I’ve long perceived ceramic to be a better option than aluminum. Yet, aluminum has advantages that I can’t dismiss when it comes to cooking. And to be fair, aluminum might just be a better option for you…
Aluminum lost favor with me many years ago with the news of its potential health effects. Yes, I admit I’m not a fan of aluminum cookware. Many folk, like me, moved towards what they considered better alternatives in cookware materials, which includes ceramic.
Aluminum is especially reactive and so is prone to tainting the contents of your dinner. The main concern: leaching of aluminum into the food and the effect of aluminum load on your body. So what’s changed?
Popularity of ceramic as cookware
I wrote about the ceramic of cookware in my article on how ceramic cookware is made. In it, I explain how ceramic nonstick coating starts with silica (sand) that’s combined with a sol-gel and then applied, while the pure ceramic type are made from clay that is molded and fired.
To avoid confusion: In this article, I focus on the ceramic cookware that is all ceramic, which is made from clay (not the nonstick type).
Examples of 100% ceramic cookware brands:
- Emile Henry
Straight up in terms of popularity, ceramic outshines aluminum cookware given the trends in Google searches observed over the last five years (see graph; blue is ceramic and red aluminum).
But here’s the thing… the figures likely group ceramic nonstick and pure ceramic together and so distort the perception about aluminum.
It’s worth mentioning that most ceramic non-stick have an aluminum base.
About aluminum in cookware
Aluminum cookware is still viable and popular:
The global Aluminum Cookware market is valued at 821.5 million USD in 2020 is expected to reach 1121.8 million USD by the end of 2026, growing at a CAGR of 4.5% during 2021-2026.Market Watch
As a metal aluminum is easy to cast, hence its use in cookware.
Aluminum has an atomic number of 13 with a relative atomic mass of 26.982. It fits in the groups of ‘ordinary metals’ in the periodic table (Gray, 2012). It is lightweight and silvery and the most prevalent of the metal elements of our planet’s crust.
History: Late 19th century saw the rise of aluminum cookware production and aluminum pots and pans became common kitchen items during the 20th century.
Apart from cast aluminum, cookware types in this material include pots and pans with an anodized exterior and/or a nonstick-coated cooking surface either of Teflon or ceramic nonstick. These often involve a single layer of aluminum alloy.
The cladded alumimum involves a near pure aluminum layer of 1100, 1130, or 1145 that is bonded to a stronger aluminum alloy layer of 3003, 3004, or 5005 (Acton 2013).
Anodized aluminum has gone through anodization — an electrochemical process where aluminum is dipped into a strong acid solution and charged with an electric current. This gives it a protective layer of aluminum oxide.
Examples of aluminum designs and cookware brands:
- Made In Stainless Clad (5 ply with aluminum interior layers)
- Caraway Home ceramic nonstick (ceramic coating on aluminum base)
How ceramic and aluminum cookware differ
The straight aluminum type cookware is the least expensive.
You can go on Amazon and get an aluminum 10″ frying pan for less than $25. You will pay more for anodized however and some of the latest advanced nonstick types with aluminum bases.
You’re probably not surprised by the fact that aluminum cookware is more responsive to heating, that it conducts heat faster than that of pure ceramic.
Ceramic takes a tad longer to heat but is much better at retaining the heat. It’s a difference experience to cooking with aluminum.
Alumimun offers the least worry with storing or mishandling, except if it’s non-stick, which requires particular care as I explain in my guide on how to prolong the life of the coating.
Single layer non-anodized aluminum may dint or warp but will stay intact, i.e. will not crack or break, which ceramic is susceptible to if mishandled.
How they are similar
Both are not suitable for induction. Aluminum is nonferrous and nonmagnetic.
Both materials are recyclable, providing your area has the facilities for recycling cookwares.
Aluminum resists corrosion, it doesn’t rust. Similarly, ceramic won’t rust.
You can get a similar variety of cookware pieces in both ranges.
Both will last for ever with care.
What’s better about ceramic cookware
For me ceramic is more stylish than aluminum. It adds an ‘earthy’ feel to the kitchen.
Ceramic is non-reactive. It doesn’t taint the food like aluminum, which is reactive similar to copper cookware.
There are no metals in 100% ceramic cookware that can leach into your food.
Choose all-ceramic cookware if your budget permits paying that bit more and you want confidence in using cookware that gives your family pure wholesome goodness (no metals to taint food or cause concern about sensitivities).
See also: My article on nickel-free stainless steel.
What’s better about aluminum cookware
The biggest advantages of using aluminum in cookware are it’s cheap, it conducts heat well, and is lightweight material. Ceramic on the other hand is natural and nonreactive, but more expensive and fragile.
You’re more likely to get a wider variety of color choice in aluminum pan than in ceramic based on my experience.
Aluminum in sautéing and frying pans makes sense because of aluminum’s heat responsiveness.
Why Choose Aluminum
Aluminum is light and folk who have wrist problems, e.g. suffer arthritis, may find it less strenuous to handle, when transfering the cookware from stove to countertop or sink.
Choose ceramic-coated aluminum pans if you’re wanting nonstick cookware that’s lightweight and heats up fast for frying especially. Also, the ceramic coating stops food contact with the aluminum, as long as it stays intact.
I’d steer away from cast aluminum cookware, but if a low-price option is your main objective, then this fits the bill. Just realize it’s better to avoid cooking acidic or alkaline foods in the straight out aluminum type of cookware.
Anodized is different. This electro-chemically dipped aluminum is sealed and so is better with food contact, but more expensive and a bit heavier.