Item: Ball FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System
Overall Impression: Does what it's supposed to very well, but is limited in terms of the recipes you can use.
If you're the type of person who enjoys an afternoon of standing over a hot stove to can your jams, jellies, pickles, and other preserved foods, then read no further. But if water bath canning intimidates you, tires you out, or makes you uncomfortably sweaty, then you might be interested the new FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System from Ball, which is designed to take the guesswork out of canning. You put your jars of food in the canner, press a couple buttons, and the machine does the rest. We gave it a try and here's what we thought.
Characteristics and Specs: Ball's FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System features a suite of temperature, altitude, and time sensors called SmartPRESERVE technology. The appliance base is made of stainless steel with a hinged, locking plastic lid and touch-pad with LED display panel. The inner pot is made of dishwasher-safe, non-stick aluminum and can hold 3 quart, 4 pint, or 6 half-pint Ball jars. Comes with a stainless steel jar rack, two vent cleaners, a jar lifter, a recipe booklet, and instruction manual. 1-year limited warranty.
Favorite details: Easy to operate, requiring only an electrical outlet and 6 cups of water. Automatically adjusts for altitude. Pre-heats quickly.
Potential problems: According to Ball, "It is important to only use the recipes provided with this appliance. Use of other recipes not tested for this appliance can result in seal failure, food spoilage and potential health risks." This means users are limited to the 26 recipes in the book or the 71 recipes on Ball's website. Users must enter pre-programmed recipe numbers, and there are no manual settings.
Splurge-worthy? If you have the money to spend, are happy with the collection of recipes provided by Ball, and find water bath canning to be time-consuming or stressful, this could be a great tool.
Good for small kitchens? The canner has a fairly modest footprint and because it can be used anywhere there's an electrical outlet, it could be useful for those who find canning projects to be unwieldy in their tiny kitchens/stoves. However, for most small kitchens I think a simple stock pot would be more versatile, as it can be used for water bath canning and other cooking projects.
More thoughts: As someone who teaches food preservation, I'm always looking for ways to show people that canning can be safe and simple. Thus, I'm torn about the FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System.
On one hand, it's practically foolproof and may appeal to those who are nervous about food safety or loath to spend a lot of time at the stove. You don't need a large, heavy pot of boiling water, and you don't need to worry about things like time, temperature, and altitude — the machine does it for you, and it's easy to use. The FreshTECH recipe booklet includes 26 basic recipes for jams, jellies, fruits, pickles, tomatoes, sauces and salsas, so there's a good range for beginners. Ball also has 71 recipes on its website.
On the other hand, users are limited to these recipes, which I found pretty disappointing. I would be more gung-ho about the appliance if users could manually input processing time instead of using the presets. In addition, many of the recipes call for ingredients like Ball Pectin, Pickle Mix, or Pasta Sauce Mix (not to mention Ball jars), further locking users into the brand. My concern is that the FreshTECH canner doesn't really empower people to understand the principles of home canning, which can be totally safe, fun, and inexpensive when done the traditional way.
The FreshTECH canner costs quite a bit more than a classic canning pot or even a stockpot that you already own. However, it does use less water because the canner uses pressure to create a vacuum seal on the jars. (Unfortunately it cannot be used as a pressure canner for low-acid foods — another feature that might have won me over.) Ball claims that the canner uses up to 85% less water, 60% less energy, and 30% less time compared to traditional canning methods.
Ultimately, I think the FreshTECH Automatic Home Canning System might be fantastic for some users, and not for others. I'd recommend taking a look at the recipes on Ball's website before making a buying decision. If you're a beginner and the collection seems sufficient to you, then you might consider the FreshTech canner. Otherwise, I'd suggest embracing traditional canning methods; they're not so bad.
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.
(Image credits: Jarden Home Brands; Emily Ho)