There are thousands of websites out there with details and instructions on how to properly season your cast iron cooking implements. Sadly, very few, if any, actually discuss the science behind what is going on or why one method is better than another. All of them typically reference dozens of oils and fats that should or shouldn’t be used with little or no justification for their choices other than the culinary equivalent of old wives tales.
Flaxseed Oil for Seasoning Cast Iron
About two seasonings ago, I had come across an interesting concept surrounding flaxseed oil and have always meant to try it, but wanted to do some tests and comparisons of my own. After some research, I’ve found Sheryl Canter’s original article which now seems to be referenced by most serious food blogs and sites. I’ll try some tests with in the coming weeks and hopefully get around to reporting some of the results. Time to get the trusty microscope out for some photomicrography!
In the meanwhile, here are some links to what appear to be the forefront of material out there on the subject.
- Original article: Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning: A Science-Based How-To via Sheryl Canter
- Canter’s initial foray into cleaning and re-seasoning cast iron: Perfect Popovers (& How to Clean & Reseason Cast Iron)
Supporting Ideas and Criticism:
- Cooks Illustrated tests: The Ultimate Way to Season Cast Iron – How To Cook – Cook’s Illustrated
- LifeHacker article with references to pros and cons: Season Cast Iron Cookware with Flax Seed Oil for a Long-Lasting, Gorgeous Coat
- Chow Hound discussion with pros and cons as well as criticism on the science
Harold McGee on Cast Iron
The inimitable McGee has relatively little to say on the subject, so I’ll quote it briefly below:
It’s almost immediately apparent that Canter was inspired to use flaxseed oil by the standard go-to reference which mentions “linseed and other ‘drying oils'”. Since it’s somewhat illustrative of cast iron pans in general, though it doesn’t reference seasoning, I’ll also direct the reader to McGee’s article What’s Hot, What’s Not, in Pots and Pans (New York Times, October 7, 2008) as well as Dave Arnold’s article Heavy Metal: the Science of Cast Iron Cooking.
I’ll note that the Culinary Institute of America’s The Professional Chef (Wiley, 7th edition, 2001) only mentions cast iron in passing on page 91 and doesn’t even use the word seasoning. (There is a more recent 9th edition, which I don’t own, but I doubt it has additional information given the scant nature found in the 7th edition.) Similarly “Iron Chef” Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011) has some generally fine directions for the beginning chef interested in science, but it doesn’t go past either McGee or the bulk of the online blogs with the common wisdom for cast iron.
In the coming research, I’ll delve into some of the journal literature to see what else I come up with, though I expect that it will be scant at best and not much more than the often cited July 1986 study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association which discusses iron leaching out of pans into food substances.
Anyone with serious thoughts and ideas in this area is encouraged to share them in the comments.