in Co Kildare.
As I mentioned above the glass used in oven-safe glass containers is not recyclable and should be put in the black bin (landfill or incineration) at the end of its life.
Another great – and free – option for food storage are jars. I use the large ones you get pickles in for soups and leftovers and small ones for egg whites, lemon zest, and pretty much everything really. I’ve been using jars in the freezer for 2 years now and only every had one breakage and that was when I didn’t leave a gap at the top for the liquid to expand into. The added advantage of jars is that they’re fully recyclable if you chip or break one and you can buy replacement lids in kitchen supply stores.
How many storage containers is really a case of how long a piece of string is. I’d advise you to buy less than you think you need initially and then add to your collection as and when you require.
I’m not going to dwell too long on the issue of kitchen appliances because they’re so subjective, what suits me might not suit you. All I’ll say is to buy less than equipment than you think you need, buy something with the longest warranty, that can have parts replaced and has a repair centre in Ireland. That’s the best way to ensure its made to last. Here’s a list of the kitchen appliances that I use regularly in my kitchen;
- Kettle – Some people argue that electric kettles are inefficient but after reading lots of articles, including this one and this one, on the most energy-efficient and sustainable way to boil water – yes I am that nerdy – there doesn’t appear to be one absolute answer. So for convenience sake I’m going to stick with the electric kettle. One tip for saving water and energy is to either buy an insulated kettle that keeps water hot for 4 hours or pour water from your regular kettle into a thermos when you boil it. Both prevent you having to reboil the kettle every time you want a cup of tea.
- Toaster – much more efficient, and convenient, than sticking on the grill if you like toasted bread.
- Hand / Stick Blender & Whisk – go for something with a strong motor, it’ll last much longer. Mine has a chopping attachments that is great for chopping veg finely for curry pastes.
- Stand Mixer – this is good for things that need mixing for longer than your arms could hold a hand mixer, like buttercream or meringue. Choose something with a glass or stainless steel mixing bowl as these won’t get stained and scraped like the plastic bowls do.
I have been tempted to buy a slow cooker, airfryer and pressure cooker in the past but I did a bit of research and decided against both purchases. Firstly slow cookers (crock pots) aren’t any more energy efficient than traditional ovens and preparing a meal in the morning to have that evening just doesn’t suit our current lifestyle. It’s the same with actifryers, they pretty much use the same amount of energy as a traditional oven. The pressure cooker was of interest for meat based stews but now that we’re eating less meat and hoping to eat even less in the future it seems a waste to buy one.
I’m not a fan of smoothies or juices but if you are then invest in the highest power blender you can get. I’m not going to give recommendation here but the advice to look for warranties and the availability of spare parts and repair service would still apply.
So I hope this post was of value to you and gave you some food for thought (another pun!) If it did please consider supporting me with a wee donation on Patreon. Till next time.
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