Food often need to be wrapped, whether for cooking or storage. As with anything that actually touches food, it is often very important to choose the right wrapping. Some are determined by the food itself, while others focus on the temperature. I will go over some of the most common food wraps, and when to and when not to use them.
Aluminium foil is a sheet of very thin and flexible aluminium that can be used for both cooking and storage. Being a metal, it can withstand extremely high heats before melting. If you do reach temperatures where aluminium foil is melting, then you are doing something either very wrong or very cool.
When you use aluminium foil in the oven, it is best used to help seal in juices and aroma. To do so, you want to place the foil over the food before it goes into the oven, pressing down on the sides to create a seal. Don’t place any foil so that it is touching an element, and don’t use it in the microwave.
Aluminium foil can also be used to store foods, and some people prefer it to plastic wrap. The foil is thicker than plastic, so it can create a truly air-tight seal if you properly press down on the seams.
However, aluminium foil is not an inert metal, and can react to acidic foods. If you do store foods that contain tomatoes and vinegars, the acid will eat through the foil and form white aluminium salts, as well as ruining the air-tight seal.
Also, there is no difference between the shiny and non-shiny sides of aluminium foil.
Cling film, Saran Wrap, plastic wrap, food wrap, whatever you call it, is a thin, transparent sheet of plastic used to wrap foods. It is quick and easy to apply, and it has a bit of self-adhesiveness that can be either a boon or a determent. Either way, it is a very efficient way of storing foods and providing a near air-tight barrier.
However, it is rather flimsy, being just a thin sheet of plastic. Even moderately high heat can cause it to melt, either weakening the seal or, worse, melting it into the food.
Thus, it is extremely rare that you will ever want to actually cook with plastic wrap. Some will use it in the microwave, but it should not actually touch the food.
It is mainly used in storing food that has already been cooked, and storing it in a cool place.
Also, the plastic itself is not inherently air-tight, as microscopic holes can form during use, which can let small amounts of air in. Thus, it may not be the best bet if you are planning on freezing your food, as these holes can let water (and water is actually a smaller molecule than air) onto the surface of the food, and give it freezer-burn.
These two are very similar water and grease resistant paper used to help during the cooking process. However, they are slightly different when it comes to the specific uses, especially around heat.
Wax paper is paper coated in wax. This means that most liquids, like water, oil and grease, will slide right off without soaking into the paper.
This makes it great to prepare an area for messy cooking, as you can just wrap up the paper for instant cleanup. It can also be used to prevent food, like dough, from sticking to the counter. However, wax is has a very low melting point, so it cannot be used with heated foods. Never put wax paper in the oven, as the wax may melt, or even ignite.
Parchment paper is paper that has been specifically treated to be used in hot environments. Essentially, this means you can use parchment paper in any situation that you can use wax paper, but also in the oven. This means you can line a baking sheet with parchment paper to prevent food from sticking. Or, line a muffin tray to allow easy extraction of the muffins.
However, parchment paper is often much, much more expensive than wax paper.