Gadget lets cooks seal in freshness and flavor

Vacuum sealers help busy consumers serve their families home-cooked meals all week

April 12, 2006|By ALLISON ASKINS | ALLISON ASKINS,THE STATE

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- What's getting a seal of approval from busy cooks who want to have quality meals without wasting quality time?

It's vacuum sealers, those versatile kitchen gadgets that allow you to freeze food, reheat it, store it in your cupboard or ship it safely around the world.

More consumers are turning to this home kitchen device to make better use of the food they buy and the time they spend preparing it.

"The main purpose is to prevent freezer burn, and a lot of people are using it when buying in bulk," said Kristine Schreiber, Seal-a-Meal associate product manager.

Rival's rectangular-shaped gadget that vacuum-seals food right on the kitchen counter has been on the market since the 1960s, but was retooled by the company in 2002. A variety of other vacuum sealers, including brands such as FoodSaver and Deni, are also on the market.

Sealer packages, available at stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart, range in price from $39 to $99. Millions have been sold in recent years and product developers say the growth is largely because of the consumer's desire for freshly cooked food that can be prepared in a hurry.

Seal-a-Meal and similar products allow consumers to prepare large portions of foods such as tomato sauces, blanched vegetables or marinated and grilled meats and then seal them in smaller portions for weekday meals. The sealing preserves the food's flavor.

Vacuum sealers also are gaining attention from dieters who can use the product to seal foods in correct portion sizes.

Vacuum-packed foods can be reheated in the microwave or in boiling water. Also, if the plastic bag is removed, foods that have been vacuum-sealed can be reheated in the oven. The water technique is similar to the French sous vide method of cooking. The process, which reheats sealed food in water that maintains a constant temperature, is a growing trend in high-end restaurants.

"It's the benefit of being able to ... serve your family a home-cooked meal any day of the week even though you've just rushed in the door," said Schreiber.

Linda Senn uses her Seal-a-Meal for all types of food storage -- from freezing sauces to resealing breakfast cereal. Senn, who won a Seal-a-Meal last fall in a newspaper contest, uses hers to package items such as green beans and potatoes for a church friend or large portions of a pasta salad she makes for family gatherings.

Senn learned a lot about the sealer from her daughter, Kristina Taylor of Fort Benning, Ga. Taylor acknowledges she's hooked. She received her sealer as a thank-you gift from a military friend. Taylor had helped care for the friend's children while he was deployed to Iraq.

Taylor has since used it to seal items that she sent to her husband when he was deployed.

Senn uses it to store unused cereal and crackers --"things that tend not to keep their flavor" after they've been opened.

Once resealed, they stay fresh, which also saves money.

Recipes for Linda Senn's Pasta Salad and Thai Steak With Garlic Chili Sauce can be found at baltimoresun.com/taste.

Tips

Blanch fruit and vegetables before sealing. Cool and divide into meal-sized portions to seal.

Foods frozen after vacuum-sealing last one to three years.

Vacuum-sealed items in the pantry last three weeks to two years; without vacuum-sealing, one week to eight months.

Snip the corner of your vacuum-sealed bags before microwaving food in the bag.

[ Allison Askins]

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