Counter Measures

By Robert L. Wolke
Wednesday, May 25, 2005

My new kitchen countertop is made of granite. Can I put a hot pan on it without scorching or cracking it?

My wife and I recently redid our kitchen after exploring the three most common types of countertop materials: granite, a genuine natural stone sliced out of the ground in various parts of the world; a composite of more than 90 percent natural quartz crystals embedded in an acrylic or epoxy matrix (available under several brand names, including Crystalite and Silestone); and several completely synthetic materials such as Corian and the many plastic laminates. (I don't consider marble a contender for kitchens because vinegar and other acidic foods will etch it.)

Preferring natural materials, we eliminated the 100 percent synthetics and looked into the scratch, stain and heat tolerance of granite vs. the quartz composite.

Both of these materials are hard -- harder than your cutlery -- and are therefore resistant to scratching. As far as heat resistance is concerned, the consensus of the kitchen-remodeling industry seems to be that "you can put a hot pan down on either one without damage, but don't do it anyway."

I must concur. While I can't conceive of an inch-thick slab of stone burning or cracking from the heat of even a hot frying pan, if I told you it was okay and something untoward happened, a line of lawyers would form outside your kitchen door, urging you to sue me. (Preemptive warning: Never place a hot frying pan on your foot, either. And remember that I told you so.) Unlike the quartz composite, granite is porous and must be sealed and resealed periodically to prevent staining -- a minor drawback. But in my opinion, there is nothing like a sheet of this polished natural stone, with its haphazard veins and streaks, to bring Nature's own artwork into the kitchen.

If you would like to compare almost 600 available granite countertop colors and patterns, go to . We chose the Kashmir Gold from India.

As a registered dietitian working in the food industry, I am reviewing the new Crisco. It claims to be trans-fat-free, but it contains fully hydrogenated cottonseed oil. Doesn't hydrogenation produce trans fatty acids?

It depends on the degree of hydrogenation: partial or complete.

Ever since Crisco's introduction in 1911 as the first all-vegetable solid fat, it has been made by partially hydrogenating cottonseed oil or a mixture of soybean and cottonseed oils. Hydrogenation -- forcing hydrogen atoms into vegetable-oil molecules under high pressure and temperature -- converts unsaturated fatty acids into saturated ones, thereby converting the liquid oil into a soft, convenient solid with improved stability.

But during hydrogenation, the fat's healthfulness may suffer in two ways. First, the increased amounts of saturated fatty acids can raise our total blood cholesterol. Second, and more insidiously, partial hydrogenation inevitably produces trans fatty acids, which both lower our HDL ("good") cholesterol and raise our LDL ("bad") cholesterol -- a double whammy in itself.

Partial hydrogenation, in which only some of the oils' unsaturated fatty acids become saturated, is a good-news, bad-news story. The good news is that the process doesn't produce as many saturated fatty acids as complete hydrogenation would. But the bad news is that it produces trans fatty acids, which in current medical opinion are even worse for us than the saturated kind.

In the partial process, some of the unsaturated fatty acids escape being hydrogenated, but their molecules may change into an unusual shape that our metabolisms aren't accustomed to handling. When we eat them, our bodies are insulted and express their displeasure by manufacturing less good cholesterol and more bad cholesterol.

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