Question: I recently discovered silicone baking sheets and pans. They are a great non-stick alternative to Teflon, but is it safe to cook on silicone?
" Jana Kingsley, Arvada
Answer: I was immediately attracted to these items when I spotted them in the store a year or so ago. They are bright and flexible and you can instantly see the differences in them from their metal brethren. It was apparent to me that they would have muffins and breads practically leaping out of the pan. Dreams of no longer smearing my pans with oil and retiring my butter knife as a prying tool and returning it to its duty of buttering my muffins began to run through my mind. But I was snapped back to reality by the thought that I could possibly gain all of this convenience at the price of baking in toxic chemicals, so I did a bit of research.
First, I discovered that the parchment paper that many folks use for baking as a way to avoid greasing their pans is actually paper coated with a thin layer of silicone. So truly you have already been using silicone for baking if you use parchment paper. I quickly realized that using the baking mats instead of parchment paper would be a great way to save trees.
But, you ask, is silicone safe?
I am happy to announce that it is. In fact, a personal hero of mine, Debra Lynn Dadd, a guru in the world of non-toxic living, uses silicone products. She researched the MSDS sheets on silicone and found that all of the ingredients in it are reported to be inert, non-toxic to people, wildlife and the planet and it is not considered a hazardous waste. The only problem that I could find with silicone is that it is not biodegradable and although it is said to be recyclable, it is not so locally.
That said, I must mention that it is a reusable product like any of your baking dishes, pans and cookie sheets. And as I mentioned earlier you can reduce paper use and waste by choosing a silicone baking mat (such as the popular brand Silpat) rather than parchment paper. And you don't need to grease pans when you use these so you can cut the fat in your baked goodies!
Another environmental benefit is that you can use less water to clean your silicone baking accessories, because the material is truly non-stick. So wave goodbye to those toxic non-stick coated metal baking pans, you can now swap them out with silicone. The flex in the silicone makes it easy to pop muffins out of their pans, adding another easy release property to the already non-stick material.
Some other selling points to these products, which admittedly have nothing to do with the environment but that certainly make life just a little easier (which to me is second only to living an eco-friendly lifestyle), are that they don't retain odors or flavors, they don't stain, they can go straight from the freezer to the oven, distribute heat evenly and cool quickly.
If you are still with me and haven't already headed out the door to go buy a few silicone products of your own, then let me enlighten you on the wide array of silicone products available. You will find spatulas, molds, ice cube trays, rolling pins and more. Outside of the kitchen you might be surprised to know that silicone is found in medical tubing, baby bottle nipples, breast pumps, contact lenses and even permanent medical internal body parts such as heart valves and joint replacements.
Yes, there was a huge controversy over silicone breast implants in the 80s and 90s, but those utilize a gel form of silicone, which has a slightly different chemical makeup.
So where can you find silicone products? Well it would be easier to state where you cannot find them. But suffice it to say that you can find silicone kitchen products in most any store where you buy regular old kitchen products. And yes, the prices are reasonable.
I am not one to promote consumerism, but with attributes such as reducing paper use, eliminating the use of toxic non-stick coatings on metal pans, and making life a little simpler, I think it is appropriate to encourage you to try out a silicone product of some sort. So get out there people!
Eartha Steward is written by Carly Wier, Holly Loff, and Beth Orstad, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Eartha believes that you can walk gently on our planet, even if you're wearing stylie shoes.
Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org with Ask Eartha as the subject or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.