As power shortages continue to worsen in Harare, residents continue exploring alternative sources of energy to save electricity. Hot Bags are an example of an alternative cooking method which is becoming more popular in a city afflicted by incessant power cuts. These are an adaptation of a very old cooking method, which many historians claim originated in Scandinavia. This method of cooking has been in use as far back as the Second World War and the period of the Great Depression in America where cooking fuel was rationed. Today Harareans have embraced this cooking method in an attempt to cope with the increasing lack of electricity.
Hot Bags, or retained-heat cookers, are insulated bags filled with heat retentive beads used to cook food using latent heat. The principle of retained-heat cooking is simple. In conventional cooking any heat applied to the pot after it reaches boiling temperature is merely replacing heat lost to the atmosphere from the pot. In Hot Bags cooking food is brought to a boil, simmered for a few minutes depending on the particle size (5 minutes for rice or other grains, 15 minutes for large dry beans or whole potatoes), then put into the Hot Bag to continue cooking on its own.
Since the insulated cooker prevents most of the heat in the food from escaping into the environment, no additional energy is needed to complete the cooking process. Food cooked in the Hot Bag normally takes two to three times longer than the normal stovetop cooking time. Food can be left in the Hot Bag until ready to serve and stays hot for hours.
Hot Bags manufacturer Katinka Ruhe explains, “Using Hot Bags not only saves energy but uses at least 25% less water. Water is retained in the food rather than evaporating.” She said you first need to add your heated ingredients and ensure that the Hot Bag is tightly sealed to prevent heat loss.
“Anyone who enjoys slow cooking will find Hot Bags perfect for roasts, stews, soups, rice, cereals and even beans,” said Ruhe. However, food does take longer to cook, so be prepared to plan ahead and start your preparations earlier.
Ruhe said, “Hot Bags help to reduce the use of traditional fuels such as firewood.” Depending on the type and quantity of food being cooked, the use of a Hot Bag saves between 20% and 80% of the energy normally needed. The longer an item usually takes on a stovetop, the more fuel is saved by using the Hot Bag.
“Hot Bags prevent burning and overcooking food while nutrients and flavours are preserved,” she said. Heat-retention cooking is an age old tried and tested method that can be used to conserve energy not only during times of shortages, but anytime.
Harare News cooked a beef stew with rice to test out the Hot Bags made by Ruhe. Rice for four people was cooked in 40 minutes, after bringing it to the boil and then transferring it into the bags. It came out fluffy and perfect. The stew was prepared in the morning and put in the Hot Bag for the day. It did however require re-heating twice to ensure that cooking was continuous. In the final analysis, Hot Bags are best for cooking starches and will be of huge benefit to people with limited stove space. They also keep food warm for ages after cooking is done!