What exactly are vacuum sealers used for? –
So you are thinking of buying a vacuum sealer, but you still aren’t totally convinced that you will get enough use out of it to justify the cost. This is a common dilemma. It certainly was for me.
Well, let me run through just a few of the reasons why these appliances are becoming so popular in home kitchens and you may be persuaded to take the plunge.
Sous Vide Cooking
Did you know that ‘sous vide’ is French for ‘under vacuum’? So it’s no wonder that sous vide cooking and vacuum sealers go together in many people’s minds.
At its simplest, the sous vide technique is cooking food gently and for a longer than usual period of time at a lower heat. To do this, the food is cooked in a bag, with as much air as possible removed from it. If you want to make restaurant quality sous vide food at home, a great place to start is with a vacuum sealer.
Once you have mastered vacuum sealing cuts of meat and perfectly prepared vegetables, you can choose to either attempt the technical cooking process in a regular saucepan with a sous vide immersion cooker, or go the whole hog and spring for a complete sous vide machine as well.
Vacuum sealers preserve food in 2 ways:
- They remove the air (and most specifically the oxygen) from around the food which means that any bad bacteria has nothing to feed on and your food won’t ‘go off’.
- They wrap the food in a protective plastic layer, stopping anything nasty from getting to your food and damaging it.
Keeps Food Safe
So the double action of preserving food by removing oxygen (without which microbes and molds are unable to grow) and then covering it in a protective skin, means that unwanted nasties cannot come into contact with vacuum sealed food.
Once the item has been vacuum sealed, you can handle it as much as you like without passing germs or bacteria, etc. on to the food. Food hygiene is maximised.
Extended Shelf Life
Because vacuum sealing removes the environment that bacteria need to thrive, your food lasts longer without deteriorating. How long it lasts depends on how you choose to store it once sealed.
For example, vacuum packed steaks kept in the freezer will stay delicious longer than ones left in the fridge or tucked on a pantry shelf.
Extended Freezer Life
Expanding on the previous point, if you choose to freeze your vacuum sealed food, then it can remain edible for a seriously long time.
Clearly, it depends on the temperature of your freezer, but many cuts of meat will last a good 6 months in most domestic freezers. Once they’ve been through a vacuum sealer, this can be stretched out to 2-3 years.
No Freezer Burn
If you (like me) occasionally lose a steak or a lamb chop at the back of your freezer, you will know the joy of rediscovering it, followed by the pain of defrosting it and finding that it is scarred by ‘freezer burn’. It may still be fine to eat, but most of us eat with our eyes and if a piece of meat looks damaged, the chances are that we will chuck it out.
This is a frustrating waste of food and money.
Vacuum sealing removes air from around the food and protecting it in plastic prevents unappealing freezer burn from developing.
Great For Bulk Buying
Some people like to run to the shops every few days, but others have discovered the joys of bulk buying. If you are one of those people who does a ‘big shop’ once a month, a vacuum sealer is just the gadget for you.
Vacuum sealing allows you to split large amounts of food (whether it be meat, vegetables or pulses) into smaller servings and store them until you need them. Even better, if you win the meat tray at the local pub raffle, you don’t have to worry about the meat going off before you can get to enjoy it all. With a vacuum sealer you can just split the tray up, vacuum pack it and pop it in your freezer until required.
Bulk buying is much cheaper if you have a way to store all of that extra food that you have bought at a lower price. A vacuum sealer is the answer to this problem.
Whether you are cooking for one or a family of six, vacuum sealing meals in portions will save you time. If you do this when unpacking your shopping, dinner time will be a breeze. All you have to do is pull out the portions that you need come mealtime.
Great For Preparing Ahead
Once you have popped your food in its nifty little vacuum sealer bag and closed it up, you have a couple of options: You can freeze the portion as it is to cook another day; or you can cook it in the bag first and then store it.
This second option can be a huge time saver. If, say, friends stay for lunch unexpectedly, you can pull a few steaks (pre-cooked, sous vide-style) out of your freezer and finish them quickly off on the barbeque. Perfect and extremely practical.
Efficient Food Organisation
Different foods come in packaging of varying sizes and shapes and often these shapes are a pain to store. My personal bugbear is meat from the supermarket that sits in the middle of a styrofoam tray, wrapped in cling film. It’s a total waste of packaging and precious freezer space.
If you vacuum seal everything, it takes up far less room on your shelves and in your freezer.
Great For Leftovers
It’s possible to cut food waste by vacuum sealing any uneaten food at the end of a meal. If you freeze the leftovers, you can then have the meal again two weeks later rather than the next night. This way you get to eat a greater variety of foods.
Keeps Food Fresh
Not only does running your food through a vacuum sealer stop bad bacteria from growing, but the removal of air also stops fats from going rancid or from spoiling. It even locks in their vibrant colour.
Easy Storage Of Liquids
If you have a chamber vacuum sealer machine, you can use it to pack liquids, just as you would any other food stuff.
If you have an external or handheld vacuum sealer which uses suction, you have two options for dealing with liquids:
- Place the liquid in your freezer until it is mostly frozen, then transfer it to a vacuum sealer bag and treat it like any other food stuff.
- Place the liquid in a solid container, like a jar, and then vacuum seal the jar closed.
Great For Marinating And Flavouring Food
I’m an enthusiastic cook, but a lazy cook – so I’m always looking for #cookinghacks.
One of my favourite hacks is to marinate food as it stores. This means that when I get my grocery shopping home and unpack it, one of the first things to be done is to pop pieces of meat or vegetables directly into a ziplock bag with my preferred marinade or rub. It then goes straight into the freezer to soak up all those delicious flavours as it is stored for later use.
This process works even better when you can vacuum seal your chosen food and its marinade/rub together. If you have a chamber vacuum sealer, it is incredibly easy to add either a dry rub or a liquid to your vacuum sealer bag and carry on as usual.
If you have a suction-style machine (external or handheld), you can partially freeze the food in the marinade first and then vacuum and package it. Or, alternatively, you can freeze the prepared marinade in cubes and slip one into the bag with the food item before utilising the vacuum sealer.
Food Tastes Better
Cooking food in vacuum sealed bags means that you are trapping and locking in all the juices, flavours and moisture of meat and vegetables. With other cooking methods, some of these important juices are lost (eg., when roasting, moisture leaves the food; when boiling flavour leaches out, etc.) Not with vacuum sealing.
Vegetables Taste Fantastic
Not only does vacuum sealing vegetables before cooking lock in all the flavour and natural juices, the vacuum action also compresses their structure slightly. This compression deepens the colour and makes vegetables crunchier.
Once you’ve tasted carrots that have been vacuum sealed with a knob of butter, a sprinkle of salt and a couple of sprigs of thyme and you’ll never boil a carrot the regular way again.
Vacuum Seal Jars And Containers
The best known use for a vacuum sealer is locking food in an airtight bag, but this is not your only choice. Both chamber and external/suction style models are versatile enough that you can vacuum seal jars with them.
With a chamber vacuum sealer, simply place the jars or canisters that you want to seal directly into the machine and away you go.
Most types of external/suction vacuum sealer machines have an accessory port. They either come with an accessory hose attachment, or you can buy one separately. These attachments let you vacuum seal jars and other containers.
Many brands, like the Sunbeam FoodSaver range, offer containers designed specifically for their appliances. Others have attachments that fit a variety of different sized containers. It is also possible to purchase attachments for some models of handheld vacuum sealers.
Great For Preserving And Canning
As mentioned above, most vacuum sealers can be adapted for sealing jars and other containers. If you enjoy making jams, chutneys and pickles or bottling excess fruits or veg when they are in season, then a vacuum sealer is a fantastic addition to any hobby kitchen.
You know when you open an enormous bag of potato chips or cookies and don’t finish them?
No. Me neither…
But say you did. Because since you can control the amount of air that you remove from a packet with a vacuum sealer, it is possible to remove some of the excess air and then reseal the bag, keeping your chips or biscuits fresh for the next time you feel peckish.
Great For Trips To The Great Outdoors
If you are a keen camper or sailor, you know that two of the biggest problems in pursuing your interests are lack of space and things getting wet. Vacuum sealing addresses both of these issues.
When you have limited room in your backpack, caravan or boat, taking vacuum sealed meals (and even items of clothing) frees-up additional space. Similarly, wet weather is less of an inconvenience if things are protected by a plastic layer and can’t be ruined.
Vacuum sealing can be utilised for more than just food or pantry use. There are a number of ingenious ways to put vacuum sealers to good use outside of the kitchen:
Perfect For Storing Loose Items
Loose items of stationery like paper clips, pens and kids crayons can be bagged up, sealed and put away until you need them again. Soft toys too.
Ideal For Storing Seasonal Wardrobe Changes
When spring comes, many of us box up winter hats, scarves and gloves into storage for 6-8 months. If you vacuum seal them instead, they will take up considerably less room and be safe from humidity, mold and insects.
Ideal For Protecting Jewellery
You can even protect jewellery from oxidisation or tarnishing by storing it vacuum sealed between wears.