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.