All About Nickel Free Cookware

What is nickel free cookware?

Nickel is added to stainless steel cookware to help prevent corrosion as well as to help create that nice shiny look. However, some people are allergic to nickel or they feel that nickel in cookware may be dangerous to their health. With this in mind, some companies have developed cookware that contains no nickel.

Brands that Sell Nickel Free Cookware

  • Silet make a nickel free range called Silargan® which is suitable for all stovetops. Alternatively, you can consider enamel coated cast iron wear, glass ware or hard anodized aluminum coated with non-stick. You can view the complete range at Amazon.
  • Homi Chef is another brand that sells nickel free cookware. It’s reasonably priced and rated well on Amazon. Here’s a link to one of their sets on Amazon – Homi 14pc Nickel Free cookware set.
  • Chantal is a privately owned company run by a Heidi Thurlow (the first woman in the US to run her own cookware company. The nickel free cookware is not cheap and the reviews for this cookware are few on Amazon but it is worth a look. You can check out the 7pc cookware set here.

Do we need to worry?

In order to answer this question, let’s take a look at what nickel allergy is.

An allergy to nickel is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis. If you suffer from this allergy, it will cause an extremely itchy rash that appears when a substance containing nickel comes into contact with your skin for any length of time.

Nickel allergy is most commonly found in connection with wearing earrings, jewelry with metal clasps, the riveted buttons on jeans, watch strap buckles and metal frames on spectacles.

This allergy can affect any one of any age. You may be fine with nickel for years and then suddenly develop an allergy to it – or it may take just one exposure to it. For some people, even holding coins in their hand for a few minutes can bring out the itchy rash. Similarly, holding the handle of a pot or pan while cooking would bring you up in an allergic rash if that handle contained a high level of nickel. Once you have the allergy, you will always have it, so avoidance is the only ‘cure’.

Contact Dermatitis is generally treated by avoidance of the substance which causes the allergy. Once the rash is there, it can be eased with very sparing application of topical steroid creams.

Allergen of the Year!!

Nickel has the dubious honor of having been awarded the title ‘Allergen of the Year’ for 2008. This was bestowed upon it by the American Contact Dermatitis Society. A recent article by Kathryn Zug MD and Rachel Kornick MD of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire says “…the rising incidence of nickel allergy in the United States and elsewhere, high nickel sensitization rates documented in children, and a resurgent issue of biomedical device complication (specifically, nickel allergy) due to metal, to dismiss nickel’s importance and relevance to public health and skin disease would be a mistake.”

Dr Deal Edell, an American physician who hosts his own syndicated radio talk show, agrees with Zug and Kornick. He says “…people who know they’re allergic to nickel should avoid preparing food in stainless steel, and opt instead for enameled steel for stove top cooking and Pyrex glassware for baking and microwave use. And to play it safe, those of you without nickel allergies should probably stay away from stainless steel for cooking very acidic foods, like tomato sauce, or for deep frying, whose high temperatures can draw more nickel into your food.”

So if I have a nickel allergy, should I use nickel-free cookware?

There has been a lot of concern lately about whether it is safe to use stainless steel cookware because it contains both chromium and nickel. It is true that both of these substances are poisonous at high levels. However, the amount that may enter food that is being cooked in stainless steel cookware is extremely tiny and should not be anywhere near enough to cause health issues. However, if your hands are affected by holding metal handles, look for a range that has silicon covered or wood handles.

Why does stainless steel contain nickel and chromium?

Chromium contains a chemical that reacts with elements in the air to form a layer of protection over the entire surface of the cookware. This layer helps the pan to resist corrosion, repel stains and helps to prevent the formation of rust.

To be called stainless steel, the alloy must contain a minimum of 11% chromium. Any percentage higher than 11% means that the protective layer will be thicker and if it becomes damaged, it will repair itself more quickly.

So if I have a nickel allergy, should I use nickel-free cookware?

There has been a lot of worry lately about whether it is safe to use stainless steel cookware because it contains both chromium and nickel. It is true that both of these substances are poisonous at high levels. However, the amount that may enter food that is being cooked in stainless steel cookware is extremely tiny and should not be anywhere near enough to cause health issues. However, if your hands are affected by holding metal handles, look for a range that has silicon covered or wood handles.

Why does stainless steel contain nickel and chromium?

Chromium contains a chemical that reacts with elements in the air to form a layer of protection over the entire surface of the cookware. This layer helps the pan to resist corrosion, repel stains and helps to prevent the formation of rust.

To be called stainless steel, the alloy must contain a minimum of 11% chromium. Any percentage higher than 11% means that the protective layer will be thicker and if it becomes damaged, it will repair itself more quickly.

The number 18 refers to the chromium content, so an 18/10 pan will contain 18% chromium.

The second number refers to the percentage of nickel in the cookware. Nickel adds to the protective layer started by the chromium. It also makes the cookware shiny – so the higher the second number, the more nickel it will contain and the shinier it will be.

When less expensive is better!

Nickel is not added to other less expensive stainless steel items such as mixing bowls, cheap cookware, stockpots etc. This is why they are not as shiny as their more expensive counterparts. It is also why they are much more prone to developing rust. However, if you are worried about using cookware containing nickel, then these less expensive 18/0 items are the ones for you!

Ask your Doctor

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence to show that using stainless steel containing nickel has any negative effect on the health of people with a known nickel allergy – apart from possible contact dermatitis of the hand from holding a metal handle.

However, a quick tour of online forums shows that many people are very concerned about both nickel and chromium in stainless steel. If you are really worried about this, it is best to consult your Doctor or a Dermatologist.