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Mexican Enamelware: Utensils For A Vintage Soul

Producers revised their manufacturing methods to avoid lead.

“It is very common for Mexican kitchens to have enamelware pans, pots, cups and spoons. For decades, housewives have preferred this material over others,” said Elvia Prieto Mendoza, a gastronomy graduate from Le Chef College in Boca del Río, Veracruz.

Enamelware is so prevalent in Mexican kitchens that many think it is originally from this country, but it is not. In the 18th century, Europeans used it for its high quality and durability.

The first enamelware alloy was highly toxic. Enamelware then had a basis of tin and lead coated with porcelain. People used to make glasses, plates, cups and cooking utensils with it. Pans and pots were particularly problematic because they interacted with fire.

Mexican enamelware usually comes in shades of blue, green or white with its signature splashes. (Amazon Product Placement)

Another problem was the utensil’s porcelain coating falling off on the drinks or food from time to time.

“The main fear was that it would chip,” said Prieto Mendoza.

Over time the manufacturing method for enamelware changed for the benefit of health. Lead is no longer present in it.

Now, it has an iron base and an enamel made of powdered glass. It could also use a copper and antimony base with a tin enamel. The current alloy is not toxic, does not dissolve, and withstands high temperatures.

Mexicans appreciate the advancement and show their love for the material; everybody has at least one enamelware piece in their house.

“We have in my kitchen only a frying pan and a small pitcher where we heat water for coffee. My grandmother had a lot of utensils, including spoons, plates and a kettle where she prepared her coffee,” said Verónica González Cabrera, a housewife and lawyer at Boca del Río, Veracruz.

“I make refried beans on my enamelware pan without any problem. That pan has been with me for more than 15 years. I bought the small pitcher a year and a half ago, and I am happy with them. They are both very durable,” she said.

Boutique stores in Mexico are selling vintage enamelware. (Amazon Product Placement)

Enamelware does not alter the taste of food or beverages. It is easy to clean and hygienic to handle, so it is also common in hospitals.

Nowadays, enamelware utensils can be purchased in supermarkets or major gastronomy supply stores.

Decades ago, Mexicans preferred the blue, green or white pieces, with the simulated splashes that were its signature. Now buyers can find more sophisticated designs, as the humble material became a vintage trend.

Some high-concept bars use enamelware cups or glasses to serve drinks like mezcal or tequila.

(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos; edited by Kristen Butler)