Tin, tin!

June 26, 2019 6:08 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Tins are hitting the headlines right now. Some people, worried about No-Deal scenarios, are stockpiling tins. (Others, having stockpiled for quite some time now, are starting to relax a little and wondering just what to do with their mountain of tins.) There are continuing concerns about the chemicals used to seal tins – with a new report on the subject due out towards the end of this year – and about the levels of salt and sugar in food preserved in tins. And there’s a whole new era of tin-can cookery just getting underway: Jack Monroe, campaigner (for all kinds of things) has a new cookbook out – Tin Can Cook – giving 75 ‘simple storecupboard recipes’ all based around tins.

How many tins are in YOUR storecupboard?

It’s the first book of its kind since Ambrose Heath’s Good Dishes from Tinned Foods was published in 1939. But tin-can cookery goes back significantly further than that. It was Napoleon who first kicked it all off, offering a prize to anyone who could manage to preserve food for military use. Throughout subsequent centuries, tins proved highly useful for those on tight budgets or forced to eat under trying circumstances. The Famous Five, for example, were always delighted when they came across a stash of cans in a secret tunnel or underground lair. ‘Tinned peaches!’ they would yell. ‘Sardines! Condensed milk!’ Sometimes, they would eat them all mixed up together.

(We have to assume they were never without a penknife with which to open these delicacies. The scene in Empire of the Sun in which planes drop food provisions for starving refugees – but fail to provide a means of opening the tins – haunts me still.)

Tins work well for holiday cooking. Decades ago, friends’ parents added one tin per week to their shopping list: by the time summer rolled round, they had enough provisions stored up for a whole week of feasting in their caravan. Students today continue to live off tins at university and on Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. And foodbanks greatly appreciate donations in tins, which give those in need particularly easy access to food.

The average adult, we’re told, has 16 cans in their storecupboard. How many have you got stashed away?

A canny cookbook

Jack Monroe has plenty – and her book, Tin Can Cook, aims to make the best of them. Jack’s sick, she says, of this ‘tiresome snobbery’ around food, especially canned food. She reckons that the UK has a very odd relationship with tinned food, with tins of foie gras and caviar on proud display in posh shops – and everyone turning up their noses at the other, cheaper kinds of tins.

Famous Five sardines


Jack’s book features recipes simple and slightly less simple; basic and much less basic. You’ll find Tinned Gooseberry Pancakes there and Tinned Potato Fishcakes (ingredients include those Famous Five sardines). But you’ll also find Cannellini Beurre Blanc (“An unctuous and subtly powerful sauce reduced to a thick, provocative shroud for slow-cooked cannellini beans and a scant handful of pasta. Serves 2, from 38p each.”). Monroe, reportedly, wants to “live in a world where we can all put a beurre blanc on the table without hesitation”.

Don’t we all? She is, however, more aware than others that some people might hesitate. A former foodbank user herself, one of the specific aims of this book is to give recipes that can be made from the tins given out at foodbanks. She knows that the convenience of tins (you can eat their contents cold if you have no means of heating them up – and they last for ages), makes them ideal for those on the tightest of budgets.

Jack also has quite a following amongst ‘older gentlemen living alone’, it seems, and many older women too, who remember well having to make do with what was cheaply available in previous decades. Many of these are the first to point out that a lot of people nowadays simply don’t know how to eat both well and cheaply. This book shows them – brilliantly.

What are the top tins?

What’s likely to be in those 16 tins in each of our storecupboards? Well, fish continues to do well, with tins of salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel remaining popular. Many people keep a tin or two of veg handy (especially peas, carrots and sweetcorn) and we’re all likely to have some tinned fruit in there too.

It’s soup, beans and tinned tomatoes that top the bill for most of us, though. And while baked beans are the biggest sellers, plenty of us stockpile tins of haricot, cannellini, borlotti and many other types of beans, as well as lentils and chickpeas.

Soups range from the basic to the extraordinary (try our Sweet potato and chia seed soup, for instance). So do tomatoes – can a watery tin of budget tomatoes really compete with the thick richness of a tin of organic tomatoes? In our opinion, the latter is worth all the (very few) extra pennies – and we’d say the same about our organic baked beans too.

What else? Well, even those of us who might think we don’t cook much from tins are probably forgetting things like coconut milk (and yes, condensed and evaporated milk, too). And most people have some secret hankering for at least one kind of tinned pudding – rice pudding, for example, or steamed pudding.

You can see the full Naturally Good Food range of tins here.

Tin health and safety

Stay safe around tins! Don’t actually try to open them with a penknife (fortunately for explorers, most are now ring-pull). Don’t microwave a tin – and don’t keep food in the fridge in an opened tin (decant into another container instead).

You might also share the recent concerns expressed about BPA (bisphenol A) in tins. BPA is a resin used in the canning industry, mainly for tin lids, to ensure that the lids completely seal the product and maintain the quality of the food. The resin is also occasionally used as a tin lining, for certain acidic foods such as tomatoes, which would otherwise corrode the metal of the tin itself.

BPA is a noted toxin and it does leach from the plastic liner into the food inside the tin – but in such small amounts, current research concludes, as to be negligible. You would have to eat a quite extraordinary amount of tinned food every day to come close to the upper recommended level of ‘safe’ doses.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA), supporting the approach taken by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), notes that ‘on the balance of evidence, at current levels of exposure there is no appreciable health risk’. However, research is continuing, with the guidelines due to be reassessed later in 2019.

Some of the brands we stock are BPA-free, while other manufacturers say that they are searching constantly for viable, safe alternatives, and in the meantime, are using the lowest possible amount of BPA. These brands point out that the proposed alternatives to BPA contain other toxic resins, which have been less stringently tested. To limit exposure to BPA, they suggest not storing food in tins once opened, and in particular, rejecting dented or bulging tins, where the lining may have been damaged.

So….that’s safety covered. Now what about health – the nutritional aspects of tinned food?

In a chapter in Tin Can Cook amusingly called ‘Cansplaining’, Jack talks all about the benefits of preserving food in this way. In canning, food is sealed and preserved by pressure-cooking it at a very high temperature. There’s a lack of data about the precise level of nutrients in canned food compared with those in fresh or frozen food, but it’s clear that just as with ‘normal’ cooking, the canning process destroys some of the nutrients, especially the water-soluble vitamins. But it by no means removes them all. Tinned tomatoes, for example, are particularly rich in the beneficial element lycopene (and, as this is more easily absorbable in cooked form, they bring benefits that uncooked fresh tomatoes actually don’t). Other tinned fruit and vegetables, meanwhile (including pulses), are perfectly respectable ways to get your five-a-day, while tinned fish is a great source of B12.

The tinning process can introduce some less-than-healthy elements, however: fruit tinned in syrup will contain lots of sugar, and anything stored in brine will be high in salt. Meat stored in tins scores high for salt, too.

But, say nutritionists, mix and match tinned food with fresh food and you’ll be absolutely fine.

We can’t sell you the fresh stuff at Naturally Good Food, but we can help you make the most amazing feast with proper, high-quality tinned food. If you’re stockpiling, you can’t do better than stockpile with us – check out all our tins here!

Naturally Good Reads v2

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This post was written by Yzanne

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