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Food cooked in copper alloy utensils far better for health

THIS YEAR when you decide to buy utensils to celebrate the traditional Dhanvantri Jayanti?Dhanteras? better opt for Copper, Nickel and Zinc alloy based utensils that your grandma always preferred.
None | By K Sandeep Kumar, Allahabad
PUBLISHED ON OCT 19, 2006 12:27 AM IST

THIS YEAR when you decide to buy utensils to celebrate the traditional Dhanvantri Jayanti—Dhanteras— better opt for Copper, Nickel and Zinc alloy based utensils that your grandma always preferred.

Experts of Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT) have now scientifically established that food cooked in such utensils is not only more healthy and nutritious but the process itself is more energy efficient and time saving.

The scientists also found that it is easy and effective to convert the Copper, Zinc and Nickel alloy based vessels for pressurised cooking of vegetarian foods and modifications to such existing utensils is possible even by local ironsmiths.

"We have redesigned the copper zinc nickel alloy based vessels for pressurised cooking of vegetarian foods and scientifically demonstrated that a conventional 'Bataloi' can safely and easily be converted into a pressure cooker and that it saves cooking time and energy as well," informed Dr HS Goyal, assistant professor at the Mechanical Engineering Department of MNNIT.

Dr Goyal said that during tests it was found that cooking vessel leaches Zinc into the turmeric based food. "The difference in heating and cooling rate of copper alloy based vessel over aluminium alloy ensures that the food cooked in the copper zinc nickel alloy vessels remains warm for longer duration and heating also becomes more uniform because of the spherical shape of the vessel specially on a traditional mud-chullah used with fuel wood in our villages," he added.

Dr Goyal said that the tradition of celebrating Dhanteras with purchase of new materials, specially for use in our daily life, confirms that our ancestors were well aware with the health effects of different metals.

"Many other items for use in traditional Indian kitchens such as 'Bataloi' and 'Kadahi' among others—all copper alloy based handicraft utensils still manufactured in traditional style in different parts of India— may now be considered to be old fashioned but all have a long traditional and technological significance," he said.

Dr Goyal said that though the kitchen items of olden times might have lost the race with the so-called modern utensils made of aluminium alloy or stainless steel due to ease of use and cost advantage and support of organised industry, the renewed interest in the old traditional alloys is bound to increase as heath awareness increases and the leaching effect of the industrial materials such as aluminium alloys, stainless steel of various grades and advanced plastics such as Teflon, gets finally reported by the material researchers concerned for human welfare.

He informed that while leaching from modern materials have been reported to be associated with serious human diseases and stomach disorders, in contrast the copper and zinc leaching from traditional materials of Indian kitchen has been reported as health supplements.

Dr Goyal, however, said that there are still some challenges before the traditional Indian alloy based utensils which can actually be overcome by modern science.

"The high density of cast copper alloy as compared to aluminium is one of the main limitations in using the traditional cooking wares made of copper alloys. If the deposition of Bataloi alloy using nanotechnology becomes possible on the interior of aluminium vessels, the advantage of light weight and the easy to shape aluminium alloy could get clubbed with the advantage of the traditional copper alloy based materials.

"The production of metal nanometer powder material using the plasma process to produce nanometer powders of metals such as zinc, nickel, and copper has already been started in China as Nanometer powders can oxidise and kill bacteria when they are coated on the surface of Utensils," he said.

Can this become a reality at an affordable cost with long wear-free life? Yes, says Dr Goyal who cites "Providing safe utensils to our population is a big challenge and that can not be just left in the hands of few brand names" as a good enough motivating force.

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