Cast Iron is one of the utensils which has been used for cooking food. Cast Iron is an alloy of iron and carbon with about 2% carbon content. If silicon is also added to the alloy, the white cast iron is made. It is made from pig iron which is when iron ore comes out of blast furnace.
The utensils which are made from cast iron are first required to be seasoned so as to protect these from rust and to make it non-stick in nature.
Cast Iron utensils are being used in the India and other Asian countries for many centuries now. It has been used in our traditional kitchens across the country, from north to south and from east to west. It is used as ‘tawa’ for making ‘rotis’, as ‘kadais’ for cooking food, as frying pan and even as the cast iron skillet.
Properties of Cast Iron for Cooking
The reason why cast iron is used for making cookware is because of its properties. These properties make these good to use on stove or even in oven.
1/5. Heat Retention
Though it is slow to get heated, it is able to retain heat much better than many other types of cookware.
2/5. High Emissivity
Another important property is of high emissivity, that is, tendency to expel heat to surrounding in the form of radiations. To take a comparative example, its emissivity is 0.64 whereas that of stainless steel is at 0.07. It heats the surroundings with its radiation. This is not the case with many other utensils. Therefore, it is suitable for cooking good volumes of food.
3/5. Highly Durable
Cast iron is highly durable and the utensils made out of it last for many years.
4/5. Non-stick Quality
A seasoned cast iron vessel which is pre-heated works as a non-stick one. However, this is not to say that it would work as great as Teflon-coated cooking utensils.
5/5. Works well in high temperatures
It can be used at high temperatures which makes it ideal for deep frying and other high temperature cooking applications.
Seasoning Cast Iron utensils before using
Seasoning is a process in which thin layer of animal or vegetable oil is applied and cooked on to iron cast utensils. This coating is created by polymerised oils. This seasoning prevents rusting and also gives the non-stick property to these utensils.
While there are different arguments on using soaps or detergents on cleaning these utensils, it is generally advised not to use these. Conventional dishwashers shall also not be used.
In order to keep the utensils seasoned, the best practice is to keep using these frequently, especially for frying purpose or in such applications wherein oil is used.
Enamelled Cast Iron
One of the alternatives to seasoning of cast iron is to make use of glazed enamelled cast iron. In this type of cast iron, a vitreous glaze is added to the surface which prevents rusting. This coating prevents leaching of iron in food which is good for people who already have high iron content in their blood.
However, it has certain drawbacks as well. The non-stick property of seasoned cast iron is lost considerably. There is also a risk of coating being chopped off due to improper usage (breakage or thermal differential). It is also not that good in withstanding high temperatures. Lastly, it is also more expensive that cast iron utensils.
Potential Health Benefits of Cast Iron Utensils
Cast Iron has been used in kitchens from many centuries. Whether for cooking foods or for serving in cast iron utensils, it has many health benefits.
1/2. Helps Anaemic people
Perhaps, the most important benefit is for the anaemic people. A study by American Dietetic Association has found that utensils made with cast iron are able to leach pretty good amounts of dietary iron into food when food is cooked in these. Therefore, this helps the anaemic people by increasing the iron content in their blood naturally.
However, while this increase the iron content in blood would be okay for some such as menopausal women, the people with overload of iron (hemochrombtosis) shall avoid using food cooked in cast iron.
2/2. Healthy Cooking without much Oil
Using a well-seasoned cast iron utensil for cooking is a good, non-sticky option.
Cleaning the Cast Iron Utensils
Cast Iron utensils which have been seasoned shall not be cleaned in the conventional way by applying soap or detergent or in a dishwasher.
These are best wiped or washed with hot water. A thick brush can be used for cleaning off the leftover material.
Another way is to go ahead with applying mild soap but then re-seasoning is also recommended. Yet another way is to scrub with coarse salt and rug.
What to Cook In Cast Iron Utensils?
Due to its property of retaining heat for a longer period of time, it is ideally suited for those foods which need a longer period of time for cooking. Meats are one such food items.
Stir-fries can be done to rice, chicken or other food items. This adds a little crispiness. Eggs can also be fried on cast iron flat-bottom pan.
You can roast the vegetables in it, imparting the golden-brown crunchy exterior crust.
It shall be remembered that cast iron vessels shall not be used for food items, especially the acidic foods, such as pickles.
Where can one buy Cast Iron Cookware from?
In India, cast iron cookware is made at many different places. Since this is used all over India, there are many places where these are made.
These can be bought from the closest retailer of utensils as most of them keep popularly demanded cast iron cooking utensils.
These are also available online. In fact, you can have a much more diversified range online. With nation-wide delivery possible, you have many buying options open.
Irrespective of the place you buy from, you must check whether this is seasoned or not. It is better to buy a seasoned one to begin with.