What Is a Nonreactive Pan?

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Want to know what is a nonreactive pan, and what all the hype is about? Great, you’ve come to the right place as that’s precisely what we’re about to discuss today.

It might be that you’ve just stumbled across a new recipe that calls for either a nonreactive or a reactive pan and you’re a little stumped, wondering whether you actually have either in your well-stocked kitchen!

While it all sounds a little bit like something you should have remembered from your chemistry class, don’t despair. It’s a lot easier to get your head around than you might first have imagined.

What Is a Nonreactive Pan Exactly?

So, what is a nonreactive pan? Well, basically, the terms “reactive” and “nonreactive” simply refer to the type of metal that your cookware is made of.

Nonreactive pans are explicitly manufactured from a material that won’t react with any of the food types you are cooking with. That makes it an excellent option for recipes that require the use of tomatoes, citrus, wine, and pickles as well as cranberries and chutneys. These highly acidic foods can very easily react with certain metals.

What Is a Nonreactive Pan

Nonreactive Pan Types

The below list features the most popular nonreactive style pans that you will find in professional and domestic kitchens all over the world. In fact, you probably already have a couple of examples of nonreactive pans hung up in your kitchen but didn’t realize that’s what they were.

  • Stainless steel
  • Ceramic
  • Glass
  • Copper lined with tin
  • Unscratched enamel
  • Clay

You can use these kinds of pans for a wide range of different recipes and foods, hence why they are so popular the world over. However, the flip side is that they don’t conduct heat as well, so food can take longer to prepare and thoroughly cook.

The exemption to this observation is tin-lined copper, which really does deliver the best of both worlds for both the amateur and professional chef. It has excellent thermal properties. It also does not transfer or alter the taste of the foods you are cooking.

What Is a Reactive Pan?

If you do have a reactive pan, it can result in one of the two following undesirable outcomes: discoloration of your final recipe and leaving a metallic taste in your mouth.

Reactive Pan Types

The following are the most popular reactive pan types that are commonly used in kitchens around the globe.

  • Aluminum
  • Cast iron
  • Copper (that’s unlined)

These materials are exceptional at conducting heat and so are ideal for cooking things like rice and melting sugar as well as being an excellent choice for browning off meat. They’re less suitable for acidic ingredients, in particular, popular recipes featuring a tomato-based sauce.

It’s worth noting that reactive pans can also be used as long as they are seasoned correctly, which will help minimize any adverse reaction associated with cooking highly acidic foods.

Reactive vs. Nonreactive Pans

Essentially, food that has been cooked in a reactive pan is more likely to pick up a slightly metallic flavor or even turn a funny color, especially when it’s used to cook foods that are overly acidic or alkaline to start with.

You might find that if you’re whipping up egg whites, for example, that they develop a slightly greyish tinge. While that might not directly affect their final taste, it does make them look visually appealing and might put off certain fussy eaters!

It’s worth noting that it does take a while for this process to occur, so if you are preparing a quick saute, then you needn’t worry too much. However, if you want to slow cook a meal or leave something to simmer on the hob over several hours, then a reactive pan could cause your food to take on an unpleasant flavor.

We should, however, mention that even nonreactive enamelware can eventually become reactive over time if the enamel gets chipped, exposing the base metal beneath. That’s why it’s so important to look after your cookware to maintain the integrity of your investment, always cleaning and storing safely.

When to Use a Nonreactive Pan

If you are cooking using acid-based ingredients like tomatoes, lemon juice, and vinegar, then it’s advisable to use nonreactive cookware. The reason is that the surfaces of these pans will not release any atoms of metal that could potentially mingle with your food to taint and change their flavor.

Acidic foods are known to actively pull metal atoms out of materials such as copper, iron, and aluminum, which will tamper with the taste of your food. You might be left wondering why reactive cookware is still manufactured, but the simple reason is that it is always better at cooking uniformly and eliminating potential hot spots.

One of the other issues that can affect the final taste of foods is when utensils and spatulas, which are made out of reactive materials, are used to stir food. Not just that, but if the utensils are used forcibly, they can scratch the nonreactive surface of your pans, causing the protective layer to become damaged.

Are Pans with Non-Stick Coating Considered Nonreactive?

Yes, non-stick surfaces are deemed as being nonreactive. Pans made from glass and pryoceramic glass like Pyrex and CorningWare, as well as “green” non-stick cookware, are all excellent options. Just correctly follow the manufacturers’ instructions to be sure that you always get the best results from using their nonreactive style pans.

You may find that you need to cook your foods for longer to get the same results as you would from reactive pans, which are highly efficient when it comes to conducting heat and delivering a more even distribution of heat to minimize food hot spots.

Final Thoughts

It’s safe to say that the higher quality cookware you can invest in, the better performance you can expect to achieve. Materials to actively avoid when you are cooking using acidic ingredients are unlined tin, unseasoned cast iron, and raw aluminum.

Our advice is always to purchase quality cookware and to spend your money on something that is backed by a generous manufacturer’s guarantee. If that new recipe you are about to reproduce calls especially for nonreactive cookware, then you could just simply grab your favorite stainless steel pan.

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