Kitchen tools and cooking utensils have long been made of pottery, wood, and various metals. Rubber and plastic came along in the 20th century. More recently, silicone kitchen tools have joined the party. Sometimes they’re called silicone rubber. They look a lot like plastic, which might make some people a little suspicious. So let’s take a careful look at silicone kitchen tools and cooking utensils.
We need to make distinctions among some very similar words. Silicon is the name of an element, a crystalline solid. Pure elemental silicon is not easily found in nature. Beach sand and quartz are silicon dioxide, or silica.
You may have heard that silicone is made from sand. In fact, the first step in making silicone is heating silica to extremely high temperatures to obtain elemental silicon. Then, a mixture of silicon powder and methyl chloride are again subjected to high heat. From there, various chemical processes add oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon and combine everything into polymers.
There are as many silicones as there are plastics. Whatever you use in your kitchen is made from food grade silicone.
Is silicone better than plastic?
Environmentally, silicone has many advantages over plastic. Unfortunately, a lot of direct comparisons found on the internet are just plain silly.
For example, I have seen products that claim to be made of organic silicone. Silicone is an inorganic synthetic polymer. The process of making silicone introduces organic compounds into it, but that doesn’t make it organic.
Also, many of the comparisons between silicone and plastic stress that silicone is not single-use. But when it comes to kitchen tools, neither is plastic. Who would buy single-use plastic measuring cups or mixing bowls?
It occurs to me that if it’s possible to make straws and shopping bags and takeout containers from silicone, single-use silicone would probably be more eco-friendly.
Plastic is made from petroleum, a finite resource. Drilling for oil, extracting it, and transporting it all present environmental hazards. Silicon is the second most abundant element on earth, after oxygen. It’s not infinitely available. In fact, for some uses, the world is actually running out of sand! Still, since making silicone doesn’t require any specific characteristics of sand, it doesn’t put the supply in any danger.
Both plastic and silicone, being inorganic, are not biodegradable. But silicone is a more nearly natural material. It can’t leach toxins because it doesn’t contain any to begin with. Burning it in an incinerator leaves only silica as a residue.
Both plastic and silicone are somewhat recyclable. There are established procedures and markets for recycling some forms of plastic, but not for silicone. If you have silicone you want to recycle, you can do an internet search to find out where to send it. Actually, when it comes to recycling, though, plastic has the edge.
What are some advantages of silicone kitchen tools and cooking utensils?
Silicone is impervious to heat and cold
Silicone cooking utensils can withstand high heat—up to 600º F according to some manufacturers. The hottest home oven temperatures don’t approach that. The thermometers that measure oil temperature top out at 400º. Silicone will not melt, crack, or otherwise degrade at the temperatures anyone is likely to use at home.
For that matter, you can put it in the freezer with no worries.
Silicone is chemically inert
Not only that, silicone won’t react to acids or bases in foods. It will not corrode or produce hazardous fumes. Silicone is entirely safe to use around food.
Silicone kitchen tools will not stain. Try to get the color of pasta sauce out of your rubber spatula! It’s hard. What’s more, silicone will not retain odors. And it’s not porous, so it can’t harbor microbes and let them grow like wood can.
What’s more, food won’t stick to silicone as much as to other surfaces. So it’s easier to clean.
Silicone doesn’t scratch
You can use silicone kitchen tools on non-stick surfaces. Now, most people who care about green living don’t buy Teflon or Silverstone cookware, but if you have some and use it, you know not to use metal utensils. Even wood can scratch it.
The more environmentally friendly ceramic-coated pots and pans are likewise non-stick, and they come with similar use and care instructions. Silicone whisks, spoons, spatulas, etc. will not scratch them.
Silicone is flexible
Silicone products for the kitchen more nearly resemble rubber than any other material. Their flexibility makes them ideal for such tasks as scraping all the cake batter out of a mixing bowl.
The same flexibility can also be a downside to silicone. You can use a metal tool for sauteing; it lets you cut meat, mushrooms, and such as you cook them. Silicone isn’t rigid enough.
And it’s also too soft and floppy for good handles. Therefore, when the business end of a tool is made from silicone, the handle will probably be something like plastic, wood, stainless steel, and so on.
For the same reason, you must put silicone bakeware on a cookie sheet or other firm surface unless it’s built with a rigid frame.
What are some silicone household products?
I can’t think of any material that can go into more different kinds of kitchen tools and cooking utensils. And, of course, you can use silicone household products in other rooms, too.
Silicone bakeware includes cake pans, muffin pans, pizza pans, and more. Or you can simply use a silicone baking mat. If you have a metal pan you use for muffins or cupcakes, you don’t need to waste paper for baking cups. You can get reusable silicone baking cups instead.
For stove-top cooking, you can use a silicone steamer insert in several sizes of pans. To some extent, if the insert is wider than the pan you want to use it in, you can take advantage of its flexibility to make it fit. Silicone kitchen tools include spoons, spatulas, whisks, turners, colanders, and more
When the food is cooked, you can use a silicone oven mitt or potholder to take it out of the oven. You can store leftovers in washable silicone storage bags. Silicone stretch lids cover bowls and other storage containers.
Click on any of these links or the ads below to explore what other silicone household products you can find.
Glotoch Silicone Collapsible Colander
Set of 4–Includes 1pc 6 Quart Over the Sink Strainer, 2pc 4 Quart and 1pc 2 Quart Round Folding Strainers Dishwasher-Safe,BPA Free(Blue)
Silicone Stretch Lids, Reusable Silicone Lid Bowl Covers for food with Improved Grip Sealer with Platinum Food Grade Silicone, BPA free, 6 Pack of Various Sizes