In life, the simplest things are often the toughest to master. Take, for example, the use of common kitchen wrap. Now I consider myself fairly dexterous, but ask me to cover a plate of leftovers using plastic wrap or aluminum foil and instantly I’m all thumbs.

With plastic wrap, I may as well just take it off the roll and throw it directly into the trash. It does not matter what type I’m using; I tried them all. One type I can’t even get off the roll for goodness sakes. If I’m lucky enough to scratch up a corner and peel it back, at best I can expect a thin strip about a foot in length — nothing I can work with.

Another type of plastic wrap I’ve used comes off the roll more readily, but in a highly unstable state. It immediately wants to cling to itself and inevitably gets its way. Once it crinkles, forget it. The folds are permanently bonded. There must be some sort of chemistry taking place at the molecular or atomic level. Companies that make tape and glue would do well to investigate this phenomenon.

In contrast, some wraps don’t cling at all, which, in some respects, is actually worse. Let’s say you just covered a dish of baked beans. As you walk across your kitchen toward the refrigerator, there’s a good chance your carefully fitted cling-free plastic wrap will blow off and land wetside- down on the floor. I’ve resorted to using rubber bands to hold the plastic in place — thankfully you can buy something like that now, with an elastic band already built-in — or foregoing storage altogether and giving the leftovers to the dog.

It doesn’t help that every box of kitchen wrap is armed with a flesh-eating metal strip designed by an amputation specialist. More often than I care to remember I’ve sliced my fingers and knuckles on those razor-sharp attachments only to succeed in turning the end of the wrap into a twisted plastic tail bunched up on one side of the roll. That’s assuming, of course, that the roll doesn’t pop out of the box first and unwind on its way to the kitchen floor.

With aluminum foil, my frustrations are of a different nature. I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to measure out just a bit too little. Then the piece wrinkles and tears as I try to stretch and form it. By the time I finish patching things up, I’ve used two to three times more foil than the surface area calls for.

Opening a foil-wrapped dish is no easy task either, especially if you intend to re-cover it. According to the laws of thermodynamics, aluminum foil shrinks in proportion to the amount it is handled. This makes raiding the refrigerator at night a risky proposition. If the noise of crinkling foil doesn’t blow your cover, the ratty appearance of the re-wrapped dish in the morning will.

Another drawback with foil is that all the good stuff — cheese, toppings, frosting — gets stuck on the bottom side. It’s just not the same eating cake and having to lick the frosting off cold wrinkled aluminum. Scraping up the frosting with a fork is no better. I’m guessing, but either electrons build up on the edge of the fork or there’s some sort of ionic transfer taking place (microplating perhaps). Whatever it is, it tastes like battery acid, and it doesn’t do much for frosting.

Here, though, there is some good news to report. Thanks to some overdue attention from material scientists and process engineers, the firstever nonstick aluminum foil is hitting store shelves as this issue goes to press. One side of the new wrap developed by Reynolds Consumer Products, a business unit of Alcoa, is coated with a special food-safe surface that cleanly separates from any contacting substance as it’s peeled away.

To promote the new product, Reynolds is offering a free cookbook with recipes that highlight the foil’s special properties. Hopefully there’s a sequel in the making — an industrial applications guide. I can see someone using the new foil, for instance, to make inexpensive (perhaps disposable) bearings or bearing surfaces. Other areas where pliable nonstick aluminum might prove useful include material handling, conveying, and paint drying applications. You can’t beat the price, and if it’s safe for cooking, it must be okay for OSHA. Heck, the free hacksaw blade in every box alone may justify the purchase.

– Larry Berardinis
lberardinis@penton.com