Stainless steel

What is stainless steel? Stainless Steel is a common name for metal alloys that consist of 10.5% or more Chromium (Cr) and more than 50% Iron (Fe). Although it is called "stainless", a better term for it is "highly stain resistant". A somewhat dark metal, it looks bright because it reflects light.

What are the main benefits of stainless steel in kitchen utensils?

♦  It is one of the most hygienic surfaces for the preparation of foods and very easy to clean, as its unique surface has no pores or cracks to harbor dirt, grime or bacteria.
♦  It is very attractive and requires minimal care, since it won't chip or easily rust and it takes little seasoning.
♦  It will not affect flavor, as it does not react with acidic foods during food preparation or cooking.
♦  With proper care, it has a useful life expectancy of over 100 years, and it is totally recyclable.

What gives stainless steel its properties?

The chromium content in stainless steel alloys is what generally prevents corrosion. Pure iron, the primary element of stainless steel, is extracted from its natural state as iron ore, it is unstable by itself, and naturally wants to corrode (rust). The chromium helps to procrastinate nature's attempts to combine the pure iron with oxygen and water to form rust.

The chromium works by reacting with oxygen to form a tough, adherent, invisible, passive layer of chromium oxide film on the steel surface. If damaged mechanically or chemically, this film is self healing as long as it has enough oxygen.

Because oxygen is necessary for the reaction, liquids and other foodstuffs stored for a prolonged time in stainless can prevent oxygen contact and thus promote corrosion, as can prolonged contact with household cleaners such as bleach.

Generally, an increase of chromium content improves the corrosion resistance of stainless steels. The addition of nickel is used to raise the general corrosion resistance required in more aggressive usage or conditions. The presence of molybdenum (Mo) improves the localized corrosion resistance, such as against pitting (scarring).

Other alloying metals are also used to improve the structure and properties of stainless steels, such as Titanium, Vanadium and Copper. Non metal additions typically include natural elements such as Carbon & Nitrogen, as well as Silicon.

High-carbon stainless steel contains a minimum of 0.3% carbon. The higher the carbon content, the less formable and the tougher the steel becomes. Its hardness makes it suitable for things such as cutting edges, and other high-wear applications like plow blades. Carbon thus helps makes the edge easier to sharpen, and helps retain a sharp edge longer.

How can stainless steel affect my health?

The principal elements in stainless that have effects on our health are iron, chromium and nickel.

♦  Iron can be very beneficial and a required mineral in a normal diet.
♦  Chromium is also beneficial in small quantities, and you would have to cook four complete meals in the same stainless steel pots every day to come anywhere close to reaching any adverse affects from chromium intake.
♦  Although nickel is poisonous in large quantities, only trace amounts go into the food - not enough to make a difference. The few who are allergic to nickel, however, should avoid using stainless altogether.

What precautions do I need to take when using stainless steel in my kitchen?

♦  To prevent hot spots when using stovetop cookware, it should have a heat diffusing base, either visible or encapsulated, that is made of a better heat-diffusing material, like copper or aluminum. These metals are highly conductive of heat, so use moderate heat to maximize the even spreading of heat, minimize sticking, and to get tastier, more evenly cooked food with less stirring.
♦  Do not store food or liquids in stainless steel cookware after cooking.
♦  To keep the surface smooth and scratch-free, do not use abrasives, bleach or ammonia. See cleaning instructions below.