As a European abroad for the first time in America, you can imagine the feeling of fascination and utter disbelief I had when I saw my first non-stick cooking spray. Oh my God, it's so magical! I must buy all of these and bring them home! Not only were they advertised as having zero calories, but they also come in different varieties of oils: sunflower, vegetable, olive, and even my own personal favourite, coconut oil.
On second thought, I began to realize how strange cooking oil spray seemed. Sure, it's easy, clean, and very convenient, but what ingredients makes it ‘sprayable’ and does this have any impact on our health?
In a quest to find answers to my questions, I began by looking at the food label of the vegetable cooking spray bottle that I bought. According to that, it includes: percentages of water, carbon dioxide, propane, butane, and nitrous oxide. Although water and carbon dioxide seem like harmless ingredients, it was the propane and nitrous oxide percentages that rang the alarm bell in my head.
Propane and Butane
Propane is what forces the oil out of the can. That and butane come from the same family of highly flammable, colorless, and odorless compressed gases that are derived from petroleum and natural gasses. For those of you who are not really phased by this, just know that propane is a common ingredient used in your residential heating system, kitchen stoves, and outdoor portable barbecues, and butane is used in cigarette lighters.
Of course all of these sound very dangerous, not to mention detrimental to our health. However in a study made by the European Commission, it was concluded that because of the very low percentages of propane and butane found in cooking sprays, they pose no toxicity risk. However, they do warn that any oil-based aerosols may carry a risk of flammability.
Nitrous oxide is a sweet-smelling, colourless gas that is commonly referred to as 'laughing gas' and causes either a dreamy sensation, pain-free state, or giddiness. Although I thoroughly enjoy every meal that I eat, I can't say cooking spray has played a role in making me laugh. Then again, I have never sprayed cooking spray directly into my mouth, because who does that?
Nitrous oxide is also used in whipped cream cans and is usually pure enough for human consumption. However, many brands of whipped cream chargers have been reported to leave a residue similar to motor oil, which can be potentially harmful to the user. Moral of the story, unless you inhaled directly from an oil canister, I think you should be okay.
It's important to say that there is not a lot of legitimate research on the effects of cooking spray on your health. For you optimists, that could mean that there really isn't anything to write about. Although, for the skeptics like me, let me tell you this: keep an eye on the food label.
Since every company is different, this means every cooking spray differs and you might find some ingredients that you don't necessarily agree with. Do your research and simply don't buy that product again. There is also an option to make you very own, homemade cooking spray, without the extra (possibly dangerous) gasses.
Whatever you believe, I would just say keep your eyes open. It's always good to be an aware consumer, especially when considering that it might be bad for your health.