For years I’ve heard that cooking in a cast iron skillet can increase the iron content of your food. And then I realized all the work involved in maintaining an iron skillet. Storing one would be cumbersome, I’d have to season it with some sort of grease (after all, if you aren’t using non-stick pans you have to make the stuff not stick somehow) and it could rust. That’s just a little to high maintenance for a skillet in my opinion. However, I still wondered about the iron content. Does it really make a dent in a person’s diet?
In an effort to find the truth about the iron content in cast iron cooking utensils, I turned to my partner in research, google scholar. Luckily, a typewritten and scanned thesis from 1984 appeared that examined this very topic! After reading through this study I came to a chart that outlined how much the iron content increased if a particular meal was cooked in an iron utensil versus a non-iron utensil.
A few items on this list were not a surprise to me. Stew, chili with meat, applesauce and spaghetti sauce (all of which contained some acidic ingredients) gained a significant amount of iron if cooked in an iron versus non-iron utensil (applesauce was the all time leader in iron gained). However, there were also many surprises to me: scrambled eggs, rice and a white sauce. In fact, eighteen of the twenty foods cooked in iron and non-iron skillets absorbed significantly more iron than when cooked in the non-iron skillet. This study found that foods with a higher moisture content, more acidity and a longer cooking time take up more iron from the iron cookware.
I have to thank Cheryl Eileen Nossaman’s work for finally answering that question I’ve always wondered about. I’m still not going to use iron cookware because I prefer using oil versus grease in my pans. But at least I now know that iron utensils can in fact add iron to one’s diet!