Health is, and should be, the prime concern for everyone.
And since food has one of the most intimate relationships with health, people tend to be very careful about what they put in their mouths.
But while you see a lot of people carefully go through the ingredient list of everything they eat, not many are adequately concerned about what they prepare their food in, i.e., the cookware.
But if you are here, the chances are that you aren’t one of them (unless you accidentally reached here and “cookware” research isn’t at the top of your mind).
And you might have heard from numerous sources how great ceramic cookware is for safety, and how it’s one of the safest options out there.
Which should raise the natural question, how is ceramic cookware made?
What is Ceramic?
Before its construction, you have to know what it is.
A basic definition is “hardened clay,” but the shiny ceramic cookware you find in many kitchens is far from what you would consider clay pots to be.
A broader definition of ceramic is that it’s an in-organic, non-metallic mixture of metal and non-metal compounds, usually found on the surface of the earth.
It needs to be hardened in the fire to retain its shape, become impermeable, and hard.
Since we can selectively isolate relevant materials and compounds from soil, ceramics can be used in much more efficient and finer ways than preparing traditional earthenware, bricklaying, porcelain, and pottery making.
They are used in gas-turbine engines, implants, and non-stick cookware.
Types of Ceramic Cookware
There are essentially two types of ceramic cookware available on the market.
And though they are very different, they are often confused with each other.
First is ceramic coated cookware.
These are pots, pans, and other utensils that are made from a metal base, generally aluminum, and coated with a ceramic layer to make them non-stick.
Second is pure ceramic cookware that is made entirely from ceramic materials.
They are also non-stick in nature, but in many other ways, are different from ceramic-coated cookware.
The Science Behind Ceramic Cookware
The first non-stick pots and pans that were introduced in the market were Teflon-based (PTFE).
Though Teflon is a stable element, it was found that in some cases, overheating Teflon coated non-stick cookware released toxic fumes.
Some people who inhaled it got sick and exhibited flu-like symptoms. This turned people away from non-stick, despite its easy to clean advantage.
But then came an alternative: Ceramics. Whether it’s cookware made out of pure ceramics or just coated, it exhibits similar non-stick properties.
Thanks to its “earthy” origins and non-metallic nature, people feel more comfortable using if, compared to Teflon based non-stick.
Even if the two types of ceramic cookware are similar in non-stick properties, the science behind them differs a bit.
The coated cookware is based on a meal base, upon which the ceramic layer is sprayed and then heated.
The concept is that it fills up any open pores and the microscopic abrasions that are naturally present on the surface of the metal.
The surface of a metal is ragged (microscopically) and has hundreds of thousands of openings. The situation is escalated further by heating.
Since on heating, the metal expands, and so do the pores in its surface, enhancing its “sticking” ability.
This is what non-stick materials try to fix.
If these abrasions are filled, and the surface is even on the microscopic level, it will be very slippery, and ideally, nothing would stick on it.
The best material for that has been PTFE (or Teflon).
But due to health concerns, people choose ceramic coated over PTFE coated non-stick.
It offers a relatively weaker non-stick property then Teflon. And it has to be cured by heat to finish the process.
But another method is gaining popularity to use ceramic coating for non-sticking pans.
And it’s using a sprayed layer of ceramic material to fill and cover the surface of the metal.
But the layer itself is deposited unevenly. Then, PTFE is placed over the ceramic layer.
This offers a much better bonding of PTFE to the surface of the cookware, and make for longer-lasting non-stick cookware.
Pure ceramics cookware is made entirely out of clay, sand, and quartz.
They don’t contain any harmful substances and offer similar non-stick properties as ceramic coated cookware does.
How is it Made?
Ceramic coated cookware is made out of metal, usually aluminum.
The metal base pre-heated is then plasma sprayed by the ceramic material.
The plasma spraying technique basically turns the amorphous ceramic powder into a liquid that is sprayed evenly on the surface.
The pre-heating opens the pores in the metal surface so that the ceramic material can seep in and adhere properly to the metal.
Then the cookware with the ceramic coating is cured. That is, it’s hardened using fire.
Another way to make a ceramic coated cookware is the sol-gel method.
This involves the creation of nano-particles, which manage to seep in the metal surface crevices even better.
Either way, a hard film of ceramic material is formed over the aluminum (or whatever the base metal is), which provides it with its non-sticking properties.
Based on the quality of the ceramic coating, longevity needs of the cookware, and aesthetic appeal, the ceramic mixture can contain a reinforcing agent, color pigments and binders, etc.
On the other hand, there is the pure or 100% ceramic cookware.
It’s made from clay, quartz, and other minerals mixed with water.
In some cases, it’s fluid enough to be poured into the mold directly. In other cases, it’s like dough.
Pieces of it are cut out in a rough approximation of the cookware.
They will be used to make (flat cylindrical pieces for pans and thick cylindrical slabs for pots).
They are then pressed inside a mold to be shaped into the desired structure.
In this phase, the product is very rough around the edges. Usually, the insides are refined first.
Outside finishing is often done by hand. When the cookware is structurally perfect, it’s glazed, normally by being dipped into a color solution.
The finishing process is baking, where it earns its characteristic shine and non-stick properties.
Cost of Production
The cost of production between the two types varies significantly.
Pure or 100% ceramic pots are made very delicately, and there is a lot of human element involved.
Lack of automation in the process, all-natural raw-materials, and relative care in the production make them much more costly than merely ceramic coated cookware.
The production of ceramic coated cookware is generally automated.
And since the base material is the inexpensive aluminum, it’s relatively cheaper to fabricate.
The only cost-driving factor might be the preparation and application of the ceramic coating.
You will most likely find ceramic coated cookware at a fraction of the cost of pure ceramic cookware.
Based on its construction, the pure ceramic cookware is very safe.
Even at very high temperatures where Teflon based non-stick cookware starts breaking down and giving off harmful fumes.
They also retain heat for a much longer time, which is a double-edged sword.
Pure ceramic cookware will consume more fuel to heat up properly, but once they do, they will also remain hot for a relatively long time.
It’s a stark contrast to metal cookware that absorbs and dissipates heat quickly.
On the downside, they are heavy, costly, and not that easy to find.
They also can’t be used on an induction cooktop directly (you have to place them on an induction cooking adapter).
Their heat is not distributed as evenly as aluminum’s, so you might see scorches or burns.
Ceramic coated cookware is suitable for induction cooking since it’s inherently metal.
But unlike pure ceramic, it’s not very heat-friendly. In this regard, it mimics the other non-stick material, Teflon.
If you heat the ceramic coated cookware too much, it might start to breakdown the non-stick coating.
And if there are harmful compounds used in the glazing and finishing processes of the cookware (primarily lead and cadmium), they can be passed into the food, making people sick.
Similarly, the non-stick ceramic coating is susceptible to wear and tear, so it doesn’t work well with metallic utensils.
Understand how is ceramic cookware made can help you make an educated choice for your cookware.
Just like everything else, ceramic cookware has its pros and cons.
You have to decide what works best for you. If you will be only using a non-stick pan for a low to medium heat cooking than just a coated ceramic cookware is fine.
If you are looking for a complete set, that you can use for high heats (and in baking), and you want the healthiest option, you might be better off with a pure ceramic cookware set.