Discovered in 1938 and patented in 1945, Teflon
was the original nonstick coating. It didn’t make its way onto cookware in this country until the FDA approved the substance for food-processing equipment in 1960—right around the time that the medical community began touting the low-fat diet as healthy for everyone (not just for high-risk heart patients). Thus, nonstick pots and pans began to be seen as essential tools for anyone who wanted to reduce fat intake by cooking with less oil, and recipes began calling for the pans explicitly; today, they comprise roughly 70 percent of all cookware sold. But they’re also a source of controversy: The EPA has determined that PFOA, a chemical used to manufacture nonstick coatings, is a likely human carcinogen. Nonstick pots and pans are considered safe as long as you keep cooking temperatures below 500 degrees (which means no high-heat frying). If you’re not convinced, cast iron—one of the oldest cookware materials—is a great alternative, as long as you maintain your pan’s “patina,” or natural nonstick coating.