Text and Images by Elaine Ng @ Makansutra
You may have heard in whispers among the older generation “don’t use the kopi metal spoon or iron fork for your grandma’s delicately made achar”. There may be some truth to this myth.
Honey is one product that is popularly associated with this metal spoon tale.
Ms Pearline Goh, founder of Honeyworld, will not recommend her consumers to use a metal spoon, regardless aluminium or stainless steel. “Pure honey contains minimal acids that may react with the metal composites. Also, the live enzymes present in Manuka honey are active and may react with metals resulting in a loss of activity,” explains Ms Goh.
While the use of metal does not render it dangerous to consume, she suggests the use of inert materials like plastic and porcelain to maximise the benefits of honey. Wooden honey stirrers, on the other hand, are not essential; but they prevent excessive dripping and ensure homogenous stirring.
Tea is another example. And it’s for practical rather than scientific or medical reasons that ceramic spoons are preferred over their metal counterparts — whether for serving tea or for tasting sessions. “Metal can impart a metallic taste to the tea but the water you use is a more important factor when making tea,” says Mr Lim Tian Wee, founder of Gryphon Tea Company. “Metal spoons also tend to cool the tea faster as it conducts heat away from the liquid so it is best to remove it after stirring.” He adds that Chinese ceramic soup spoons, with a deeper scoop, is a better choice for they hold a decent volume of liquid — enough to lightly fill mouth when slurped.
“For professional tasting, metal spoons are not good as you need to slurp the liquid from the spoon itself…they tend to hold a smaller amount of liquid, it is very hot and may burn your lips,” says Mr Lim.
What about achar with ingredients such as tamarind juice and vinegar, which are acidic in nature? “Most Nonyas preferred to use enamel trays and basins to prepare their achar, compared to normal metal pots, as they believe the use of enamel trays allow vegetables to be sundried properly,” says Raymond Wong, owner of Rumah Kim Choo.
Today, enamelware is no longer common. However, he believes that using metal spoons to eat with achar should be perfectly fine; they would not affect the taste or fragrance of the dish so long as it is not marinated and stored in metal containers for a prolonged period.
It may not be harmful for one to consume food that has come into contact with metal but before kiasu Singaporeans like myself rush into replacing all metal ware in the kitchen, Culinary Institute of America’s (CIA) Chef Michael Pardus advises one to be selective rather than to exclude the use of metal altogether.
“Metal is a very generic term. Many metals react with salt, acid or other compounds typically found in foods and they may leave a metallic flavour behind. Some, like lead or pewter, can also be toxic but these are rarely used in modern food service,” says Chef Pardus.
As a rule of the thumb, Chef Michael suggests avoiding copper, silver, pewter and, the most common metal still in use — aluminum, especially when preparing or serving acidic or salty food or drinks. It is understood that the reactions can be unpredictable under differing cooking and storage conditions.
But if you really have to use metal utensils, go for stainless steel instead. Chef Pardus says: “Stainless steel is the most common, durable and non-reactive metal most people use for cooking or serving.”