The Benefits of Silicone in the Kitchen
From silly putty to the soles of Neil Armstrong's boots, silicone has a long and incredibly varied history. In more recent years, the versatile material has made its way into residential and commercial kitchens alike. Used for everything from baking pans to pastry brushes, we take a look at the benefits of silicone when used in the construction of kitchen tools and how it can benefit your kitchen operations.
What is Silicone?
Silicone is a synthetic polymer that, unlike most plastics, is rubber-like and flexible. Its name comes from one of its main ingredients, silicon, a naturally occurring element that is used to make items like glass and computer chips, which is why California's electronics-producing area got the nickname Silicon Valley. This element is bonded with oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen to form the material we know as silicone, which can be found in everything from toys to medical tools.1
Silicone is nonporous and exhibits high heat resistance in most forms, making it ideal for use in kitchen products. It is naturally translucent, so it can be dyed a range of bold, bright colors, an option that kitchenware designers have taken advantage of for both aesthetics and to more easily differentiate items.
Cooking with Silicone
Silicone has found its way into quite a number of residential and commercial kitchen supplies due to impressive properties that allow it to withstand a wide range of conditions. Below are some of those properties and the silicone items they benefit.
Unlike many other plastics, silicone can withstand both very low and very high temperatures, from around -60 up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and unlike glass, the thermal shock caused by going quickly from one temperature extreme to another will not damage the product. Because of this, it is used in production of a long list of foodservice items typically kept or used in hot or cold environments, including ice molds, baking pans, and baking mats. Silicone not only withstands heat, it is resistant to it, so it is also used in insulating products like pot holders, handle covers for pots and pans, and trivets.
Silicone is an incredibly durable material, as its flexibility means it is next to impossible to break or shatter. In some situations it can be torn, so many manufacturers recommend not using metal utensils on items like silicone baking pans or ice molds. However, you never have to worry about breaking your silicone measuring cup by dropping it on the floor. The material's flexibility means that silicone mixing bowls and measuring cups can be bent to form spouts anywhere around their rims. Because silicone also has a bit of elasticity to it, it is also used to make bowl lids and wine caps, as the silicone lid can be stretched over the rigid walls of items that need to be covered to form a tight seal.
Microwave and Dishwasher Safe
Ease of use and cleaning is key for any kitchen product, making silicone highly desirable as it can be used in the microwave and cleaned in the dishwasher. Silicone is chemically inert and will not be damaged by any of the harsh detergents used in warewashers, and because it is resistant to heat, it can be used to warm food in a microwave. This is especially handy for silicone mixing bowls, which can be used to melt butter or warm ingredients before adding other items from the recipe.
Silicone is known for its non-stick properties, making silicone baking pads common in busy bakeries. Some metal baking pans are also given silicone glazes to help ensure items baked on them release easily. Because foods don't stick well to silicone, it is also very easy to clean.
Silicone is naturally translucent, meaning it can be dyed any color a manufacturer chooses. This is an important feature in commercial kitchens where cross-contamination is always a concern. Silicone utensils and mixing bowls are available in a wide variety of colors, which can be used to designate them for allergen-free prep or for uses that might lead to cross contamination, like processing raw meat and preparing recipes with raw eggs.
Because silicone is nonporous and inert, it does not interact with any food products that it comes in contact with. While some plastics may discolor easily when they come into contact with acidic foods like tomato sauce, silicone will not discolor or absorb flavors or odors. That means you can use silicone utensils like spatulas, turners, and whisks no matter what you're cooking.
- What is Silicone Plastic? Plastics Make it Possible. Accessed March 2018.