While not new to the market, baking products such as silicone baking mats, food covers and silicone oven mitts are still relatively new to most home cooks. These brightly colored alternatives to more traditional paper, fabric, metal or glass products are incredibly useful to have around – not to mention fun to use!
Seeing how thin and flexible the materials are, you may have concerns about whether silicone oven mitts will be able to protect your hands successfully (they will), or whether the silicone mats or muffin cups will react with your food (they won’t).
Overall, silicone baking products are some of the sturdiest, least expensive and non-stickiest products on the market today and they make a great purchase for your kitchen or for a friend.
Silicone vs Harmful Toxic Plastics:
There has been a great deal of negative publicity lately around certain toxicity of plastics and the dangers that they can pose to humans when the plastic reacts with our food – specifically when heat is applied. There are three specific types of plastics that are dangerous / toxic: #3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride), #6 PS (polystyrene) and #7 “other” which generally includes plastic with BPA (bisphenol-A).
Polyvinyl chloride contains phthalates which can be used as solvents in nail polish, shampoo and hair spray and are often used to soften PVC – most often found in IV bags, medical tubes, toys, shower curtains and wallpaper. This specific compound has been shown to cause liver cancer, reduce sperm counts and cause testicular atrophy. Polystyrene is used in Styrofoam, meat trays and food containers, and can leach hormone disrupters and carcinogens as well as being a main component of marine debris that litters our oceans. Finally, BPA is a component of CDs, DVDs, sunglasses, and the lining of many canned foods. When heated or washed with a strong detergent, it breaks down quickly and can impair brain function, cause cancer and early puberty, chemotherapy resistance and obesity.
Silicone, on the other hand, is generally considered completely inert up to 450 degrees F, much hotter than most kitchen uses for the products. It is also rated for temperatures below freezing, so you can safely take it from the freezer straight to the oven without any concern for breakage, as you may have with glass pans. Silicone has been tested repeatedly in both the U.S. and by Health Canada, and has been found to be non-reactive with food or drinks and also found to not produce any hazardous fumes.
What Exactly Is Silicone?
While it is a man-made polymer, silicone is made simply of silicon and oxygen. Note the difference between silicone and silicon; silicon is an element found in one of the most abundant materials on earth: sand, or silica. While silicone is essentially benign, it is important to know that it is created by passing silica (sand) through hydrocarbons, which creates a polymer with an oxygen and silicon backbone. The hydrocarbons do come from natural gas and petroleum, but to date the resulting silicone has been found to be non-reactive at most usable temperatures.
Durability of Silicone Baking Products:
While it’s not recyclable at most normal stations, silicone is an incredibly durable material and will likely provide a lifetime of usage and wear – so recycling is not something you’re likely to need to worry about. It’s also non-toxic to aquatic animals and the environment, so even if you do dispose of it, you’re not damaging the earth in an appreciable way. Unlike metal which can eventually warp and glassware which can be damaged by breakage or transfer between temperature extremes, silicone will handle all of those situations with ease. If you drop it – no problem! You may have a mess to clean up from the contents, but the silicone bakeware itself will be unscathed. The one thing you do need to be cautious about with silicone is that is can be scored or cut through with a knife, so keep the sharp objects away.
Cost Savings of Silicone Bakeware:
Silicone bakeware can save significant money over the lifetime of the product. While they can be a little pricier upfront than traditional alternatives such as metal pans, you will find that there is no need to grease cookie sheets between batches when you’re using a silicone baking sheet, and that silicone muffin pans and loaf pans release their contents with ease. While parchment paper can provide a similar benefit, it too can be expensive and you will need to purchase it on a regular basis as you can only get one use from it – or possibly reuse it for the same batch of cookies. In addition, bleached parchment paper could contain a toxic ingredient called dioxin, so unbleached brown paper is the best option if you decide to go that route.
One of the worst chores in the kitchen is cleaning up, and silicone bakeware excels at this challenge as well. Most foods – hot or cold – slide right out of the silicone sets, leaving the muffin pans or loaf pans almost as clean as if they had just finished a wash cycle. The products are also dishwasher safe and generally will not spot; however, if you do find that there are spots on your bakeware, simply add a little white vinegar to wash the spots away. An added bonus is the fact that the bakeware has a clean, smooth surface – so it is not pocked as wood is and will not allow bacteria or germs to flourish in little spots on the surface.
Overall, silicone bakeware is safe, affordable and some of the most effective products that you can find for the kitchen. The one drawback is that you need to adequately support the pans as they can tend to be a bit floppy – which is definitely a bonus when you’re attempting to remove hot baked goods!