Cookware makers have launched a variety of nonstick pans touted as “eco-friendly,” some also promising that their new coatings will last longer, work at higher temperatures, and resist scratches. But as our testing revealed, it’s not easy being both green and a solid performer. Furthermore, whether some of these pans are really any greener than the old nonstick is a big open question. Traditional nonstick coatings use two controversial chemicals: PFOA and PTFE (also known as Teflon). PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid, is a processing agent widely used in manufacturing that has been detected in water, food, wildlife, and human blood samples. (The Environmental Protection Agency cites it for causing birth defects in laboratory animals). The problem with PTFE, is when the cookware reaches temperatures of 500 F or more, this otherwise stable and non-toxic chemical will begin to deteriorate. When a nonstick pan has been scratched or overheated , it is very possible that some of the coating ends up in the food we eat. In addition, some of the fumes released by even a new nonstick pan can be lethal to household birds. So consumers (and cookware manufacturers) have been casting about for a solution that is environmentally friendly. The trick is to create a nonstick cookware without using the chemical PFOA in the manufacturing process. The problem is that although PFOA does not seem to transfer to the food, it is a chemical that is hard to break down in the environment. Assuming you use your non-stick cookware appropriately, i.e. not heating it excessively and unattended, always heating the pan with something in it, not scratching off the Teflon and consuming it for dinner, using non-stick pans is relatively safe for humans. Consumers who wish to avoid PTFE and PFOA have turned to so-called green skillets which use ceramic-based coatings. One of the most high-profile environmental-friendly cookware is called “GreenPan”.
“The Original “GreenPan (along with other ceramic and silicone cookware that includes Cuisinart’s GreenGourmet and Bialetti’s Aeternum) advertises that it can provide stick-free, Teflon-like performance but without the undesirable PFOA or PTFE chemicals. Does it work? Apparently, not very well. Tests conducted by America’s Test Kitchen and Cooks Illustrated showed that most green pans did not perform as well as the more traditional nonstick finish. And consumer sentiment has not been kind towards the GreenPan. Most user reviews are reporting about staining and sticking. It seems that the pans are good at the beginning (first few months) but after a while, the food starts to stick to the pan. The Ceramic coated skillets works well initially, however the ceramic coating begins to become a not so non stick coating after about 3 or 4 months. We purchased the 11 inch skillet with the helper handle and when the pan was new it performed as advertised. However, within a few months, we noticed that food began to stick – cooking eggs was almost impossible to do without a mangled result. Our experience is mirrored by hundreds of similarly disappointing reviews posted at Amazon and Consumer Reports (which rated the GreenPan highly, but acknowledged that it did not subject the pan to continued use over a long period). GreenPan is now called GreenLife and it sells white-colored ceramic pans. They have received better reviews, but the jury is still out on longevity.
One of the problems posed by ceramic surfaces is that it is very sensitive to oil. Cooking sprays, especially, can degrade the lifespan of ceramic skillets. If you cook with oil, it’s critical to completely clean off all of the cooked oil after each use. Otherwise layers of oil will build up, quickly diminishing the nonstick properties of the cookware. But unfortunately if you vigorously scrub off the layers of oil, you inevitably take the nonstick surface with it. This can cause both ceramic and Teflon cookware to age prematurely.
Perhaps the technology is too new and it needs to be perfected. However that was not the case when Teflon was first used in cookware. Until “green” skillet technology improves, we’re sticking with traditional nonstick or a well-seasoned cast-iron pan. We found that the three-pack of Tramontina’s Gourmet Selection Sauté Pans sold at Costco for about $25 have proven to be very durable and effective — at a fraction of the GreenPan price. Yes, it uses Teflon. And if that’s a dealbreaker, then you may need to return to cast-iron or stainless steel.