On the Cleaning and Care of Copper

Categories: How To

copperbowl.jpg
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Who needs a $70 bowl stand when you have accidentally if lovingly made dents that serve the same purpose?
Outside of your classic cast iron cookware, one of the best investments you can make -- especially if you're a baker -- is in copper. It conducts and holds heat very well; almost too well, in fact, if you aren't accustomed to using copper and suddenly find yourself with a pan full of burned butter and scorched garlic.

A lot of copper cookware, like the skillet that I use for everything from stove-top cooking to broiling, is lined with stainless steel. This makes it easier to clean and less likely to be damaged by certain utensils, but is unhelpful if you want to exploit one of copper's greatest uses: whipping the best egg whites possible.

It's not an old wives' tale: Using a copper bowl really does produce superior egg whites for your meringues and macarons. Trust the French. They've been using copper bowls for centuries. You can even buy antique, hand-hammered French copper bowls that are perfectly usable today, although you'll pay dearly for them.

Why does a copper bowl produce a superior egg white? The copper itself, and the ions that leech into the whites as you whip them. Or, as one PhD puts it:

The copper ions form a yellow complex with one of the proteins in eggs, conalbumin. The conalbumin-copper complex is more stable than the conalbumin alone, so egg whites whipped in a copper bowl are less likely to denature (unfold).

The Mauviel copper bowl seen above costs $120. Not cheap, but properly cared for it will last your entire life (and likely the entire lives of your children and grandchildren). Of course, you can usually scope out the shelves at places like TJ Maxx or Marshall's for discounted Mauviel items, as well as the virtual shelves at outlets like Amazon and Overstock.

But even those won't be cheap cheap, so you should take care of it once you buy it. Like regular copper cookware, you should never put your copper bowl in a dishwasher. Clean it with a little soap and water, then hand dry it. Don't let the copper dry on its own unless you really enjoy vigorously polishing bowls for some reason.

When you do need to polish your bowl, do not ever use copper cleaner on the inside of the bowl -- it will ruin its reactive surface, and the entire reason for purchasing the bowl. You can also use a combination of white vinegar and flour or baking soda and lemon juice to form inexpensive pastes instead of pricey, chemical-laden copper polish. After dishing out for a copper bowl, after all, at least you can save a little on the maintenance fees.


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14 comments
ionic minerals
ionic minerals

Angstrom is a supplement made of 100 percent natural minerals and vitamins and contain 400 nutriton in total. It is formulation that uses a highly technical process to turn pure natural minerals into a complete ion solutions.I shall be very thankful to this post.Jasan Bruson.

ionic minerals
ionic minerals

Angstrom is a supplement made of 100 percent natural minerals and vitamins and contain 200 nutriton in total. It is formulation that uses a highly technical process to turn pure natural minerals into a complete ion solutions.I shall be very thankful to this post.Jasan Bruson.

ionic minerals
ionic minerals

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Liquid Copper
Liquid Copper

I agree with you completely. Thank you so much for sharing the useful information here. 

There are  many different types of angstrom vitamins and minerals products on the market, and just because a makeup product has minerals does not mean the rest of the ingredients in this particular makeup are good for you.

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Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

Katharine that's just not very tolerant or diverse. The violin USB is pretty sweet. I will try to find you a pork fat slider one...

D Green
D Green

I have used a cleaning powder from australia caled quickleen-s see http;//www.steelcleaner.com and it restores copper like new so fast its not funny.prehap bing it or google it

Eric Henao
Eric Henao

From Cook's Illustrated:Published November 1, 1997.

What’s so special about copper cookware?Why have culinary authorities considered it okay—in fact, preferable—for egg whites, sugar syrups, preserves, and zabaglione to touch copper, when in most circumstances copper-lined pans are covered with another metal to prevent contact with food? What is it about copper that is beneficial for these specific preparations?

Safety Issues We spent hours of research time, consulted numerous books and called more than fifty experts in the fields of cookware, confectionery, jams and preserves, food chemistry, nutrition, copper manufacturing, and metallurgy, in order to address the safety issue. Amid the many different theories put forth by our sources, the agreement was that unlined copper cookware should be carefully and thoroughly cleaned before every use in order to rid it of verdigris (a greenish-blue poisonous compound that occurs when copper is exposed to acetic acid).

Beyond that, many sources offered a similar perspective on the safety of preparing food in copper. Health threats arise from ingesting really excessive amounts of copper, and, more than likely, the amount of copper provided by these particular foods would be minuscule. Dr. Herbert Scheinberg of the National Center for the Study of Wilson’s Disease (a rare genetic disorder that is the only significant cause of copper toxicity in humans), stressed that copper, along with several other minerals, is a necessary human nutrient. Yet Dr. Joyce Nettleton, a nutritionist and Director of Science Communications for the Institute of Food Technologists, pointed out that the body does a poor job of absorbing most minerals, including copper. Therefore, only a small percentage of the copper to which we're exposed would actually be absorbed.

In its Recommended Dietary Allowances (National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1989), the National Academy of Science’s U.S. Food and Nutrition Board supports this notion, stating that: “Usual diets in the United States rarely supply more than 5 milligrams per day, and an occasional intake of up to 10 milligrams per day is probably safe for adults. Although storing or processing acidic foods or fluids in copper vessels can add to the daily intake, overt toxicity from dietary sources is extremely rare in the U.S. population.” When to Use Copper Bowls Culinary experts often advise beating egg whites in a copper bowl. Food scientist Harold McGee, in On Food and Cooking (Collier, 1984), explains that whites beaten in copper bowls are thought to form more stable foams, preventing overbeating. One of the egg white proteins, conalbumin, picks up copper ions from the surface of the bowl and binds them to itself, resulting in molecules that resist denaturing or unwinding. This strengthens the walls of the air bubbles that compose the foam, thereby stabilizing it.

The assertions about egg whites proved true in our kitchen tests. We whipped two batches of whites, one in a copper bowl that had been cleaned with lemon and salt, rinsed, and dried, and the second in a perfectly clean stainless steel bowl. The copper-whipped whites did, in fact, appear to make a denser, tighter foam than the other, which had larger visible bubbles and a looser consistency. Also, try though we did, we were not able to overwhip the whites in the copper bowl. Instead of turning grainy and blocky, they remained smooth. Then we let each batch sit at room temperature to see if the foams broke down. Both foams suffered some degradation after one and one-half hours, but the copper-whipped foam was in much better shape than the other, from which a large pool of liquid had leached.

Finally, we whipped two more batches of whites in the same manner, and used them to make two angel food cakes. Somewhat surprisingly, both cakes rose at the same rate. So, as long as you're careful not to overwhip your whites, we consider the copper egg white bowl non-essential.

With regard to sugar syrups, confectionery and cookware industry experts agree that copper’s outstanding heat conductivity and quick reaction to temperature changes offers precise control over the different stages of sugar syrup, caramel, and chocolate preparation. Copper’s speedy distribution of heat is also considered an advantage when making jam and preserves because the fruit and sugar reach the desired consistency quickly, before the fruit loses its natural color and fresh flavor.

In general, however, with the exceptions of egg whites, sugar syrups, jams and preserves, and zabaglione, the general recommendation not to cook in unlined copper stands.

Hala
Hala

I am so happy Early Cuyler is back. Please keep posting.

dftyo
dftyo

you would! Christopher Kimball is so freaking arrogant!

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

Katharine, I've been away for four months due to the fact I actually have to work at my new job and don't have time to troll around HP anymore. That being said, these threads are way too tame, and dare I say friendly for the most part. Copper is nice if your are into baking, which is not cooking by the way, it's science.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

What can I say? I love fussy little men.

Also, stretching a bit to find something nasty to say today, eh?

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