Is Silicone Safe for Baking and Cooking?
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?
In recent years, silicone products have been showing up more and more in kitchens everywhere.
The pieces are fun, brightly colored, and easy to use, and 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?
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 and Almond Butter Cups, 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 also if you're like me, you've been wondering--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.
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) Also, it's been shown that silicone releases formaldehyde at high temperatures (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.
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, the 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.
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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.
The Bottom Line About Silicone Safety
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.
Join her community to learn savvy health hacks that can help you meet life’s challenges with more energy and vitality. Pick up one of her free guides and follow her on Facebook for inspiring ideas from around the blogosphere.
Thank you for sharing.
Excellent post! We are linking to this great post on our site. Keep up the great writing.
What constitutes "high" temperature? Above 350F? 450F?
I keep my house at a "comfortable" temperature in the winter (17C, which is about 65F). Most people find that too cold and that's why I am too hot in their house.
Those were great points to discuss colour and fillers. And I had no idea there were 2 forms of silicone. No product description I have ever seen delineates whether it is oxygen- or carbon-based. I will post this article on Facebook as well as Pinterest.
Hi there! What statement about temperatures are you referring to?
We keep our house cool too! Thanks for sharing!
Baking sheet alternatives.......if you're trying to avoid silicone, use wax paper instead of parchment?? You can't bake with wax paper.
Hi Lynn! Wow thanks for pointing that out. I'm not sure how that got in there. It's fixed now! It was a guest post--not saying that she put it in there. I'm just not sure! Thanks for reading!
How is it fixed?? I see it still says as long as you aren't baking at high temperatures. Wax paper does NOT go in the oven. It's that simple. Guest post or not, verifying the contents as accurate would be prudent and avoid readers pointing out mistakes to you, wasting your time.
"Even at 350 degrees you might have a mess on your hands"......never mind the wax ending up in your food. Terrible advice to use wax paper, I hope NO ONE actually follows it!
I appreciate your diligence. I do my best to address the contents of posts and to make changes when necessary.
Can you tell me how my readers pointing out mistakes to me wastes my time? You actually helped me and I appreciate that.
I will tell you that there is actually very conflicting information on the internet about using wax paper in the oven. Here is some interesting verbiage from Reynolds:
So I would encourage you and your readers to do your own research and I will put this in the post. Some would never want to use parchment due to the "non stick coating"--it's up to you.
There are sites saying to never use wax paper in the oven, while others say it's fine. I personally almost never use either for any application but I have a recipe coming up soon that recommends parchment as an optional use.
Hope that helps.
That's funny actually (and not funny at the same time). Reynold's contradicts themselves by saying it's safe as long as the wax paper is completely covered by food AND that parchment paper is the only one of the two that's oven safe.
Heat is heat. Wax melts when heated.
Completely covered by food? Who cares if the food is soaking in that wax? Even articles saying wax paper on the bottom of a pan will not melt because the food is absorbing the heat are ridiculous. Has anyone ever stuck their hand on the bottom of a cake pan just removed from the oven? It's HOT. You can guarantee that wax melted.
I guess what it comes down to is whether or not a person cares if their food has wax on it.
I'm a huge believer in research. I just think it's sad we really can't take anything we read at face value anymore. Find a great website, a great article in a paper or a magazine, wherever, but don't trust it........
Hi again, Lynn.
I don't see it as a contradiction since they clarified that statement about parchment being the only one of the two that is oven safe by the parenthetical statement of (up to 425F).
There are again, conflicting statements about food covering the wax paper and melting concerns. Reynolds is stating that it is fine.
I guess you should take it up with them and see what their response is. Again, I personally don't use either paper very often at all.
Yes, there is incorrect information on the internet, but that goes in all different directions.
I thought that I bleached parchment paper was coated with silicon. So is it any better than the mats?
That should read unbleached parchment paper!
Gotcha! 🙂 Thanks again!
Oh my goodness--thank you! This post was written by a guest writer and she must not have known that....I confess that I didn't either! Thanks for the heads up. The post has been changed. Thanks for being part of my fantastic audience!! Hope to see you around again and feel free to point out anything else you notice! 🙂
Interesting! I wonder if medical grade silicone in menstrual cups releases toxins into your body, and if so, how much. I’m guessing it’s still safer than conventional toxin-laden menstrual products, but maybe not as safe as washable cotton cloth pads...
What a good question!! I personally love cloth pads. Wow...I hadn't thought about that....they certainly are not at room temp.
That is a great question! There are more studies out on medical uses of silicone, and I believe there were issues with those implanted in the body (aside from the well-known problems with breast implants). I haven't looked at them in detail, but part of the issue there, I believe, is how our bodies respond when they detect foreign substances in our tissues, akin to immune responses. I wouldn't imagine this use would be the same, but the leaching of colorants and siloxanes mentioned above might. Worth contacting the maker of your cup to see if they can point you to any safety studies. Let us know if you find anything out!
I just recently started using a moon cup. I seriously hope it is safe, because I much prefer it over Mama pads, although I do wear them as a backup. I’ve experienced far to many leaks to be comfortable just using cloth pads.