Clay Utensils Health Benefits and use in Cooking

The use of clay pottery has been prevalent since the neolithic times. Clay pots and earthenware, used for storing and cooking, have been found in many archaeological sites of the Indus Valley Civilisation. They were still used in India till the 1900’s, to a large extent. 

In modern times, we started using various types of cooking utensils without ever knowing the benefits or the disadvantage of each of these.

Thankfully, people, in the recent times, have started exploring the benefits of traditional Indian way of living life, lost for a while. Cooking styles and cooking aids is one of them, we are seeing a revival because of people curiosity and the deep penetration of the online platforms. 

Skills considered to be lost, are getting a fillip as the artisans sitting somewhere in the remote corner of the country have started to showcase their expertise using the social media as a platform. The ways, considered to be lost, are slowly getting a revived. Theses experts have found a voice and also the listening ear. 

The revival is true and hopefully, what is still considered an exotica will soon become part of our daily living, as it was just a century back.


Clay pots and utensils in India

Clay pots or utensils for cooking are still used in different parts of India. These are used in traditional homes, particularly in rural areas, in northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.  These are called ‘haandi’ in these states. 

Similarly, these are integral to homes of southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana where these are called ‘chhatti”. 


Basic 101 about clay pots?

Clay pots or utensils have certain properties which give these distinct advantages over other utensils, one being the porosity and natural insulation of the clay causes circulation of heat and moisture throughout the clay pots. 

It is important to note that both glazed and unglazed (or raw) clay utensils are available in market. The glazed ones are coated with various materials for decorative and protection purposes but these are not recommended for use in cooking because the synthetic chemicals might get leached in to food. Studies have confirmed that glazed earthen pots risk arsenic poisoning as it leaches into food while cooking. 

Even the unglazed clay pots can leach metallic toxins into food if these are made from clay derived from a polluted source. Therefore, it is important that pure clay cookware is made from clay taken from non-industrial and un-farmed lands.


Right clay for making the pots

One of the ways to check whether the clay contains toxins or not is by performing a baking soda test. Boil a few cups of water in the earthen pot and add some baking soda. Let it boil for some time and then keep it for cooling. Any distorted taste or foul smell of paint might be indicative of unsafe clay quality.

Before buying these pots, it is better to check whether the manufacturer has mentioned the source of clay on the utensil. 

While more and more use of these utensils is welcome, it is pertinent to note that the clay to be used should be from non-polluted regions and without any toxic contamination.


Where can one buy clay utensils from?

There is no dearth of suppliers of these utensils. You can find these within your town or city being sold in glitzy shopping malls as well as by the potters. These are also available online on the famous marketplaces, such as Amazon or other ecommerce sites. 

Most popular cooking utensils made of clay which are sold online are “haandis” and “kadaais”.


Using clay pots on naked flame or oven for cooking

Unglazed clay pots, which are the best to be used for cooking, need to be seasoned before being used. After seasoning, these can be used on normal gas stove open flame or in the oven. 

It should be noted that while using on the stove-top, the flame should be kept low initially and then gradually increased till medium. 

There is generally no need to go to high-temperatures because the clay pots do not lose heat.


A few benefits of cooking in clay pots/ utensils

1/5. Retains nutrition

The food cooked in earthen pots retains its nutritious value. Clay pots provide nutritional elements such as iron, calcium, magnesium and sulphur which play an important role for the well-being of a human body.  


2/5. Minimum oil consumption

Cooking in earthen pots produces steam which is circulated well in the utensil. This helps in cooking the food without involving the use of a much oil. Therefore, it helps in retaining natural oil and moisture of food.


3/5. Balances acidity of food

Being alkaline in nature, clay pots reduces acidity in food while cooking. It balances the pH and makes food healthier and tastier.


4/5. Helps to increase employment

A further increase in use of these utensils is good for providing employment in the labour surplus country like India BUT more importantly it will help in reviving this traditional Indian way of cooking healthy food.


5/5. Biodegradable and environment friendly

Clay utensils have been used since times immemorial for cooking purposes. An important advantage of using these utensils, is that these are biodegradable and environment-friendly and once outlived their use, can easily be turned back into clay.


How to use clay pots for cooking?

Unglazed clay pots require preparation and seasoning before these are used as utensils.


1/5. Preparing clay pots

Clay pots should be kept totally immersed in water for a few hours. It is even better if these are kept immersed for 24 hours.


2/5. Seasoning clay pots

Seasoning is done to harden the pot, make it crack-resistant and also help in getting rid of the clay smell. It can be done in different ways. 

(a). It is done applying any vegetable oil all over the pot, filling it water, covering the top with lid and putting it on low-heat on stove for about 3 hours. The pot is then baked for 2 to 3 hours before being taken off from the heat. Allow it to cool down and then wash it.

(b) Cool water and cooked white rice to be filled to half the level of pot and allowed to heat at medium-level for some time till it turns into a porridge. Put off the heat and let it cool down. Discard the porridge.


3/5. Before cooking

It is suggested to key the clay pot in water for about 15 to 20 minutes before cooking food so that the pot absorbs water. The steam releases as the pot gets heated slowly and it helps in preventing the food from drying out while maintaining its natural flavours.


4/5. While cooking

In a clay pot the food shall be cooked on low or medium heat. It might take about 15 or 20 minutes longer than cooking done in other pots.

Care should always be taken not to cause thermal differential by using cold over hot or vice-versa as it can lead to development of cracks. Also, use wooden spoons for stirring inside the pot while cooking.


5/5. Cleaning the clay utensils

Food is cooked with the steam which is circulated inside the unglazed pot. This does not let the food to stick to the interior walls of the pot while cooking. So, the cleaning process is rendered very easy since there is no stickiness in utensil.

It is recommended to use baking soda for cleaning purposes. 


Drawbacks of clay pot cooking

1/2. Slow speed of cooking

Slow speed of cooking is one of the biggest drawbacks of using clay utensils. This happens because earthen pots are not air tight. These are porous to air which allow hot steam to be exchanged with surrounding in small volume.


2/2. Compromised clay quality

It is not easy to get pure clay pots as they are glazed or might be made of unsafe clay. These might contain compounds that contain hazardous such as lead. Cooking food in these utensils causes leaching of these toxic metals to the food which is not good for health.

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