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Do Consumers Hunger for Self-Heating Cans?

Do Consumers Hunger for Self-Heating Cans?

In the 1950s and ’60s, it wasn’t uncommon for impatient, non-cooks, to grab a can of beans or Spaghetti-Os, and heat it on the stove, still in the unopened can, in a boiling pot of water. This pre-microwave practice, while pretty thoroughly heating the contents of the can, also had an unfortunate by product – hot, if not sometimes exploding, cans. Since then, we have moved beyond this rudimentary form of fast food and become oh-so-reliant upon microwave ovens, boil-in-bag technology, and nutrition bars and energy drinks to keep us upward and operating in these hasty times. Still, as is evidenced by what I am about to tell you, some of us still have a thing for hot cans.

Not necessarily a really new thing, but the appropriately named UK Company HotCan, whose tag line is “heat me,” is doing an aggressive rebranding of their signature product – a tin can that literally heats itself, no stove or microwave needed. Now this technology has been used with military rations for decades now, providing hot meals for soldiers in the field, but it has never quite caught fire with the civilian population. HotCan is sincerely hoping that their self-heating cans, filled with everything from rice pudding to cheese ravioli, will capture the hearts of hungry Brits, if not the world.

No doubt the contents of these cans are probably pretty standard tin can fare and hardly a culinary revelation, but the selling point is obviously the novelty of having a piping hot can of beans cooking on your passenger seat while you are stuck in afternoon traffic. The way it works is that inside each can is a single can with the sealed contents of whatever foodstuff you purchased (beans, stew, what have you) surrounded by a bladder of water and below it, there is a loose pile of granular limestone. You begin the heating process by inserting the provided spike into three holes in the top of the can. This pierces the water bladder and starts the flow of water into the limestone, thus producing a natural reaction that creates heat. The contents of the can are then heated by the chemical reaction going on outside between the tin barriers and within 8 to 10 minutes you have hot (ish) food. Interesting and cool? Absolutely. Appetizing? Maybe not so much.

The market for such a product (keep in mind these cans are not yet available in the U.S.) likely includes campers, gritty survivalists (the cans are shelf-stable for 5 years), luckless fisherman and hapless college students, but at about $10 a can, they are surely not for the budget conscious. And considering the description of the heating process provided by the intrepid BBC reporter Oliver Thring, “…an ominous bubbling begins, steam starts to hiss from the holes, and you panic the can is about to explode and shower you in shrapnel and lava,” it might not be an invention for the faint of heart either.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

27 comments

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7:58PM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

T!

1:56AM PDT on Apr 4, 2012

I've seen self heating "cans" of coffee

9:31PM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

thanks for sharing

4:58PM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

Wow, where were these cans when I needed them back in the '70's on some of my early camping trips? Nothing like eating a can of cold chow when you can't get some wet firewood to light like you thought you'd be able to. Duh. And trying to heat them on the warm engine block of your vehicle didn't work out very well either. Oh well, live and learn. I learned.

11:17AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

I wonder what it will do for the BPA contents inside the can unless of course these cans are produced without it. I very much doubt it though. I will stay well away from them.

11:07AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

There is nothing like a can of baked beans heated in the can on the campfire!

Common sense should tell you to remove the lid first.

9:40AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

Gee, got to a truck stop. We've had self heating meals on the shelves of the "store" for more than a decade that I know of.

7:59AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

$10 a can isn't really practical, if they could make them less expensive then they might be a good idea for camping or emergency kits.

7:35AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

Good idea for survivalists, not for every day consuming though...kind of costly too.

6:49AM PDT on Apr 3, 2012

Great idea for the disaster kit. It can be used after hurricanes, earthquakes, etc when there is no power or you are living in a tent. Not sure that I would use it in day to day cooking.

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