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In praise of the kilner jar

In 2017 the humble Kilner jar celebrated its 175th anniversary. Originally conceived by John Kilner at his Yorkshire, England glass plant, vacuum seal Kilner bottles and jars are a well-known staple for the preservation of fresh food products around the globe.

The distinctive embossed glass topped with the characteristic secure metal fixing around the lid is an icon of times goneby yet remains as popular now as ever before. The simplicity and effectiveness of this seminal jar has not lost its relevance because despite the trending desire consumers have for single-use products or pre-prepared portions, the classic Kilner is a mainstay, and not just in the kitchen.
Whilst the rounded shoulders on a wide-necked circular jar topped with a metal ring to hold down the lid is probably the image that comes most to mind, the Kilner jar is actually available in all sorts of shapes and volumes to suit almost any food eventuality as well as standing out on the kitchen shelf as a beautiful decoration piece. Kilner bottles on the other hand bring to mind cordials, oils and home-brewing of a bygone era, yet when combined with a frosted finish or coloured glass, the look is brought right up-to-date.

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Anatomy of a Kilner Jar

  • Lid
    The lid is solid and normally hollow to allow for temperature differences.
  • Seal
    Initially made of wax, seals went from vulcanized rubber to modern silicone.
  • Jar
    A thick-walled jar that can withstand the pressures and temperatures of hot-filling
  • Clasp
    One of the tightest sealing clasps made using a sturdy mechanical lock.
  • Hinge
    A simple hinge where the components wrap around both the lid and jar for incredible security.

Benefits

  • Keeps food from spoiling for long periods
  • Incredibly hefty and sturdy
  • Secure closing and easy opening

And whilst preserving foods, or storing dry foods continues to be the primary use for Kilner jars, the line has been making steps into the beauty industry for body butters and creams and offers a re-usable option for many gift products, ensuring brand recognition over a long period of time as consumers keep the jar to use as a pretty and practical storage piece, after the gifted product within has been spent.

Is the Mason Jar the same as the Kilner jar?

The Mason jar is the US cousin of the Kilner jar. Patented in 1858 by the 26-year old John L. Mason, it was actually the tin cap which was created first as a solution for preserving fresh-food products. The key feature of Mason's innovation was the one-piece screw-on cap which created an airtight seal. Used in combination with a molded clear glass jar that allowed consumers to see the food within, the Mason jar combination proved to be highly appealing and 160 years later the jar can still be seen in regular use, despite the availability of refrigeration, freezing and other food processing availability to enhance the longevity of food products.

Unlike its British cousin, the Mason jar has been taking on new looks. Whilst the standard form of the original jar remains the same, Mason jars have been given new life as they have been adapted towards new uses. Original lighting features as a lamp for a quaint decoration, or with the added handle for an effective beer-mug, the jar has been enjoying a resurgence in its popularity.

The Mason jar lid, being made of metal, has also allowed for the jar to be re-used around the home as an interesting vintage decoration piece. According to the number and size of holes in the lid, the jar makes for a food shaker, candle holder... The lid can also be adapted and used in conjunction with a pump for liquid soap or with space to insert a straw for those moments when the consumer may be subject to a greater chance of spilling drink! Both the lid and the jar provide plenty of scope for creativity around the home and even in the garden!

In France, the name Le Parfais is synonymous with the Kilner Jar, and instantly recognizable through its use of an orange rubber seal. In Germany, the jars are known under the name Weck jars and can be differentiated by their use of a glass lid that is used in conjunction with a rubber ring seal and metal clamps. Mason jars are marketed as Leifheit jars but are less well-known for preserving food as Weck jars. Heading to Southern Europe, the Mason jar is popular in Italy and known under the name Quattro Stagioni.

The traditional look of the Kilner jar has been maintained, but the jar has undergone a number of changes to modernize it and make it more accessible to new markets. The manufacture of the jars in PET plastic offers a lower cost, a lighter weight and a lesser carbon footprint. Plastic jars are produced at lower temperatures than glass and the lower weight reduces transportation costs. Like glass, PET is approved for food packaging and both materials are easy to recycle. Glass however offers a long term and more reusable solution as it doesn't absorb odours and does not stain, and with its heavier weight it lends itself to re-use for storing other products and continued usage over a longer period of time.

  1. In warm climates drying food in the sun or in the wind was a way to preserve or cure meat, game, fish, fruit, vegetables and herbs. In snowy climates, freezing food was an easy food preservation option.
  2. Ancient Egyptians use honey to preserve and store fruit in containers of ceramics or pottery, and less often of glass.
  3. Salting used to preserve foods
  4. Molded glass and pots more commonly used in Egypt.
  5. Romans used sugar and honey for making jam to preserve fruit
  6. Popular in Britain, potted meat was created by storing meat, fowl or fish in a pot and covering it with fat to keep air out.
  7. Nicolas Appert proves that heat applied to sealed glass bottles preserves food, stopping its deterioration.
  8. Peter Durand uses a similar method to Appert's to tin food.
  9. John Kilner establishes business
  10. John L. Mason patents his the Mason jar
  11. Home preservation explodes in popularity with sugar price drop and the glass, clamp-top jar (similar to the Kilner jar)
  12. Home canning in jars peaks in popularity during WWII
  13. Home-preserved food products see a revival with the "back to Land" movement

What is next for the Kilner jar?

Kilner jars represent wholesome natural food and because of their simple-to-use functionality, they will never lose their place for those who like to preserve their garden produce or create their own marmalades and preserves. Whether Kilner jars can differentiate themselves enough to be relevant to other markets remains to be seen, however looking into their history, it's unlikely that the Kilner jar will stray far from its food preserving roots.

History has shown that the Kilner jar proves to be a popular packaging product when there is a need for keeping foods fresh when refrigeration is not an option and when hobby farming is back on trend. It also happens to be one of the most well-known products for re-use as the quality of the jar never wanes however much it is used.

It is estimated that over half of the US packaging industry is comprised of food and beverage packaging. Americans generate some 75 million tons of packaging waste annually (according to the US Environmental Protection Agency). That's nearly 38 million tons of food packaging waste. The food packaging industry around the world is subject to very strict directives and laws, making reusable packaging one of the safest ways to reduce packaging waste. And according to a Nielsen (http://www.nielsen.com) report, "consumers are gravitating toward organic products as they seek healthy and clean options in food". With 60% of purchase decisions made on-the-spot, the Kilner jar's established relationship with fresh food produce will ensure that it is a product that continues to remain in favour with the consumer.

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  • Modified 21 FEB 2018
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