Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What's a Wonderbag?

I'm a sucker for "gadgets" (witness my birthday present of a potato ricer.  Mary Z says she thinks the two of us are the only people who know what a potato ricer is much less use one).

I remember shortly after Walt and I were married when I was in some sort of kitchen supply department where a young woman near me was raving about this "thing" (I don't remember what it is now) which was the most valuable item in her kitchen.  She used it every day.  It had something to do with grating cheese, but it wasn't your standard grater.  She went on at such length extolling the virtues of this thing that I bought one.  I think I still have it.  I have never used it.  In 49 years.

Have ya heard of the Wonderbag?  Based on searches I have done on line, I think it's a relatively new thing that the American cooking public is just hearing about.  Another year and there will be Wonderbag cook books, Wonderbag Pinterest sites, Wonderbag entries on Wikipedia.

This is a Wonderbag.

wonderbag.jpg (55740 bytes)

It comes all squished down into a fairly small Amazon box and you open it, shake it out and then after an hour or so, all the compressed stuff in it reactivates and it looks like this when you tie it up.

It's essentially a slow cooker.  A cooker which will save on gas and electricity, because it needs none of that.
What you do is you heat your food up, let it simmer for five minutes, then take the pot with its lid, put it inside the Wonderbag, cover with the little top knot that you see on top there, gather up the sides of the bag and just let it sit.   In a certain amount of time (if it's something like a casserole, probably 4-6 hours; if it's a pot of rice, an hour) your food will be cooked and it will keep it hot, safely, for up to 12 hours.

It works on the same principle as the slow cooker, but it cooks in the heat that it retains because of the filling in the bag, and you don't run the risk of it overcooking.  It can keep your food hot for hours after it is ready to eat without concern about it overcooking.

Now there are two reasons I was intrigued by this principle.   First is that I do a lot of slow cooking and while everything always tastes good, I find that some of the texture of the meat is a bit "mealy" instead of the way I think it should be.  I hoped that with the Wonderbag that might not be the situation (I haven't cooked a meat dish in it yet, so I don't know the answer to that.

The other reason was that if you order through Amazon, they will send a bag to someone in a developing country.  This is a wonderful thing for people cooking food in countries where there is no electricity.  The goal is get 100 million bags in homes around the world, saving more than 100 million tons of carbon over the life of those bags.

(Huffington post reports, "Originally invented by founder Sarah Collins in South Africa with the intention of conserving cooking energy in developing nations, this cordless, power-free, gas-free slow cooker might just change the way we slow-cook forever. Although our slow cookers are tried and true instruments in our kitchen, the notion of leaving an electrical appliance running hot while we sleep or leave our homes has always made us a little nervous, to be honest. The Wonderbag removes that worry, saves electricity and -- the best part -- actually works. You start anything you cook in the Wonderbag on the stove (recipes range from beef stew to oatmeal to greens and beyond), bringing your pot to a boil for around five minutes. Turn off the heat, seal the pot and pop it in the Wonderbag for your desired amount of time. A tender beef stew will take about four hours, but you can leave your food in the Wonderbag for up to 12 hours without it falling below a safe temperature.")

Good for the environment.  Using less electricity, less fossil fuel.  Granted, my slow cooker doesn't take all that much energy, but it takes some and if I can use less, that's a good thing, right?

I was also intrigued about cooking rice.  We have had a rice cooker for years and it is probably one of my most used appliances, but sometimes it overcooks the rice, if I don't turn it off in time.  Reports were that rice comes out perfect every time and can sit for hours without concern of overcooking.  I tried that tonight and the rice was absolutely perfect from the top of the pot to the bottom, with nothing gummy, nothing sticky, nothing burned onto the bottom.  That made me a convert from the  get-go! It was also still hot when Walt got home later than I expected when I started to make the rice.

I figure that any dish I can make in the crock pot I can probably make in the Wonderbag.  I expect to try that over the coming weeks.

I am starting to investigate web sites which mention the Wonderbag and am learning other uses for it.  This site, for example, talks about how the woman who wrote it uses it on her boat.   She also talks about what a good thing it is when you are defrosting your fridge because not only will it retain the heat, it will also retain the cold, so put your perishables in the bag with an ice block and it will keep all of your foods cold while you wash the fridge.  It will also keep ice cream cold for a few hours, so take it to your picnic.

Someone also recommended taking it with you when you go to pick up Chinese food, for example.  It will keep it hot while you are driving home and if you aren't ready to eat yet, will also keep it hot until you are.  (Not sure it's large enough if you pick up a pizza, but surely a bucket of KFC would stay hot in the Wonderbag.)

The only real problem with it is that, in its unused state it takes up a lot of space.  Someone wrote that she puts it on her couch and her dog sleeps on it.  Not sure I want to do that.  At the moment, when I'm not using it, it is sitting in the laundry basket that I keep to carry my mother's laundry back to her after I've washed it.

So the coming weeks will be a chance to bond with my new Wonderbag and continue to find other people who are enjoying its benefits too.


Wonder Bag said...

Thanks so much for the great review!

Something to keep in mind - depending on what you are cooking in the bag the pot will need to remain on a heat source for a longer period of time - the key is to heat the food through before placing in the bag.

The Wonderbag is a heat retention cooker - the way is works is by slowing the time a boiling pot cools to room temperature, and allowing the food to continue to slow cook. The length of time the Wonderbag is able to keep a meal hot and cooking depends on a number of factors:

1. How hot the pot is going in (we recommend boiling your food with a tight fitting lid long enough to heat the ingredients through, putting a pot holder in the base of the Wonderbag, then put the pot with lid on into the Wonderbag and seal tightly).

2. How full the pot is - the fuller the pot, the longer the heat retention.

3. The food itself - denser foods (stews curries) tend to stay hotter longer.

4. The weather - if you have the Wonderbag sitting in a snowbank, it will cool faster than at room temperature.

5. The type of pot - cast iron retains heat the best.

Because there are a number of factors, it is hard to give exact timing for any given recipe or household, but once you start using the Wonderbag, you quickly get a feel for it.

The FDA recommends (2013 FDA Food Code, section 3-501.14) that one not eat cooked foods if they have been sitting between 135 degrees F and 70 degrees F for longer than 2 hours. If you are concerned, then check the temperature of your dish with a thermometer.

Most recipes stay well above 135 degrees for at least 4 or 5 hours, some up to 12 hours. Again, the factors listed above will play into this.

Thanks again for the amazing review! Do not hesitate to email us at with any questions or if you need help converting a recipe.

Harriet said...

Ever hear of a tsimmis? It's a dish that orthodox Jews used to make for the Sabbath, when one did not cook or make a fire. On Friday they mixed up the ingredients and stashed it in the ashes of the fireplace; when they took it out on Saturday, they had a hot meal without cooking. (I have never done it, not being that observant myself.)

Oh, by the way, when I cooked for the whole family, I did indeed use a potato ricer. That makes three of us.