These vacuum sealers really do *suck*, some better than others, but when it comes to quality, you get what you pay for.
You’ve heard the tag lines, “tired of freezer burned meat or rotten cheese and wilted vegetables? Then you need XYZ vacuum food sealer!!!” The question is do vacuum sealers really work, and do they save food?
Vacuum Sealer Overview
The basic operation of the appliance is to place food in some kind of bag, or between two pieces of plastic and remove as much oxygen as possible. Seems obvious no?
How they do it is by using a electric pump motor of some size and then seal the edge using heat.
They come with various size bags or plastic rolls; usually 1 quart and 1 gallon size bags. The roll kind (FoodSaver, Seal-a-Meal, FreshLock) fit-to-form more closely and aside from a fixed width based on the width of the machine, can be as large or small as needed. This is with the understanding that trying to make the package too small may lead to improper sealing.
The quick take is that vacuum sealers do a good job. They do keep foods fresher much longer. For example, I sealed some ginger using the Frisper and have kept it in the ‘frig for 2 months now and it looks great. Normally by this time, the ginger would be all dried out with only a small bit possibly still usable.
I sealed and froze some rib eye steaks after cutting them from a larger rib section and they look fresh in the pack, there is very little frost inside and no freezer burn. Experience has taught me that the sealed results of the lesser machines work better in the freezer, than at room temperature. My assumption is that this is due to the lower levels of oxygen in the cold of the freezer.
I have oil soaked sun dried tomatoes in my pantry, vacuum sealed tightly, looking good. I have a few perishable vegetables in the ‘frig, sealed tightly, and to date none look like a science experiment gone bad.
Vacuum sealers work best with things that tend toward a drier or more solid state. Wet things or very soft foods need to be frozen a little before sealing to ensure a good clean seal. For example fresh strawberries will collapse in a powerful vacuum sealer and imagine a tomato sauce or soup stock being sucked into the vacuum pump!
As mentioned before, the justifications for buying a vacuum sealer are well known – save on food costs by buying in bulk, keep foods fresher longer, keep leftovers in a better state and making it easier to prepare those same foods later. If you are in a position to buy food in bulk at a good price, then these vacuum sealers will help keep it fresher for much longer. Yes, allowing you to save money.
Buying In Bulk
At my house, it is only my wife and I – we have no kids – our vacuum sealing needs are limited and I initially found myself looking for reasons to use the product. I don’t have a big stand alone freezer, only a side-by-side refrigerator and I typically don’t buy large quantities of food because I have no place to store them. So, I have chosen to buy food fresh and more frequently. Then again, I live in a large metropolitan area where going out for food doesn’t involved a long trip. So the vacuum sealer justification of buying in bulk doesn’t work for us. Though there have been times when, as members of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), we did need to keep vegetables fresh as long as possible.
As for keeping leftovers longer, yes the vacuum sealers do extend the life of the food. If you are having problems eating leftovers before they go into a funk, try cooking smaller amounts or portion out the food and freeze it in reusable containers.
Some advertisements show people putting plates or bowls in the vacuum bags and sealing a perfect portion ready for reheating. While this looks good in an advertisement it is awkward to store plates and bowls in the ‘frig, as they don’t stack well. I have also found that the vacuum sealers do not function to the best their capability when you add in a plate or bowl. There are air pockets trapped in the gaps between the plate and the food. It is better to seal & store the food on its own and distribute on serving plates/bowls later. Some of these bags or plastic are made sturdy, safe plastics that allow you to drop the bag into boiling water or microwave to heat and serve. I haven’t cooked vacuum sealed packages in this manner. I am sure it is safe, but I just can’t get over my own irrational fears. To me, vacuum sealers are for storing and increasing the life of food, I stick with that function and reheat as I normally would using microwave safe dishes or regular pans.
Another vacuum sealer television advertisement you may have seen is the one showing people throwing away cheese because it has “fuzz” on it. I love the disgusted look on their face as they look at the “rotten” cheese. I find this to be just plain stupid. Cheese that is aged forms “coverings” naturally and if they occur after you purchase the cheese, simply cut off the growth and eat the “good” portions. Don’t be so squeamish, the cheese is fine to eat. In fact if you go to a good cheese shop, you will see most every cheese in there is covered with some form of growth, it is natural. Cheese is a living product, things grow, things happen. However, fresher cheese like Chèvre, Brie and the like are meant to be eaten relatively soon after purchasing. If you find you don’t eat fresher, softer cheeses quickly then it is a good idea to vacuum seal them. Softer cheeses will become quite squished and misshapen when vacuum sealed, so be prepared. If you do choose to store cheese with these sealers, take advice from a cheese monger who once told me to wrap the cheese in wax paper or butcher’s paper first, then seal it. The cheese being pressed against a plastic wrap can pick up oils from the plastic, particularly when under pressure like this.
Always remember, if you would normally refrigerate or freeze something, then do the same when it is vacuum sealed. Meat, dairy and similarly perishable products can’t be left at room temperature simply because they are vacuum sealed.
Coffee and Tea
We know we can save money and enjoy better tasting coffee when we buy coffee in whole bean form. In most cases we buy a pound or more of the magic beans and then we store it improperly, lessening the taste. Whole bean coffee is a good item to store in vacuum sealer bags or canisters, because you really shouldn’t put it in the freezer or refrigerator. Freezers and refrigerators allow moisture to accumulate on the beans, which adds unwanted water to the coffee later and can reek havoc on coffee machines and grinders. Freezing coffee is also not be good for the oils and complex flavor components. The best rule of thumb is buy close to what you need and vacuum seal the rest, storing it at room temperature. I have also vacuum sealed whole leaf tea. I am not certain that there is a great benefit here, but I simply assumed less air was a good thing.
The Line Up
As with most appliances, you must follow the manufacturers instructions carefully, but with vacuum sealers it is even more important. If what you received in printed form with the product was limited, you can look on manufacturers web pages for additional details and videos. Trying to “wing it” with a vacuum sealer can lead to big frustration.
The main difference between vacuum sealers comes in size and power.
Except for the Frisper, vacuum sealers are counter space hogs. And they aren’t exactly quiet, so just accept that as a given. Television commercials use voice over announcers and music to avoid allowing a potential customer to know that a vacuum motor makes noise.
Without getting into ratings or “Kitchenboy says”, there is one appliance that is clearly a cut above the rest – the FoodSaver by Tilia. It is simply the most versatile, powerful, long lasting and reliable machine on the market right now.
My experience with the other makers, the Frisper by Oliso, the Seal a Meal by Rival and the FreshLock by Deni leaves me lukewarm. There seems to be a hit or miss nature to the products. When they work, they work well enough, but when they don’t, they can be frustrating and wasteful. The pump motors aren’t nearly as powerful and their life span isn’t as long as FoodSaver. The others seem to seal tightly and look good, but a day or two later…no vacuum seal. Now this can happen with certain foods like coffee and beans as they produce a gas which is released as the food ages. It can appear that the bag has lost its seal when in fact, the seal is good. This doesn’t explain all of my observations.
The Food Saver Professional Vacuum Machine has very few problems and more than the others, does the job the first and every time without issue. It is as close as you can come to a professional strength sealing machine.
The only known problem for FoodSaver has been the canister sets. There have been some issues with these cannisters cracking from the pressure. I can’t say under what conditions these canisters cracked or which particular ones were failing, but use that information as a caution. I also find that the FoodSaver has the most robust line of accessories allowing one to seal and store more things, including wine and other bottle based products.
The other three vacuum sealers are good price point options for someone looking to get started vacuum sealing food or for someone who doesn’t do much vacuum sealing. The Frisper Freshkeeper Vacuum Sealer for instance is good, but if the resealable bag isn’t heat sealed properly, then the whole bag is useless. I have had two of these units and still own one today. I keep going back to it mostly because it is the smallest one of the bunch. I have a galley kitchen and space is a premium. The Frisper, as the newest entry, has no attachments or accessories available to date.
The Seal-A-Meal Vacuum Food Sealer is slightly more versatile and trustworthy than the Frisper and the Seal-a-Meal and comes with both bags and sheet rolls included, as well as some accessories.
The Deni Freshlock Vacuum Sealer seems to be the most finicky and least powerful. The FreshLock has the sheet roll bags only and no accessories as of this writing.
In the end, the FoodSaver, while the most expensive, is the most reliable. Given its superior life span, power and overall versatility, it is the most cost effective vacuum sealer available today.
So are vacuum sealers worth the fuss? Yes…and no. It depends on how we live, cook and eat. I have learned to make good use of them in our house.
***NOTE – I published an update about one company, Oliso, in an article here… http://kitchenboy.net/blog/vacuum-sealer-update-oliso/
I will try to write more updates as I test out new vacuum sealers.
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