A brief chemistry lesson that will help you in the kitchen.
If you’re making a reduction or red sauce, you may see that a recipe calls for a non-reactive pan. Whether a pan is considered reactive or not comes down to what material it’s made out of. If said material is reactive, cooking with certain ingredients can impart metallic flavors or damage the surface of your cookware. Below, we break down which pans are reactive and what ingredients to avoid when using them.
A non-reactive pan refers to a piece of cookware that will not react to acidic ingredients. Common acidic ingredients include vinegar, citrus, tomatoes, pineapple, and alcohol. Stainless steel is the most widely used non-reactive material, which means that our ever-versatile Stainless Clad Collection is your go-to when cooking all things acidic.
Reactive pans on the other hand, do not provide a neutral cooking surface. If you use this type of cookware to cook acidic ingredients, a chemical reaction will occur over time. For example, if you use a reactive pan to slow-simmer a tomato sauce, you may notice a tinny or metallic taste. Alternatively, more alkaline foods like egg whites may become discolored when they come into contact with a reactive surface.
Aluminum, cast iron, Copper, and Carbon Steel are all reactive materials. Our Carbon Steel Cookware is particularly sensitive to acidic ingredients, as it will strip away all of your hard-earned seasoning and you will need to re-season your pan.
So does this mean that you should banish reactive cookware from your kitchen? Not at all. Carbon Steel and Copper are two of our favorite materials. Knowing the difference between reactive and non-reactive cookware simply helps you be more aware of what materials you’re using and how that will affect your cooking.
The reactivity of certain materials has influenced the types of cookware we offer. For example, our copper Saucier is a favorite amongst pastry chefs for its superior heat conduction, but if you’re making lemon curd, reach for the Stainless Clad version instead. Similarly, while our Carbon Steel Frying Pan is great for achieving a Maillard reaction for a perfectly seared steak, if you want to make a pan sauce to serve alongside it, make sure you’re deglazing with a non acidic liquid or cook your meat in Stainless Clad.
As always, it’s best to have a variety of types of cookware so you can accomplish all that you want in the kitchen. Reactive pans can still be very versatile but if you’re making lemon curd or a big batch of spaghetti bolognese for a crowd, make sure you’re using your non-reactive pans.