You might already have one of these, or at least your grandma probably does. Getting enough iron has always been an issue for humans, even those who eat meat. In fact, even though iron from animal sources absorbs almost twice as well as iron from plant sources, only about 15% of animal iron is even absorbed. This is why people with iron-deficiency anemia find it very difficult to get enough iron from their diet alone: because we all find it difficult to get enough iron from our diet. This is a problem for everyone, not just plant-based eaters or anemic individuals.
Thankfully the solution is easy, and it’s the same one that humans have been using for thousands of years: cast iron cookware. Cooking in cast iron pans will significantly increase the amount of iron in our food, especially if the foods being cooked are acidic like tomato sauce. One study found that tomato sauce cooked in an iron pot went from having .6 mg iron per 100 g (just less than 1/2 cup) serving to 5.7 mg iron per 100 g.
How Much Iron Do Vegans Need?
Plant-based eaters require 1.8x as much iron as animal meat eaters. For men age 19-50, the requirement is 14.4 mg per day and for women 19-50 it’s 32.4. It’s important to note however that cast iron cookware should not be used for children under age 3.
Best Choices for Cast Iron Cookware on Amazon
As an Amazon affiliate, we may earn from qualifying purchases at no cost to you.
Us lucky modern humans can order a cast iron pan from Amazon for less than $20! The only concern when shopping for cast iron cookware as a vegan is to ensure that the pan has been seasoned with a plant-based oil rather than animal fat.
There are many other cast iron cookware options besides a frying pan as well of course; there’s casserole dishes, large and small pots, grill plates and much more. As always, be sure to pick a product with a high rating to get the best chance of receiving a quality item. Below are a few of our favorite picks from Amazon. There are a variety of pan sizes available, which accounts for the variety of prices. All of the pans listed below are best sellers on Amazon with a high rating and are seasoned only with vegetable oil.
How to Increase The Amount of Iron in Food
Longer cooking times and frequent stirring can also increase the amount of iron added to the food. Water-based recipes also may have a greater uptake of iron from the cookware than fried or oil-based meals. The use of cast iron for any dish will increase the iron level of the food, however some recipes will have a greater boost than others. Any foods that contain vitamin C will increase the amount of iron that is absorbed by the body, making the serving even more substantial.
Check out our guide on The Essential Iron Information for Vegans to learn more about which foods naturally contain high levels of iron and tips for ensuring that the foods you choose are the best possible option.
Tips for Cooking with Cast Iron
Cast iron is one solid piece of metal, which means that it can go directly in the oven; something that most other cookware can’t handle. Due to this, cast iron pans are often used to make a wide variety of dishes, including cornbread, casseroles, and even lasagna. Over time, recipes have developed that highlight the beauty and utility of these classic pans. Here is a free Kindle book on Cast Iron Cooking for Vegetarians that includes a variety of recipes.
Other Ways to Use Cast Iron
If you are really fond of your own set of cookware, there are other ways to incorporate cast iron into your cooking! In particular, there’s a cast iron fish that can be set it in any cooking pot to infuse the food with extra iron. Another idea is to use a cast iron burger press, which can also work for paninis (panini bread likely wouldn’t absorb much iron, but every little bit helps).
How to Care for a Cast Iron Pan
The main thing to know about caring for cast iron is that it is “seasoned” which means that it is coated with an oil that protects the iron. Due to this, cast iron should never be washed with soap as it will remove the seasoning. There is a helpful guide on HowToCleanStuff.net for How to Clean a Cast Iron Skillet with salt or boiling water. Scrubbing with steel wool or a special cast iron scrubber such as a chain mail cloth like this one on Amazon are also common methods.
Over time, the seasoning will naturally decrease and proper care for a cast iron pan requires that it be reseasoned once or twice per year as needed. Many pans come pre-seasoned, which is why it’s important for vegans to ensure that the seasoning used was a plant-based oil rather than animal fat. Seasoning a cast iron pan is as simple as wiping it thoroughly with oil and placing it in the oven to bake for an hour at a high temperature (450° would be great, but some say 350° can suffice).
- Go Ask Alice, Colombia University: Does cooking with cast iron pots and pans add iron to our food?
- Wall Street Journal: Can a Pan Add Iron to Your Diet?
- National Institutes of Health: Iron
- Wikipedia: Seasoning (cookware)