Is PAM Cooking Spray Healthy?
This entry is inspired by a post on Facebook I saw from an old high school classmate. His status said something to the effect of (and I’m paraphrasing here), “I thought I smelled gasoline,” followed by a picture of PAM cooking spray. Now, if your home was anything like mine growing up, PAM was essential to the cooking process and was stored in the cupboard right next to the stove. Pancakes for breakfast? Add the PAM first. Stir fry vegetables? Add PAM. Basically, PAM was a precursor anytime mom was about to cook a meal on the skillet. If you’re unfamiliar with what PAM is then you might want to get out of whatever rock you’ve been living under and find out why they call themselves “America’s favorite cooking spray.”
So what exactly is their ingredient list? A reconnaissance trip down to the local target after the gym allowed me to get a list of the ingredients in PAM original.
For those not familiar with how ingredients are listed on a food label, the FDA requires that all ingredients are listed in order of dominance . Hence, in PAM Original, Canola oil would be the ingredient with the largest percentage.
So let’s take a look of what all this means.
The oils (canola, palm, and coconut):
Canola oil, as the name suggests, is from the Rapeseed plant and is relatively healthy. The same can generally be said from palm and coconut (this is kind of inspiring me to do a serious on the differences of common cooking oils). Anyway, when analyzing cooking oils it’s important to learn what different oils have to offer in terms of cooking and health benefits. Some people prefer olive oil or even coconut oil over strictly canola or palm oil but there are health benefits that are interchangeable between them all. On the flip side, some oils posess different health benefits.
The label itself kind of explains that it’s a non-stick agent but what exactly is it? Generically the word lecithin is used to describe fatty acids in plant and animal tissues. It actually acts as a really good emulsifier so in the case of PAM it helps to keep all the ingredients together. An easy analogy here would be what water an oil would look like in a glass. Add an emulsifier and it would bring the two together. According to the Soy Info Center, soy lecithin is the left over sludge that remains after soybean oil has been extracted. I’m actually a little amazed on the extraction process of soy lecithin. The Soy Info Center goes into detail about it if you want to read up more but it basically goes like this: lecithin is separated using a centrifuge, the natural brownish color goes through a bleaching process at least once with hydrogen peroxide, and then the final process is extraction by acetone . Yum!
Dimethyl Silicone: According to Om Tex Chem, a manufacturer of this substance, the viscosity allows the silicone to be used in many different areas of such as cosmetics, making candles, waterproofing agents, and furbishes. It’s also an active ingredient in natural glue . In PAM’s case, it helps to keep everything from foaming up. According to another manufacturer, other applications include, polishes for automobiles and furniture, liquid springs and shock absorbers, rust prevention, hydraulic fluids, dielectric fluids, water repellant for cement and bricks, paint and coating additives, textile finishing, and spinneret cleaner . Pretty sweet, huh?
Rosemary Extract: Nothing too special here but why is it in PAM? Apparently rosemary extract has good anti-thermal effects so I would imagine that it helps to prevent PAM from burning. Rosemary extract also has a high anti-oxidative effect which helps to preserve the formula . However, I’m not sure on the process that PAM uses for the way it obtains its rosemary extract but the European Food Safety Authority has done studies on the way that chemicals are used for the extraction process similar to that of soy lecithin .
In a New York Times article from late in 2012 talks about a panel of lawyers formally taking on Big Tobacco that decided to take on the company that makes PAM (ConAgra Foods). The lawyers took the side of a woman who after taking a look at her hair spray realized that the final ingredient on her PAM cooking spray was not all to different from her hair spray. What was it? Propellant. According to the New York Times article the mix consists of petroleum gas, propane, and butane .
First of all what is a propellant and why is it in PAM and hair spray?
If you haven’t noticed, the contents in the cooking spray are under pressure. When you press down on the cooking spray the differences in pressure between the can and your kitchen cause the gas in the can to expand and drive out the liquid in the can and on to your skillet or baking sheet. Some of the gas dissipates into the air and some (your guess is as good as mine) remains on the contents in the skillet. Although the New York Times article states the three gases in the propellant are petroleum gas, propane, and butane, searching the internet suggests there’s also other substances in the propellant. I questioned the validity of everything I found so I decided to get in contact with ConAgra myself. According to the ConAgra representative their propellant includes butane and iso-butane . In their organic sprays the propellant consists of carbon dioxide .
Uses for butane: Fuel for barbecues, aerosol propellant (as in hair spray and PAM), cigarette lighters, and to blend other fuels together .
Uses for iso-butane: Flammable gas that is used in some stoves. This gas replaced freon in refrigerators and freezers as a coolant and as also used as a propellant in aerosol sprays [8, 10].
Why you wouldn’t want use PAM?
If the uses for all the chemicals doesn’t exactly turn you off then if you’re trying to avoid GMO type foods then you might want to keep away from it. According to the United States Department of Agriculture 91 percent of soy farming in the U.S. was from GMO seeds. Apparently the percentage is growing worldwide as well . Rosemary allergy? Then keep away as well.
So is PAM something you should coat your stomach with? I’ll leave that for you to decide. As for myself, pass me a bottle of olive oil. I personally like that when I coat the pan the only ingredient in that oil is well, olive oil. However, some people may not like the versatility of pouring oil in a pan versus a spray. For those people I would suggest this:
3. Timberlake, Karen C. Basic Chemistry Massachusetts: 2005. 356.