Silicone bakeware and cookware has hit the market in greater and greater proportions in recent years. The spatulas and bakeware are fun additions to modern kitchens, but the question remains--is silicone safe for baking and cooking?
If you're like me, you've been tempted to try out all of the fun colors and shapes of silicone products like molds for Homemade Gummies, to muffin tins for these Oat Bran Muffins, to spatulas that glide effortlessly along the insides of pans to scrape out every last bit of Buckwheat Pancake batter....but again, we have to ask the question, is silicone toxic?
Committing to nontoxic living can take a lot of work, and it seems like every week we discover that yet another product potentially endangers our health. *sigh*
As studies have revealed that plastics and Teflon pose risks to human health, silicone kitchenware has become an increasingly popular option. It’s nonstick, stands up to high temperatures, and goes through the dishwasher. But is silicone safe for all the purposes we’re putting it to? Or is silicone toxic?
Unfortunately, the jury’s still out on this one.
This is a perennial problem green-living families face, having to make decisions about their households using the limited information available.
There just hasn’t been much research on silicone. We can follow the precautionary principle, which means avoiding things we don’t have enough safety data on.
We can also take a pragmatic view. Since there’s just no avoiding all toxins in this day and age, each of us has to make decisions about which risks we’re comfortable living with.
So when there’s clear data — like the numerous chemicals we can easily filter out of water to make tap water safe and avoid by choosing making homemade cleaners or choosing non-toxic cleaners — we do it.
In other cases, we might strike a middle ground, accepting a little risk when it doesn’t seem a clear threat to health.
Silicone cookware might be one of those cases.
Is Silicone Safe? What We Know Right Now
What is Silicone?
Silicone is a synthesized rubber made by combining the element silicon with oxygen or carbon.
In the form made with oxygen, it’s in the category of products the FDA labels “GRAS,” short for “Generally Regarded as Safe,” which essentially means that there’s no data to suggest otherwise.
Does Silicone Leach into Food?
Claims abound that silicone is inert and doesn’t leach chemicals into food cooked in it, but there’s little research to back them up.
What few studies exist actually suggest the opposite.
Most studies on silicone have focused on medical uses, including tubing and implants. Only a few studies have analyzed migration of silicone into food, finding evidence that tiny silicone particles called siloxanes can indeed migrate when in contact with food (source and source), especially higher-fat foods like meat. (source)
Silicone Fillers, Petroleum, and Colors--Oh My!
There are some other issues to consider when evaluating silicone safety. While food-grade silicone shouldn’t contain any non-silicone fillers (likely made with compounds like plastics you’re trying to avoid), many cheaper products may.
Debra Lynn Dadd, a sharp researcher into issues related to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, notes that because petroleum products are sometimes used to synthesize silicone, those with sensitivity to petroleum might have trouble with silicone. (source) She also found evidence that high temperatures could cause silicone to release formaldehyde. (source)
And then there’s the issue of all those bright colorants used -- how can we know what’s in them? I contacted several companies to ask but haven’t heard back from them.
It’s important to note that the studies above did not look for other substances, like fillers or colorants, that might also migrate into food from prolonged contact or at high temperatures.
Is Silicone Safe? What to Do About Silicone Cookware
The limited information we have would suggest we should proceed with caution. When there’s a good alternative to silicone, I would say use that instead. (More on these alternatives below.)
But is silicone toxic? Should we toss all our silicone products?
That may not be necessary, but it’s a question of the level of risk you’re comfortable with. With all the other known health hazards permeating our food supplies and homes, silicone contamination probably shouldn’t be at the top of your list of products to toss.
Some tips on Silicone Safety:
If you decide to use silicone products in your kitchen, following are some things that can help you make a safer choice:
- Buy Pure Silicone: Look for the words “100% food-grade silicone” when you’re considering buying something made of silicone.
- Do the "Twist Test": Try the “twist test” on silicone you already own. If you see white when you twist it, it likely contains fillers with unknown ingredients. Take extra precautions with those pieces if you choose to keep them, reserving them for non-food uses and/or avoiding high heat.
- Keep It Cool: The limited data we have on how silicone behaves at higher temperatures suggests it’s wise to skip the silicone for baking and other high-temperature cooking.
Is Silicone Safe? Alternatives to Silicone
Now that we've tried to answer the question, "Is Silicone Toxic?", you might be wondering what the alternatives are.
- Seasoned cast iron is probably your safest bet. There are plenty of skillet recipes out there that go from stove to oven, and you can get baking pans made out of cast iron as well.
As an added bonus, cast iron is virtually indestructible and lasts forever. The seasoning keeps it nonstick and won’t chip off like Teflon-coated nonstick bakeware, which you definitely want to avoid.
- Ceramic: You might also look at ceramic cookware, like Ceramcor or Le Creuset.
- Baking Sheet Alternatives: Cookie sheets (preferably stainless steel rather than aluminum or non-stick) can be greased well rather than using a silicone mat. Note that parchment paper is coated with a thin layer of--you guessed it--SILICONE! So if you are trying to avoid silicone, use wax paper instead, but only if you aren't cooking at a high temperature. Even at 350 degrees, you might have a mess on your hands if you use wax paper. See blog footnote for more information about this.
- Popsicle Alternatives: Popsicles (like these Sugar-free Fudgesicles or Key Lime Popsicles) can be made in metal molds if you want to skip silicone.
- Spatula Alternatives: Instead of a silicone spatula use a wooden spoon, bamboo spoon, or metal spatula.
The Cute Silicone Mold Dilemma
What about candy molds, which come in contact with heated liquid, though not for the prolonged period that bakeware does? Homemade Gummies are the health-conscious mom’s best friend, and there isn’t really a great alternative to silicone molds. Same goes for Homemade Marshmallows or Molded Chocolate Candies.
If you have pure silicone and are less concerned about chemical migration at lower temperatures, this fix is pretty simple: Let homemade gummy or heated candy mixtures cool a bit before pouring.
If you want to avoid silicone molds altogether, you can use glass bakeware or ceramic bakeware and cut your homemade gummies or candies into cubes, or you can use a candy recipe that doesn’t require a mold.
Is Silicone Safe? The Bottom Line
I’ve acquired a few silicone pieces in the last several years -- gummy molds, a bake mat, some popsicle molds, and spatulas. Having looked into the details on silicone, and particularly considering the unknown chemicals in the bright colorants used in most, I’m somewhat concerned about what might be migrating into my family’s food when we use them.
But I’m far more concerned about what might be migrating from the plastic wrapping so much food comes packaged in -- everything from organic cheese to nuts to the gelatin we use in our gummies. And most of us can’t avoid all those sources of contamination, though we can limit them to some extent.
I will probably keep using much of my silicone for awhile, though I will avoid high-temperature uses and cool our gummy liquid more before pouring. I will certainly think twice before buying more silicone, and I think skipping the bakeware is wise.
Maybe future studies on silicone safety will convince me that it’s time to throw out all our silicone, but I don’t think there’s enough evidence to warrant that yet.
I’m resigned to the fact that my kids are growing up in a toxic environment. I know I can’t protect them from everything. But they’re lucky I know enough to keep at bay a much larger percentage of the daily chemical onslaught than the vast majority of their peers.
I’m adding silicone to the list of things we’ll be slowly (not fanatically) replacing in our house.
If you’re trying to keep toxins out of your home and kitchen, these things should probably be higher priorities:
- Make your tap water safe
- Switch to non-toxic store bought cleaners or homemade cleaners
- Find non-toxic store bought or homemade homemade cleaners
- Avoid artificial food additives
There are at least 5 additional ways toxins sneak into your home. Pick up a free checklist and resource guide to rooting them out here.
Footnote: It's your choice about whether to use parchment or wax paper or neither. There is conflicting information about the safety of using wax paper in the oven and also about the toxicity of parchment paper. Those topics go beyond the scope of this post.
How about you? Do you use silicone in your kitchen?
Will you keep using it after reading this information?
Susannah is a freelance health and environmental writer obsessed with making our world and ourselves healthier and greener. She blogs at HealthyGreenSavvy, where she shares super-practical ways to eat well, reduce exposure to toxins, and shrink our ecological impact.
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