Plastic Wrap Vs Aluminum Foil: Which one to use in each case?

Plastic Wrap or Aluminum Foil – Both rolls are in every kitchen, but many of us use them interchangeably, without stopping to think about what they are really used for.

You prepare a sandwich, open the kitchen drawer and the eternal question assails you: should I wrap it with plastic wrap or aluminum foil? Both materials, designed expressly to preserve food, have been with us all our lives and are in most houses (always next to each other); but almost no one is considering what actually serves one another.

And, let’s face it, we use them interchangeably, guided by whims, hobbies or personal preferences. It is true that, in many cases, the use of one or another wrapper is indifferent.

Both actually serve the same purpose, to preserve food, but given their characteristics, each one can better fulfill its mission in certain circumstances. And there are times when an incorrect choice can ruin what, ironically, we wanted to preserve.

This is what each material is for:

Aluminum Foil

Aluminum foil came into use in the early 20th century, when it replaced tin foil that was used for similar purposes, but sometimes left bad odors in food.

aluminum foil
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It is currently used throughout the world and, in Europe alone; approximately 800,000 tons are produced each year. Although it is just as polluting as plastic film – both are made with a finite resource – it is recycled better, so from an environmental point of view it is “somewhat” preferable.

And, in case you did not know, there is no difference between using it on the shiny or matte side; it is just a characteristic of its manufacturing process without any influence on its properties.

When aluminum foil should be used for

  • Aluminum foil creates a stronger barrier against odors than plastic wrap, so it better prevents foods that give off more odor from permeating the entire fridge with their aroma. It is therefore the most suitable wrapper for fish.
  • This material resists heat much better than film, so it can be used for cooking, and ideal for use in barbecues and for cooking with the papillote technique, which allows food to be baked in its own vapour.
  • It is an opaque wrapper, so it is more suitable if, for whatever reason, the food we are trying to preserve is going to receive sunlight.

When aluminum foil should not be used for

  1. Aluminum foil can be used for freezing, but it may stick to food in the process. The ideal is to cover the food with film and, later, with aluminum, since this material better prevents the entry of oxygen. Or, better yet, use the freezer bags, which are specifically designed for this purpose.
  2. As far as possible, it is better to avoid using the aluminum foil to wrap acidic foods, such as tomatoes or pickles, which can cause migration of the foil into the food. Beverage cans or tetra briks are covered with polymer layers that prevent direct contact of food with aluminum, due to the possibility of this contamination. Under normal conditions, this migration is very small, but contamination increases significantly with acidic foods, so it is better to wrap these with plastic film.
  3. It should never be used in the microwave.

Plastic Wrap

This type of wrapping is used more in the hotel industry than aluminum foil, as it has several advantages: it adapts better to any surface, it breaks less and it is transparent, which allows you to see what it contains with the naked eye (something that is very useful in a professional kitchen). It is also considerably cheaper than aluminum foil.

plastic wrap
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When plastic wrap should be used for

  • Plastic wrap is more useful for wrapping some foods that, due to their shape, do not adapt well to aluminum foil (which breaks more easily). It is ideal for keeping fruit, vegetables, some sausages in the fridge, covering containers and, in short, covering anything that has a more or less irregular shape.
  • The film withstands heat much worse than “Albal” paper and that is why it is not usually used for cooking. Now, there are more resistant films that can be used in the microwave, something that can be useful to prevent food from drying out. Of course, before using it, look carefully at the information on the container. Not all plastic films can be used for this purpose.

When plastic wrap should not be used for

  1. For cooking at high temperatures, such as in ovens, barbecues or frying pans.
  2. To wrap products that will be exposed to sunlight.