100% Stainless, 100% of the time
We go to great lengths to source the best ingredients we can — and we’re sure you do you. But cooking with quality ingredients is only one step in the journey to a safe, nourishing kitchen. Cookware, cleaners, and even cutting boards are also important items to scrutinize. Certain metals and plastics can leach their contents out into carefully sourced and prepared ingredients, and that’s the last thing we want to do! We know that you care as much as we do about reducing the toxin load in each and every meal, and we want to help everyone achieve that goal.
We know that it can be overwhelming to address every kitchen item at once, so we’ve broken down our checklist into four main categories. Tackle them as slowly or as quickly as you’re able. Replacing even one pot is a great first step to a cleaner kitchen.
Detox your Kitchen Supplies
Cookware: Look for the least reactive cookware you can find. We use stainless steel in our kitchen, but well-seasoned cast iron is also a great choice. Avoid aluminum and non-stick pans, as they are apt to leach metals and/or gnarly chemicals into your food and kitchen air.
Plastics: We’re striving to eliminate all traces of plastics in our kitchen, but we recognize that this is a huge challenge in today’s plastic-filled world. There are some plastics that are safer than others; see this chart to learn more. No matter the type of plastic, however, make sure to keep them out of the heat (dishwashers are a major culprit!) and away from acidic foods.
Cutting boards: You can probably guess that we don’t recommend plastic cutting boards, but you may not know that we are picky about our wood boards as well. Many common wood cutting boards come with their share of issues as well — they may be glued together with formaldehyde-based glues or they might be seasoned with petroleum-based mineral oil. There are woodworkers_ out there making great cutting board options, but we choose to make our own single-piece boards in house. We season them with a mixture of beeswax and coconut oil.
Cleaners: Skip the bleach and antibacterial soaps, and stick with non-toxic cleaners.Even natural cleaners can contain vague “fragrances.” Since it is impossible to know what exactly is in these fragrances, it is best to avoid scented products. We use Tropical Traditions’ line of products for our countertops and linens, which you can order online. The Environmental Working Group also has an easy-to-use database of common cleaning brands, complete with ingredient lists and safety ratings. Check there before heading to the store.
Nerd Out on Kitchen Supplies
Steel-up your cookware:
Swapping out toxic cookware for cleaner options is one of the easiest (and most fun) steps you can take to improve the quality of your kitchen. At Mission: Heirloom, we cook using stainless steel pots, pans, and baking sheets. They’re made from a mixture of metals that combine together to make an inert and stable pan.
The only downside to stainless steel is that it is a poor heat conductor on its own. To fix the problem, stainless cookware is often made with a copper or aluminum-filled plate attached to the underside of the pot. (These metals never touch the food, as they are completely surrounded by stainless steel.) When this plate is fully incorporated into the base and outer sides of the pan, it is considered “fully clad.” All-Clad pans are a popular choice of fully-clad stainless steel pans. According to food scientist Harold McGee, these types of pans are “the closest thing we have to the ideal chemically inert but fully responsive pan.” They’re expensive, but a great, toxin-free choice!
While we can’t use them in our kitchen because of their weight, cast-iron pans, in both their seasoned and enameled state, are another fantastic choice for home kitchens. (They’re also generally much cheaper than stainless, and they will last a lifetime or two if properly cared for. Plus, cast iron is a great heirloom piece!) Stainless steel-lined copper is also an excellent material for pots and pans, but it tends to be very pricey! If you want to invest, copper is a great place to start. Avoid (or get rid of) aluminum pots and pans in addition to Teflon and any other non-stick cookware you have.
Aluminum is a highly reactive material and it doesn’t belong near your food! Cooks Illustrated Magazine ran a test to see which common cookware items were most subject to chemical leaching when used to make tomato sauce. They found that unseasoned cast iron leached the highest amount of metal into the sauce (108 mg/kg), followed by aluminum (14.3 mg/kg, seasoned cast iron (around 4 mg/kg), and finally stainless steel (less than 1 mg/kg). Keep in mind that unseasoned cast iron is rarely used in the kitchen, so its levels can be disregarded. Iron is also rarely toxic to humans; in fact, most of us could use a little more iron in our diets! Aluminum, on the other hand, has been associated with neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and shouldn’t be consumed at all. Any amount of aluminum in our food is too much! We recommend going so far as to toss out any aluminum foil or disposable pans you have around the house. These can leach too!
Non-stick pots and pans are even more problematic. These were first developed by DuPont in the 1950s. They were coated in a chemical polymer called Teflon, and that name has remained synonymous with non-stick ever since. When brand new and used at low temperatures, non-stick pans serve their purpose, providing a slick, smooth cooking surface that quickly releases food without the use of oil or fat. However, all non-stick pans are susceptible to scratching, which reveals the aluminum pan below and (worse) makes it easy for bits of the non-stick chemical to transfer to food. At high cooking temperatures (above 500 degrees), the non-stick coating decomposes into noxious and toxic gases. DuPont even admitted that these fumes can kill small birds and can a cause flu-like illness called polymer fume fever in humans. Depending on the weight of the pan in question, it can reach these dangerous temperatures in as little as 3 minutes. The lighter weight the pan, the quicker it will heat up. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a likely carcinogen, is another chemical that is associated with the production of non-stick pans. It is best to avoid the risk and eliminate non-stick pans from your kitchen repertoire.
Instead of using non-stick pans, practice seasoning your cast iron skillet. Over time, its surface will become almost as nonstick as the chemical-coated pans. To season cast iron, you simply need to coat the surface with a very thin layer of a healthy oil or fat and heat it in a low oven for several hours. Repeat the process several times until the oil forms a solid layer on the outside of the pan. Seasoning works because the oil penetrates the pores and fissures in the metal to seal it from the attack of air and water. In addition, the combination of heat, metal, and air oxidizes the fatty acids chains in the fat, encouraging them to bond together into a dense, hard layer.
We also encourage you to not be afraid of cleaning up bits of stuck food from your stainless steel skillets! It is easy to get the pans sparkling clean by heating up water in the pan and rubbing a lemon half over the stuck food.
Nothing passes our attention in the kitchen, including the water we drink and use for cooking. Berkeley tap water is pretty good, but it’s not perfect. That’s why we enlisted the help of David Beeman, aka The Water God. He has set up the very first direct-reuse reverse osmosis water filtration system right here in our kitchen. Not only does it filter out impurities from the city water, but it also adds back a proprietary blend of minerals to the water at an optimal concentration for both flavor and culinary use. Plus, our filter system does it all with absolutely zero waste.
What makes our system special?
Reverse Osmosis: Many of us associate water filtration with cylindrical charcoal filters that spit flecks of black coal into the water. These filters get some things out of the water (like chlorine), but they are far from the ideal filtration system. Instead of these old-school filters, we use reverse osmosis for the water at Mission: Heirloom. Reverse osmosis is a water purification system that uses a special membrane to separate out impurities from tap water. After running through the membrane, the water is filtered through a series of activated carbon filters to remove any remaining contaminants.
Zero Waste: In most reverse osmosis systems, the water that doesn’t pass through the membrane is thrown off as waste. Instead of ditching all of that water down the drain, we mix that excess in with our tap water and then recirculate it back into the reverse osmosis system.
Coconut Shells: We also use organic coconut shell carbon instead of the usual mix of coal and plastic in our filters. These coconut carbon filters are just as effective as the coal-based filter, but they’re 100% biodegradable and free of any plastic-based toxins.
Optimized Minerals: Once the water has been filtered, we always add back minerals (mostly potassium and calcium) into the water. Why? It tastes better. Plus, the water is better for our bodies and it allows us to maximize the extraction of goodies when we make our coffee, tea, and bone broths.
Copper Pipes: Our water is transported via copper pipes. It’s brand new and doesn’t leach chemicals like vinyl chloride into the water like PVC. We have a couple of taps right by the stove to make it easy to bring out delicious water into our cooking pots.
Perfect Water: We had our water tested by some of the wisest minds in the coffee business, and they declared it the most perfect water they’d ever tasted! Their support gives us 3rd party verification for all of these steps that we’ve taken to clean our water supply.
BRINGING OUR WORK INTO YOUR KITCHEN
Our water system is complex and, frankly, pretty expensive. Luckily, you can get clean water even without installing your own reverse osmosis machine. To do so, we recommend investing in a SOMA water filter. Each SOMA system is beautiful and effective. Our friend David Beeman helped design the filter, so you know it’s good. SOMA uses the same coconut shell technology that we do in each of their filters, and their filter has has been gold-certified by the Water Quality Alliance. If you choose to make a purchase with SOMA using this link, you can even get a free filter! (We want to note, however, that while happily recommend SOMA’s product, we receive nothing in return from their company.)
Understanding Reverse Osmosis: In order to fully understand how reverse osmosis purifies water, it is helpful to learn how osmosis works. Osmosis describes the process by which water moves across a semi-permeable cell membrane from solutions containing low concentrations of dissolved particles (solutes) to solutions containing high concentrations of solutes. For example, imagine a cell that is full of super salty water. If that cell is placed in another solution that is contains less salt, water from the outside will move into the cell in order to dilute the water in the cell, just as you would add additional water to a salty soup to make the overall soup less salty. Once the water inside the cell has the same concentration of salt as the water outside the cell, water will stop flowing into the cell. At this point, the cell and the surrounding water have reached osmotic equilibrium.
Given no outside forces, osmosis will always happen when the opportunity presents itself, and it will continue until both solutions are at equal concentration. However, if enough pressure is exerted on the highly concentrated solution, osmosis can be halted and even reversed. We take advantage of this condition in reverse osmosis. In reverse osmosis, tap water or any other contaminated water is pushed at super-high pressure (above 500 psi) through a manufactured semi-permeable membrane. Because this pressure is higher than the osmotic pressure, pure, solute-free water easily rushes through the membrane.
Downsides to Reverse Osmosis: Because so much pressure (and so much water) is required to blast the pure water out of the membrane, reverse osmosis systems waste quite a bit of water. Some systems take as much as 4 or 5 gallons of contaminated water in order to produce 1 gallon of pure water! Another problem that can happen with reverse osmosis is that the filtered solutes can back up on the membrane, forming what is called “scale.” Once these solutes form scale, they can gum up the membrane and degrade the material. Additionally, the completely pure water that results