You're all set to make your grandmother's beloved marinara or maybe a slow-roasted tomato recipe you borrowed from a friend, but you're wondering what's the safest cookware for acidic foods.
Before starting, here's what you need to know about the pros and cons of each type of metal, and whether you can cook tomato sauce in stainless steel.
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Yes, it’s OK to cook tomato dishes in metal pans. Stainless steel and well-seasoned cast iron are great choices because they are less likely to leach metal into the acidic foods cooked in them.
The Best Pot to Cook Tomato Sauce In
The best pot to cook tomato sauce in, the best casserole dish to roast tomatoes in, the best skillet for frying tomatoes — there's a lot to consider.
Whether you're using a pan, baking sheet or casserole dish, you'll find that some metals are better suited to acidic foods than others. Sometimes it's because of safety, and other times it's because of taste. In some cases, the acidity of the tomatoes can react with the metal, which is a problem you'd have if you tried to cook other acidic foods.
Let's consider a few popular cookware metals and how they can react with tomato dishes.
How about stainless steel and tomato sauce — will there be a bad reaction there? No, stainless steel is nonreactive to acidic foods, which is one of its benefits, per the Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation. Additionally, stainless steel is durable and easy to clean.
As far as taste and health go, stainless steel might be the safest cookware for acidic foods.
A trusted cast-iron skillet is a versatile piece of cookware because you can use it both on the stove top and in the oven. But a cast-iron skillet can be reactive to acidic foods if it's not seasoned well (aka coated in oil before use), meaning your tomato dish could end up with a metallic taste.
Cooking tomato in cast iron is a great choice so long as your cast iron is seasoned or enameled.
To season your cast-iron skillet, heat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, starting with a washed and dried skillet, spread 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil around the inside of the skillet with a paper towel and set the skillet on the stovetop over low heat. After the pan is warmed, transfer it to the oven for one hour. After the hour is up, turn off the oven and wait until the oven and skillet are completely cool. To maintain good seasoning on your skillet, dry it out after every use.
If you're thinking of cooking your tomatoes in an aluminum pan, you might want to reconsider for the sake of your dish's flavor.
The Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation notes that, although it is generally safe to cook acidic foods in an aluminum pot (that is, there's nothing carcinogenic about cooking tomatoes in an aluminum pot), the tomatoes may develop a metallic taste.
Like aluminum and unseasoned iron, copper can leach into acidic foods. Although the Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation explains that small amounts of copper in the diet aren't generally a health concern, the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) notes that leached copper can result in copper toxicity.
On that note, it's important to consider any potential health risks of metal leaching into food.
Whichever metal you opt to use, choose cookware that can be easily cleaned and that has no cracks or rough edges, per the NLM. Never use cookware with its coating peeling off and avoid using metal or hard plastic utensils when moving food around in metal cookware, as these can scratch the coating.
Health Risks of Leaching Metal
The idea of metal leaching into your food might sound a little alarming, but is this a health risk you should feel concerned about? Not always. It depends on the metal and on how much leaching is occurring.
If iron leaches into your tomatoes because the skillet you're using is poorly seasoned, it could be healthy. A bit of extra iron is beneficial for people with anemia or an iron deficiency, per the Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation.
On the other hand, it would be bad for people who have hemochromatosis, a genetic condition that causes iron to build up in the body. These people have to watch their iron intake, and they might not expect sautéed tomatoes to have such an abundance of iron.
The same goes for copper: Large amounts of copper from unlined cookware could cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, per the NLM. What's more, excess copper could kill liver cells and cause nerve damage, and it could interfere with how your body absorbs zinc and iron, per the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Cooking With Tomatoes
Now that you've picked up a set of stainless steel pans and baking dishes or you've seasoned your cast-iron skillet (as these seem to be the safest types of cookware for acidic foods with regard to both health and taste), you're all set to try out new ways to cook tomatoes.
That's a great idea because tomatoes are low in calories and fat and full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Tomatoes are good for fighting inflammation, protecting your skin from sun damage, strengthening your bones and even controlling your blood sugar levels, per the Produce for Better Health Foundation. And they're a popular source of the antioxidant lycopene — an estimated 80 percent of the lycopene in American diets comes from tomatoes.
They're also versatile — you can make appetizers, snacks, sides, soups, salads, sauces and so much more. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- If you've got a large pot, you can heat up tomatoes to make this Homemade Tomato Soup with Mascarpone Cheese and Basil.
- Whip out your skillet and get it sizzling to make our delicious Cherry Tomato and Spinach Salad Saute.
- Put some tomatoes in a baking dish in the oven to make our low-calorie Roasted Tomato Marinara.