Clay pots were not even on my radar, until a visit to my friend Ramah’s house. She grew up in India and knew I was making homemade yogurt. She showed me a traditional yogurt clay pot. I had never heard of this before. I knew traditional wisdom often proves beneficial and I searched the Internet that evening. I found a few sites, but Miriam’s was the most interesting and informative, and her clay pots seemed to be the highest quality, most non-toxic around.
I started off with one clay pot used exclusively for yogurt. I liked the results: better taste, thicker yogurt and it stayed fresher longer.
I learned how clay was used for more than just yogurt. A friend from Zimbabwe told me beans don’t taste good in the US because they are cooked in stainless steel pots or pressure cookers. They taste much better in a clay pot over an open fire. I hear of people who don’t digest beans cooked in stainless pots or pressure cookers, and they are fine with beans in a clay pot.
Easy 30 minute meals
I love that my meals are so easy. Most of my meals are made in 30 minutes or less. The first part of the 30 minutes I’m usually chopping and adding to the pot. However, the rest of the time, I’m free to do whatever. The pot is very hands off once set up.
I especially like one pot dishes. Initially I started with some recipes on Miriam’s site (only modifying them a little to accommodate my ingredients). Now, I often simply just add things to my pot. Sometimes I start cooking rice then top with vegetables and spices and continue cooking. Other times I saute some greens with spices and then top with eggs, meat, or tempeh and continue cooking.
When I saute kale in my clay pot, my family asks for seconds, something they don’t do when I cook it in my stainless pot. I personally used to only like oven-roasted sweet potatoes. I was quite surprised how moist and flavorful the clay pot makes them. Now I almost always cook them in my clay pot. In addition to the taste factor, the clay pot is faster and uses less energy.
Clay is different, and better
Clay heats up a bit slower than stainless. The heat takes a little bit of time to spread and penetrate, but it cooks thoroughly in usually less time. Something that cooks in about a 1/2 hour might take 20-25 minutes in a clay pot. The more the pot is seasoned and used, the faster it cooks. Clay retains it’s heat much longer than stainless. I love the fact that I can take the pot from my stove directly to my dining table – my food stays warm and I don’t have an extra bowl to wash. People compliment me on how nice the pot looks at my table.
On my lazy days I’ll cook something in my pot for lunch, and when no meat is involved, I’ll leave it on the counter and we’ll have the leftovers for dinner. Clay vessels are known to keep their contents fresher much longer then metals, plastic or glass.
Bone broth, it is even healthier in clay
Bone broth amazed me. I always initially soak my bones covered with water with 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar for about one hour to help draw out minerals. Miriam says this step is unnecessary: the clay pot will draw them out. I made chicken bone broth the other day following Miriam’s instructions. After about three hours I tested my bones, and I could crush (break) them with my hands – a standard test of doneness. It takes much, much longer to get to this point when I use my stainless cookware or crock pot. I always make a second brewing with the same bones. It’s so easy because everything is already set up. I could not tell the difference in the color between the two brewings (not so with other pots). Then the next morning, both gelled equally well (very firm, not jiggling). When spooning it out, I noticed the first brewing was even firmer than the second. The first brewing was the firmest broth I’ve ever made. Then came the blind taste taste for my family – simply delicious! And the second brewing tasted very nearly as good as the first. Next time I will try three brewings!
The shorter cooking time with the clay pot could possibly be beneficial in unexpected ways. Miriam blogs about how “long hours of slow cooking with harsh near infrared heat destroys most of the delicate nutrients like complex carbs, flavonoids etc… Scientific research done on amino acid lysine in peanuts endorsed this fact that long hours of cooking even at 220°F destroyed the nutrient.” See Use This Non-Toxic Slow Cooker To Make Your Next Batch Of Delicious & Nutritious Bone Broth. Monica Corrado writes about how long cooking times can produce tremendous amount of glutamic acid: The Dark Side of Bone Broth. This effects people with severely compromised digestion such as those on the autism spectrum and those with brain function disorders. For most people, bone broth is very beneficial.
When compared to my stainless pots, I need to stir less often, it’s much harder to burn my food and I don’t get “mushy” complaints. Most food comes out moister and tastier. The clay’s heat is more gentle. The pot (and especially the lid) does not get hot they way a stainless pot does. Miriam says the clay produces far-infrared heat and writes about it here: Rice In Clay Pot, Here’s What Happens To the Carbohydrates. It’s possible the far-infrared heat takes the spices deeper into the food, and that is what helps the flavor. Also, Miriam has a good steam retention design. I notice my stainless steel pots release steam way before my clay pot does. I consider this good. Water soluble nutrients are in the steam, and I want to keep them in my food. Miriam writes about steam retention here: Better Cooking Pots That Keep Steam Inside. Also helping the flavor could be the alkaline and porous (oxygen flow) nature of the unglazed clay. Ayurveda would say clay and copper add prana (energy) to food – however, modern science has yet to prove this.
Compared to my pressure cooker, clay takes a bit more time, but not too much. When I pressure cook, I like using the natural release (so I don’t lose steam and water soluble nutrients) and this adds about 10 minutes on to my cooking time. I feel the gentle heat from the clay pot is most likely better for nutrition and digestibility. Traditional cultures usually recommend “low and slow” cooking.
Some people like the crockpot feature of the Vitaclay. At times, that can be convenient. You can basically get that same feature by putting Miriam’s pot in your oven with self-timer settings. I occasionally put Miriam’s pot in my sun oven. All I have to do is rotate the oven towards the sun once or twice and I have a delicious meal waiting for me. I’m sure I save money in the summer by not heating up my house to only cool it down with A/C. Another advantage of Miriam’s pot is it has the potential to last a lifetime and then some. It gets more seasoned as it ages. When I purchase electronic things, in general, they tend to fail after 5-10 years.
What makes Miriam’s cookware so different from other clay pots? I think her steam retention design, the clay she sources (100% pure primary clay), and the fact that the pots are made by hand play huge factors. Occasionally when I’m cooking something, brown droplets appear on the outside of my pot.
I know this sounds weird, but I’m familiar with people ingesting clay to absorb toxins, so to me, it seems possible for a clay pot to absorb toxins. Miriam explains this on a blog post: I Sometimes See Some Brown Droplets or Bubbles being squeezed onto the Outside Of The Pot, What Is That? I think of this as very beneficial. Miriam’s clay must be pure and correctly processed to be able to do this. My friends with Vitaclay pots do not see this. I don’t know why, but perhaps because Vitaclay pots are made with “slip casting” and that involves additives to the clay? I’ve seen the cheap clay pots from local Asian stores. The clay does not look pure and you clearly see speckles in the clay. The Römertopf pan can only be used in the oven and you must soak it each time before using. See I read somewhere that clay pots need to be pre soaked, why don’t we have to do it with MEC?
What’s not to like?
Are there any things I don’t like? I’ll admit I had a learning curve (and still do when I try new things). Miriam’s cookware comes with good instructions, however you still learn by trial and error. Cooking times, temperatures and procedures vary a bit from typical cookware. Also, until your pot is fully seasoned (a few uses), cleaning is a little harder than a stainless pot. Now that my pot is fully seasoned, I would say cleaning is the same as my stainless. Initially, I was adding too much oil to my clay pot, and a little oil was actually seeping through the pot and dripping on my stove. Then Miriam wrote a post where she explained that oil is to stainless as water is to clay. Sprinkling water on the bottom of your clay pot was enough to make it non-stick. And if you use oil, just use a little bit, that’s all that is necessary. My clay pot can take on the seasoning of what I cook in it. This is normally fine, but if I don’t want this, I found the easiest thing for me to do is put the pot outside in the sun to dry. Most of the time I simply wash my pot with water and gently scrub with a loofah. Sometimes I let it soak in water first to loosen residue. Miriam recommends washing the clay with a baking soda water paste. This would probably remove odors as well.
You can always learn more
Miriam’s website has a wealth of information. I find the search box and “Quick links: Question & Answers” very helpful. Both are at the bottom of every page. If you still can’t find the answer to a question, you can contact the company via email or phone. At other companies, I often feel that the people answering my questions are not experts. I don’t feel this way at all with Miriam’s company. In fact, they seem to be the most knowledgeable people around on the topic of clay cookware. I recommend you sign up for Miriam’s newsletter. I enjoy the helpful hints, recipes and reminders.
I’m thankful to Miriam for her dedication to bring about a revival of pure clay cookware.
Have you used clay cookware? Please share your wisdom by leaving a comment below.