There is no lack of tips and tutorials for seasoning cast iron, but very few of them actually explain the science behind the process — which is a shame, since knowing a little more about complicated-sounded scientific terms like "polymerization" and "drying oil" can help you choose the best oil for creating a hard, smooth, impermeable non-stick surface on your cast iron cookware.Blogger Sheryl Canter has an in-depth post about the science behind seasoning cast iron, a subject she researched after being dissatisfied by the rather haphazard advice she found around the web. The key is understanding polymerization, the process by which fat molecules join together form new, longer molecules, which create the hard, smooth surface of a well-seasoned pan.
But even if a pan is seasoned carefully, its surface can still be soft and prone to scratching. This is where the concept of a "drying oil" comes in. Drying oils like linseed oil are used by artists and woodworkers because they form a tough, protective layer; edible flaxseed oil is a drying oil that can serve the same purpose in the kitchen. Canter has detailed instructions for using flaxseed oil to create a strong, smooth and long-lasting seasoning, whether you have a new pan or an imperfectly-seasoned skillet that you want to strip and season fresh.
Even if you're just a kitchen science nerd, her article is worth a read.
Anjali is a former private chef who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition, with plans to become a registered dietitian. She lives in Los Angeles. You can read more of her health-focused writing at Eat Your Greens.
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