Using plastic wrap can be an exercise in frustration. Could we find a stress-free version?
Published June 1, 2018. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 12: Aloha State Favorites
We rely on plastic wrap to help store and freeze food and to perform certain kitchen tasks, such as pounding cutlets and making logs of cheese, cookie dough, or compound butter. But plastic wrap can be a pain to use: We've all cut ourselves on the dispensers' serrated blades, accidentally broken the boxes, or watched helplessly as the plastic wrap stuck to itself, preventing us from getting a neat, easy-to-use square of film.
We wanted to find a wrap that would cling tightly to different containers and also be easy to dispense and use. So we rounded up the seven top-selling plastic wraps (according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm), as well as a bulk food-service wrap that is available online. The products ranged in price from $1.30 to $4.19 per 100 square feet.
For many of us, the key characteristic of plastic wrap is its cling. To see how sticky the wraps were, we put 8 ounces of grapes in vessels of different materials (metal, glass, and plastic bowls and our favorite broiler-safe ceramic baking dish) and used a sheet of plastic to cover each container. Then we turned the containers upside down and shook them. All the wraps clung well to metal, glass, and ceramic. But the two products made by Saran refused to adhere to the plastic bowl, allowing grapes to spill out.
Wondering why these wraps had failed, we consulted Robert Heard, teaching professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University. He explained that all plastic wraps are made from one of two basic types of materials: polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene. Each wrap gets its cling not from these base materials, but rather from proprietary adhesives that manufacturers add. The composition of each adhesive determines how well the wrap sticks to specific materials, so an adhesive that clings tightly to glass might not do as well with plastic. We preferred products that clung well to all the materials we tested.
We also examined how well the wraps resealed, using one sheet to seal and reseal a glass bowl of grapes 10 times, shaking the bowl after every attempt. All the wraps were capable of resealing each time—as long as there was enough material left. Upon restretching, some wraps tore at the edges, giving us less and less material to work with. Thinner wraps bent out of shape easily and sometimes ripped right down the middle as we tugged them, forming holes that allowed the grapes to escape. We had the wraps measured by an independent lab and found that those that tore more easily were less than 0.5 millimeters thick. The other wraps were more durable, resisting te...
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Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.