I recently got in touch with Wonderbag, a company I came across who make eco-friendly, electricity-free slow-cookers, that are revolutionising the lives of disadvantaged families around the globe.
Originating from South Africa, Sarah Collins came up with the idea for a polystyrene heat-retention cooker in 2008. The Wonderbag design harks back to age-old practises of covering cooking pots with blankets to retain heat and the methods of the San people, who bury food in the ground to maintain heat whilst cooking. It’s a simple idea that has made a big impact.
Heavily involved in several campaigns and charities aimed at helping rural families, and particularly women, in rural Africa, Sarah was aware of the health and economic benefits of such a product. The Wonderbag works by placing a boiled pot of casserole/stew into the heavily-lined bag before closing it to slow cook for up to eight hours. For those living in disadvantaged communities this reduces the amount of fuel required for cooking as well as cutting indoor pollution from wood fires.
The figures are astounding:
- 3 billion women around the world still cook over an open fire each day.
- Smoke inhalation from these fires is the leading cause of death globally—over 4 million people will die this year alone, more than 50% of premature deaths will be in children under five due to household air pollution.
Sarah has traveled across countries and continents, meeting leaders, dignitaries, and captains of industry to share the Wonderbag story. Five years later, she has sold or donated more than 700,000 Wonderbags throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East and North America. Her aim this year is to spread the word across the globe and sell one hundred million Wonderbags worldwide, helping over a billion families in need.
Cooking with the Wonderbag
I gave one a go recently using a trusted beef casserole recipe that I roll out in the cold winter months. The key, which I later learned, is to ensure that your pot is filled to the top before putting it in the Wonderbag. The more air left in there, the quicker your pot will cool, meaning that the food doesn’t cook for as long.
I browned my meat and cooked off my vegetables as usual, before adding a rich beef stock and brought the whole thing to the boil. For meat on the bone or stewing steak you need to give it a good 30 mins boiling on the stove before putting in the bag (larger pieces will take a little longer). I then left it overnight.
In the morning I checked in on the casserole. Miraculously, even after my eight hour sleep, the pot was still warm. The flavours had developed brilliantly and the veg was soft. The only disappointment for me was that my meat wasn’t as succulent as I’d hoped. But, after a quick email to the Wonderbag team, I found out about the pot-filling technique above – mine had only been half full.
Another thing to note is that your gravy won’t reduce in the sealed pot, so before serving, give it a final simmer on the stove to warm it up and reduce down your liquid.
For any avid casserole-lovers or budding stew-makers who don’t want to run up a massive electricity bill, have a busy schedule or simply don’t want a run-in with the fire brigade, I urge you to give this a go. I still need to perfect cooking with the bag, but am convinced by the good that Wonderbag is doing for women who simply need help to feed their families. This gives them that chance.
The Wonderbag range is available on Amazon from £59.99. For every Wonderbag bought, one is donated to a family in need in Africa.