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I want to buy a clay cooker. What should I know about them?

Clay cookers are made from the abundant clay of the earth, use little energy while cooking, and can be broken up and returned to the earth at the end of their useful life.

There are two types of cookware made from clay:

1. Traditional clay vessels have been used for cooking for millennia, and are still the most sustainable. You soak them in water before cooking, and the food gently steams as the hot moisture comes out of the clay. You can buy machine-made clay cookers such a Romertopf Clay Bakers at most major department stores and cooking stores. Handmade clay bread pans and muffin pans are often sold at craft fairs, so look around. If the clay has a glaze, make sure to check to be sure the glaze doesn't contain lead, particularly if the item is imported. I have a beautiful clay cooker called a tangine. It is a shallow, round earthenware pot with a lid like a pointed hat. I can just imagine women fashioning tangines with their hands from local mud and baking it in the sun to harden before cooking a stew for their families. Cooking in clay is literally "earthy" and primal. It's only appropriate for cooking slow and low, but the results are magnificent.

2. There is also a new generation of ceramic cookware made from clay that brings this material into the 21st century. Modern technologies and high firing temperatures now make it possible to turn natural minerals and water into pots and pans that can be used for ordinary cooking. Xtrema cookware is the cookware I use everyday because it

  • is completely nontoxic (no metals or plastics)
  • is lightweight
  • is long lasting
  • has no odor nor taste
  • holds heat well, saving energy while cooking
  • is virtually non-stick
  • is beautiful enough to be used for serving
  • will keep food hot during serving
  • is completely non-porous, so it won't stain or hold food odors
  • is bacteria resistant.
  • has a naturally low-stick surface.

Clay-based ceramics are also used for the new "green" nontoxic finishes. Cusinart's Green Gourmet line uses this nontoxic technology to create a slippery, glassy finish to which even eggs won't stick.

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