If you are daunted by the idea of choosing the right wok for your culinary adventures, read on because I want to explain in this article what to look out for. We shall also examine the quality issues as well as the environmental problems associated with this type of cooking. |
Looking at the origin of woks
The origin has been lost in the mists time and we are not sure where the first wok originated but most probably it was in the Far East or in Asia. There are many ancient words used to describe this cooking vessel and these are ‘kava’, ‘tadai’, ‘kuali’ and ‘kuo’. We can also be fairly sure that the very first woks were probably made of bronze or copper rather than iron.
It is the shape that counts
Whatever the origin, it is the shape that counts as we can see by looking at any wok. Usually it has a rounded or spherical shape at the bottom and then high sloping sides. This is the secret of wok cooking because the sides get just as hot as the bottom. Then, as the pan retains its heat so well, food can be tossed around and will cook equally well, whether it is being stirred around the sides or on the bottom.
The small area at the end of the pan means that we have to use less oil and that is both energy saving and also much healthier for us. Another feature is that the high temperatures can actually sear the meat and vegetables very quickly and that means all the nutrients are retained. That is another great reason for using this when preparing food.
The exterior shape.
The original woks are spherical inside and outside and a wok ring has to be used. That is a bit of a nuisance so when shopping, look for one with a flat bottom so that it will sit on the stove. The interior must be rounded and the sides should be at least four and a half inches high so that spattering is reduced to a minimum.
Stainless steel woks have also become popular in that they are much lighter and they can be cleaned so easily. There is no pre seasoning to be done which is another plus. However there have been complaints that the heat distribution is not as even as with the cast iron models.
What is the best material for the environment?
Nowadays woks are made with a variety of materials. The traditional one is the cast iron or carbon steel one. The difference here is that the latter contains more than 2% carbon. Otherwise they are very similar.
They are both excellent for retaining heat and that is why they are so popular. The only drawback is that they tend to be rather heavy in that some of them may weigh up to 14 lbs. Another problem may be the handles and they should be wooden so that they do not get too hot. That is one disadvantage. My own wok has metal handles and the manual warned me that they tend to become hot and I can tell you that is true!
Another drawback is that the iron wok has to be scrubbed clean with hot water and a brush as soon after cooking as possible. There is also the issue of pre seasoning it before use and that can be tedious. But some cast iron ones come already pre seasoned so that you can start cooking with them immediately
Is a non stick wok a possibility?
If you are worried about the toxicity issues with PTFE and PFOA coatings, then you may think that high temperatures and these do not go together and that the coating may wear off rather quickly. This is in some cases true and this means that you may have to pay for a superior type of ceramic coating so that the damage to our health and the environment is certainly lessened. I would look to see what guarantee these companies are offering because that is also an indication of the superiority of the materials used. These woks are much lighter and a breeze to clean.
As we have seen, there are various issues to keep in mind. Generally, I would say that the cast iron model is the best bet if you are confident about the actual weight. Alternatively I would choose a superior type of stainless steel model.
Robert Winterson has written on healthy living and cooking for many years. Discover more about cast iron woks .
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