I was planning to write a review of the Norpro Wide Mouth Funnel, because it’s one of my favorite kitchen tools and has revolutionized my food storage process. But then I realized the funnel is a small a part of a larger system of jars in my kitchen.
The iconic canning jar — better known as the Mason or Ball jar — is the only cheap, standardized storage solution I know. There are, of course, fancier, more expensive jars available, but buying enough of them to be truly useful is cost-prohibitive, and with new designs you run the risk the company will stop making them after you’re heavily invested. Weck, Fido and Bernoulli jars, while classic and useful for specific purposes, lack full standardization: you take apart the lid for cleaning and then wonder which jar that lid belongs to. Not so the canning jar.
Usually around $1 apiece (or 25 to 50 cents in thrift stores), canning jars are cheap enough to build a collection. I have at least a dozen of each size in regular rotation in my kitchen, pantry and fridge and use them many times a day:
- In the morning I pull out a few 4oz jars and dole out my vitamins for the day.
- I pack lunch items, including soup, tea, pudding, and nuts or seeds, in half pint and pint jars which then go into an insulated lunch bag (available at your local thrift store).
- We use the pint size as drinking glasses, of course. At our wedding we had an assortment of jars and colored sharpies for guests to label them with. (Classy, I know.)
- My immersion blender fits snugly into a wide-mouth jar to make shakes, mayonnaise or whipped cream. Leftovers can be easily capped and stored.
- When I make sauerkraut or other anaerobic ferments, I use a 4oz canning jar as a weight inside a wide mouth or bail-top jar, to keep the veggies under the brine.
- Straight-sided jars can be used in the freezer without breaking. Put them in warm water for a few minutes and the food slides right out.
- Their usefulness is by no means limited to the kitchen.
The website Food In Jars has a useful taxonomy of canning jar sizes.
Presumably because the patent has long expired, the canning jar is fair game for all kinds of innovative accessories. My favorites are the aforementioned funnel, which works elegantly with a small strainer in both wide or standard mouth jars. One-piece lids are also handy.
There are a myriad of other innovative accessories, including the Cuppow (previously reviewed on Cool Tools), Kraut Kaps, ReCAP, Tattler lids, and the Holdster. So far none of these have proven themselves indispensable, but they’re all evidence that the magnificent canning jar continues to inspire.
A couple of caveats:
Unless you have tiny hands (or an excellent dish washer), stick to mostly wide mouth jars. Standard jars are hard to clean (except for the shallow 4oz size).
Although “salad in a jar” is a thing, canning jars don’t make great lunch containers if you pack sandwiches or just want a “bowl like” dining experience.
As far as I’m concerned there really isn’t a perfect non-plastic lunch container on the US market. I’ve tried many, from Indian tiffins to Ikea glass lunch containers. Inevitably they aren’t leak proof, or they are but then they get a dent, or you lose the lid, or the seal gets filthy or wears out, and then the parts aren’t replaceable, or the company stops making them and you have to buy a new set. I dream that one day someone will design a standardized, open-source, leak-proof travel bowl. I already have a name for it: the extra-wide mouth.