How to have a healthy mind? Using iron cookware helps. But how to use and maintain them?

Updated: Aug 10

Health and wellness is a basic need. It was plentiful for our ancestors. But we don't have proper access to it in this modern age.


Millet Dosai made without oil on a cast iron tawa.


Mental health issues are widespread these days. As inspired by Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, one must have access to basic needs to help others in our community. I think this is one of the reasons social entrepreneurs and changemakers are struggling. But, there are some simple fixes; we simply have to listen to our ancestors.


Read on to learn how using iron pans at home can improve our mental health and, most importantly, learn tricks and tips to build a beautiful relationship with your iron pans. Finally, find out where you can buy such cookware that puts a smile on the faces of artisans


Disclaimer: the story revolves around the household of South India family and their love for their traditional dish called Dosai. But the idea applies to anyone passionate about using traditional cookware like iron pans.


Anyone with iron tawa will tell you they had enough with the rust and sticky surface. It's maddening to prevent that dosai from sticking to the pan and that crispy cutlet losing half of it on the skillet. The struggle is real. In this modern age, where non-stick tawa and drive-through restaurants give you easy food, you always crave those delicious home-made dosai. The secret is our ancient iron tawa. Once a common sight in every South Indian kitchen is now rarity paving the way to cheaper but dangerous aluminium, hindalium, and fancy ceramic or teflon coated non-stick. Many pieces of research link Aluminium to mental illness and Teflon to cancer.


Don't we all dream of a smooth non-stick surface to glide our crispy dosai? Wake up, because I am going to tell you it's possible with iron tawa too! No more rusty pan or oil guzzling tawa. Say hello to Cast Iron! Now, is that a new fad that is going to empty our wallets and rust in the kitchen? No, it's going to save all the rust scrubbing and aluminum deposits in your body.

Basically, there are two types of iron cookware. The oldest form is pure Wrought iron sheets beaten and worked into kadai or tawa. It involves a lot of tools and labour to form the desired shapes just by working by hand. The other way of preparing is melting an alloy of carbon, silicon, and pig iron, pouring the mixture into sand moulds, forming Cast iron. Both have beneficial properties of incorporating iron into the food and last literally forever with good care.

'How to save iron from rust?' is the common question and frequently faced challenge. To be honest, pure iron rust easily if not dried and oiled well. On the other hand, cast iron does not rust with the slightest neglect. A well-seasoned iron vessel will not discolour or rust unless it's not dried after washing. The trick is to heat up the cookware after washing and apply a thin coat of castor or coconut oil all over it.


Onion half used to season a hot tawa to prevent sticking.


'Everything sticks to the pan and uses up lots of oil' is something that usually happens at the beginning. It's a beautiful relationship that you build with your iron utensils. They like to be nurtured and seasoned so they can perform the best for you. Seasoning is the key. For example, rubbing freshly cut onion with oil over heated pan gives it a smooth surface to work on. Alternatively sautéing onion with oil also helps. If you are not into all this, better off buy a well-seasoned cast iron cookware. But again, you will need to re-season it once in a while. By heating the whole pan to a high enough temperature, you permanently bond the oil to the raw iron. In this form, it protects the metal from air and food.


Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Wash well with baking soda, and dry off all moisture.

  2. Apply an even coat of castor or coconut oil on all sides, handles, nooks and corners.

  3. Now place the cookware in the oven at 200ºC for an hour. Let it cool inside the oven.

  4. The fats in the oil will polymerize on the surface forming a smooth coating making it non-sticky.


The cookware turns jet black when well seasoned. However, for several uses initially, it is best to brush little oil while cooking, so the coating doesn't wear off quickly. Use only natural scrub like coconut coir or ridge gourd loofah with some baking soda to remove greasy bits and any discolorations.

Beetroot coconut curry made with Lodge cast-iron skillet.

With just a little bit of care and patience, we can conveniently switch to organic cookware in our kitchens keeping away toxic metals. As a reward for your perseverance to change, I have listed down few convenient sources of pre-seasoned cast-iron cookwares for beginners.

I will be suggesting some brands to choose from in the following section. Please note these are NOT affiliate links. I am sharing them with you out of pure love.


If you live in the US or Canada, the brand called 'Lodge' is your best bet for high quality and affordable cast iron cookware. I have intensively used them and absolutely love all their collections. You can take them along on a camping trip or a back yard vegan barbecue. These sturdy cast iron skillets will be the best investment for your kitchen.

Since we do not have Lodge available in South-India, I have listed some of the businesses I bought from or read about. Cast-iron production is quite a small scale and controlled differently in India, and each brand here sources from various artisans. I do not guarantee anything but to just go with the available resources and make the best use of it in your kitchen or outdoors.

Essential Traditions by Kayal

This Chennai based shop has everything related to traditional cookware. They buy from regular cast iron manufacturers, season them manually and individually, and provide good customer service for any of your queries and struggles. I wouldn't say the cast iron is the highest quality only because we find the same products in the wholesale iron market in Chennai. Nevertheless, a one-stop for all types of organic cookware.

Rock Tawa

They specialize only in high-quality grey cast iron products, pre-seasoned with sunflower oil. Their parent company is an iron foundry that manufactures castings and machined parts in India. No wonder they have good quality control.


Bhagya cookware

They also have their in-house foundry that manufactures high quality cast iron cookware pre-seasoned with gingelly oil. They have focused on the fine finishing that appeals to most of us.

Prithvimaya

Their sustainable products focus on the rehabilitation of 'about to extinct' arts & artisans. Prithvimaya collaborates with highly skilled and well experienced rural and semi-urban artisans to promote handicrafts across the globe. This is an essential business model where the artist is given equal importance as the trader. They have a wide range of premium organic cookware that is not found elsewhere. Since their website is not working, you can only purchase through Instagram or Facebook.


Zista

Emphasizes on the traditional values and knowledge of all our ancient cookware, very similar to ET by Kayal's business model, based out of Bangalore. They seem to know what they are doing as they talk about the artisans and the process of making more.


En pan

I haven't tried their products yet mainly because they don't talk about their sourcing. But, for someone into aesthetics, this might be the perfect place to find designer dosakal, whatever that is.


Wherever you buy your first cast-iron, remember that you have made a significant change in the artisan's life and yours. I bet you will fall in love with your cast-iron cookware and create beautiful food and a healthy lifestyle.




About the author:

Monica Pandian is a Sustainability Strategist at Vyugam. She uses her conventional environmental education in combination with ancient wisdom to help social entrepreneurs and changemakers to become truly sustainable and financially successful. She is the founder of Sea & Me, a 360-degree ethical company produces zero-waste soaps and shampoo bars that positively impact of livelihood of humans and animals throughout the supply chain.




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