Silicone, is it safer?
I have asked myself for some time if silicone is really a safer alternative to Teflon bake ware or plastic? I decided to do a little digging and I found out some interesting yet concerning things that seem to be overlooked in the marketing around silicone products.
Silicon vs Silicone
The best place to start is to look at the difference between silicon and silicone as they are often interpreted as being the same thing. Silicon is a naturally occurring element whereas silicone is a synthetic polymer made of carbon, silicon, oxygen, hydrogen, and other elements.
Contaminants in silicone cookware
As silicone is not as natural as it is made out to be there are a few concerns people should be aware of around its manufacturing, particularly around low-quality products as they can contain cheap dyes or fillers. I was shocked to find one of these fillers could be plastic! An easy test to see if your silicone has fillers is a "twist test". Twist or pinch your piece of silicone bakeware and if white streaks appear it is an indicator fillers are present. In pure silicone it will hold its colour.
Another concern with the manufacturing is that there are residual agents left behind on silicone cookware. The agents are used to coat the silicone products so they will easily release from high pressure temperature moulds. Some companies even recommend the customers to heat their new cookware for 2 hours at 230°C to ensure residue is removed. I wonder how many do not bother to read the instructions when using their silicone bakeware for the first time!
Silicone leaching into your food
The major concern for many people is how much of the silicone could leach into your food. Many claim silicone is inert and therefore will not leach into your foods. However, research indicates otherwise.
Here are some findings that contradict the claims above:
-A major study published by the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health in 2005 stated "all the observations indicate that silicone baking moulds are not inert enough for use in all the range of temperature indicated by the manufacturers".
- Another study found siloxanes (silicone) was released from silicone bakeware, in fact the higher the fat content the higher the amount of siloxanes leached.
This does little to back up claims that silicone does not leach into your food. Why should we be concerned? Silicone exposure has been associated with a variety of autoimmune diseases, impaired fertility and cancer. The European Union considers certain silicone to be an endocrine disruptor. We do not fully understand the effects of the accumulation of silicone in our bodies when we used it regularly.
Silicone does not easily breakdown so stays in the environment for long periods of time and has been found to be highly toxic to aquatic animals.
So where does all this information leave us. I would be reluctant to use silicone for baking or cooking as their is evidence to suggest it does leach at cooking temperatures and little is know about how it may impact our health.
However, you could still use silicone in situations where is not heated such as ice blocks or jelly moulds. Just makes sure you buy high quality or medical grade silicone, that does not contain any fillers, is BPA and lead free.
If you have to continue to use silicone to cook with as I know it can be difficult to find alternatives, especially muffin tins, I would recommend lining the silicone with something like muffin cases to avoid it having direct contact with your food. Also, be mindful of how you use your silicone utensils, it would be best to avoid leaving them in hot substances such as soups or using them on an oily bbq.
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