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Vacuum Sealers

Thursday, 17 September 2009 | Tags:

Whether you want to preserve food, marinate it, or experiment with it, a vacuum sealer can be a smart investment. Food is placed into a bag, the machine sucks out all the air and then heat seals it to create a vacuum. But as with many kitchen appliances, vacuum sealers are not all created equally, so we put them to the test.

The Basics

  • To use a vacuum sealer you first put the food in the bag, and then you put the bag on the sealer. It sucks the air out of the bag and makes a tight seal to keep the food fresher for longer.

  • The main uses of vacuum sealers in today’s kitchen include:

    • Storage, to create an air-tight seal around food in order to extend the preservation period.

    • Marinating, to force marinades and seasonings to penetrate into the food more quickly and effectively. Marinating time is reduced, as are the amount of ingredients required (which is great if you’re using something expensive like truffle juice!)

    • Compressing, which compacts the food’s cells, concentrating its flavour, and changing its density and texture.

    • Sous vide (under pressure) cooking enables food to be cooked at a low temperatures over a long period of time (i.e. not boiling in a bag), thus minimizing the loss of aroma, flavour and juices, cooking more evenly (since water transfers heat better than air), and reducing the tendency to overcook food, (which is hard to do at low temperatures).

  • A vacuum seal minimizes contact between food and air, which has several benefits:

    • Avoids freezer burn, which occurs in non-vacuum sealed packages when air pockets are present to suck the moisture out of the food, causing it to dry out. (Note: freezer-burned food is still safe to eat, but remove the burnt parts since it won’t taste very good.)

    • Preserves nutrients, which dissipate due to oxidation when air is present.

    • Extends shelf-life by slowing oxidation of fats, which means slowing down spoilage.

  • Vacuum sealers have become increasingly popular since the 1960’s for:

    • Home consumers, to create preservation packages in order to freeze food, which is helpful if you buy food in bulk, have a vegetable garden, or if you like to prepare meals in advance for future use.

    • The food processing industry uses them for many packaged, dried foods, like potato chips and crackers. Air is vacuumed out of the package, an inert gas (like nitrogen) is pumped in, then the bag is heat sealed. Vacuum-sealed meat and seafood are readily available for sale in grocery stores, as are “boil-in-a-bag” meals (a 21st century equivalent to TV dinners).

    • Professional chefs and home chefs incorporate the use of vacuum sealers to create cutting edge, innovative cuisine.

  • There are three main styles of vacuum sealers available on the market:

    • Chamber sealers are industrial-grade machines costing thousands of dollars and are used in food production processes or restaurants. Some can process dozens at a time and are mostly automated.

    • External sealers are the most popular style of home sealer and range from about $50-300. These sealers often have customizable settings for pressure, time, dry, moist, or delicate foods. Some require individual bags while others have a large internal roll of plastic with a cutting function. Cordless models are available.

    • Handheld sealers are inexpensive, ranging from $5-30. Some are battery-operated while others must be pumped by hand and are designed to be used with their associated name-brand bags.

  • A few tips when considering a machine for purchase:

    • Look for a machine that is solidly constructed. Most home sealers are made of plastic, but make sure that no parts, especially moving ones, are flimsy.

    • Make sure the bags are heavy-duty enough to stand up to what you need (especially for the freezer). Some bags have a multi-layer construction, which is good. Make sure to read the fine print to confirm it’s safe to boil or microwave the bag.

    • Remember to factor in the cost of replacement bags and the hassle of having to buy them. If you buy the bags as a long plastic roll, you can customize the size and make your dollar stretch a little further.

    • Look for lots of settings if you plan to use your sealer regularly. Things like anti-crush, dry or moist food, customizable time and speed settings come in handy.

    • Controls designed in a seamless touchpad are better than individual buttons, which can get food stuck in their crevices.

    • If space is an issue in your kitchen, look for a compact size vacuum sealer. Some models can be used in a vertical configuration. Other models have internal bag storage.

    • Look for hands-free controls, which don’t require you to hold the lid down. This can be tiring, and time-consuming if you’re filling a lot of bags at once.

    • A cordless machine is a nice convenience, but don’t forget to charge it!

    • The seal width can make a difference in preservation. A wider sealing strip gives you a more airtight seal.

    • A versatile machine may allow you to seal jars, canisters, and wine bottles, but they will cost more, or require you to purchase separate parts.

    • As with all appliances and electronics, you may be more comfortable purchasing a product made by a reputable manufacturer, which can be helpful in the long run if you need to track down replacement parts or repair services.

Other Considerations

  • Some sealers have a hose attachment that can be used on storage containers and even wine bottles.

TEST CRITERIA

In testing the cookbook Alinea, we needed to use a vacuum sealer as part of the cooking process for one of our recipes, so we decided to find out which one works best. 

  • Foodsaver Vacuum Sealer (many automatic features, space-saving design): $169.99
  Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Rival Seal-A-Meal (not hands-free): $99.99
  Canadian Tire Amazon.com
  • Deni Magic Vac Vantage (hands-free automatic): $89.99
  Home Hardware Amazon.com

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

 

Vacuum Pressure Test

We wanted to find out which machine had the strongest vacuum:

  • The Foodsaver was rather finicky and got to just over 400 on the pressure gauge.

  • The Rival got up to 440.

  • The Deni had the most suction power at 540 on the pressure gauge.

Leak Test

Our leak test consisted of filling a bag with baking soda and immersing it in a vinegar bath to see if there were any leaks, which would cause the baking soda to fizz. All three vacuum sealers did a good job of sealing the baking powder in and keeping the vinegar out.

Bag Strength Test

We tested the strength of the bags, but didn’t find a huge difference between the 3-ply and the 5-ply bags in terms of strength.

OUR TOP PICK

The Deni Magic Vac Vantage was our overall winner. It won in the vacuum strength test and is also well-prized and takes up the least amount of cupboard space. (However, on our cook day, the seal didn’t quite stand up to our sous vide cooking process, though we weren’t 100% sure that it was user error or machine deficiency.)

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