Updated March 2022
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Buying guide for best Zojirushi containers

Traditional lunch boxes may have some nostalgic appeal, but they aren't always the best choice when it comes to storing food. A Zojirushi container, also known as a food jar, addresses many of the issues that surround lunch boxes, such as insulation, durability and food protection. These containers are comparable to traditional Japanese bento boxes, which also keep foods separated while stored compactly in a larger container. A Zojirushi jar, however, can also serve as a large vessel for soup, hot beverages, or stew.

Zojirushi containers feature double-walled vacuum insulation, which keeps hot foods hot and cold foods cold for hours. Individual food containers fit the interior of the jar precisely and protect items from leaks, cross-contamination, and heat/cold loss. Stackability translates to maximum portability.

Finding the ideal Zojirushi container for a child’s packed lunch or an adult’s on-the-road meal can be a challenge, but a good buying guide and recommendations can provide some helpful hints if you’re looking for an alternative to paper sacks or uninsulated aluminum lunch boxes.

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“Zojirushi” is Japanese for “elephant mark.” An elephant has been in the company’s logo since 1961.

How to buy the best Zojirushi container

How does a Zojirushi container work?

This food jar resembles an oversize thermos, complete with a vacuum layer for additional insulation. Some Zojirushi containers are designed to hold a single food item, such as soup or stew. Others include smaller food containers that nest inside the outer jar. You prepare your food, apportion it into the sealable containers, then stack the containers inside the jar. Take off the lid of the container and the smaller containers can be opened individually. The lid can also be used as a serving bowl if needed.

Zojirushi containers tend to include at least one eating utensil, such as a spoon/fork hybrid (spork). After eating the food, the containers are resealed and stored in the food jar until they can be cleaned for their next use.

The insulative quality of these containers helps keep food at a safe temperature, hot or cold, for several hours, making one an ideal choice for a child’s unrefrigerated lunch. The compact design also makes it easy to transport to an office, school, or job site.

Materials and design

While many inexpensive thermoses are made primarily of plastic, higher-end Zojirushi containers are made of stainless steel with some plastic components. Stainless steel is durable, rust-resistant, and doesn't react with food. The walls of the outer jar need to be strong enough to maintain the vacuum between them, and stainless steel performs that duty better than glass or plastic. The individual food containers should be constructed from non-reactive metal or BPA-free plastic.

The design of a Zojirushi container resembles a jug or thermos. The lid may be oversize to accommodate the individual food containers. Some models use plastic components to create visual interest, such as distinctive colors or bold graphics. A carrying strap or clip can be used to attach the container to a backpack.

Capacity

One important consideration when choosing a Zojirushi container is its capacity. Much like any other meal storage box, a Zojirushi food jar only holds a certain amount of food.

Outer jar: This part can be used to store soup, stew, or beverages and has a capacity of between a pint and a quart.

Individual containers: These often come in various sizes depending on the type of food they hold. For example, a container for an entrée might hold 4 ounces, while a condiment or dessert container might hold 1 ounce. A range of container sizes is preferable for packed lunches because some foods don’t fit in standard-size containers.

Use and care

There aren’t many moving parts on a Zojirushi container, but there are a number of containers with lids, and you want to be able to easily open the outer jar and the other containers. Most of these jars are easy to open, but some can be challenging for children. Better models provide a dimpled lid for easy removal and a way to release any vacuum seal that forms during storage.

While Zojirushi food jars and individual containers may not be dishwasher safe, they should be easy to clean by hand. The outer jar can be challenging to clean, but it needs to be free of all food residue to ensure that the containers fit properly. Some staining or odor retention is possible if the containers aren’t cleaned thoroughly.

The individual food containers inside a Zojirushi jar encourage good portion control.

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What features should I look for in Zojirushi containers?

Safety seals

One common shortcoming of traditional thermoses is poor seals that allow leaks. Most Zojirushi containers, whether a single item jar or a multilayer food jar, have gaskets in the lids that provide an extra layer of protection against leaks and loss of heat or cold.

Accessories

While some inexpensive Zojirushi containers don’t come with any additional accessories, there are many that include multipurpose cooking utensils, cleaning brushes, and additional food containers. A special storage and carrying bag might also be part of a more expensive Zojirushi food jar set.

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DID YOU KNOW?
The first Zojirushi food container was a glass-lined vacuum bottle released in 1918.
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How much do Zojirushi containers cost?

Inexpensive

The least expensive Zojirushi container is essentially an insulated thermos bottle, but it still features the stainless steel construction and double-walled vacuum insulation that these containers are known for. You can expect to spend between $20 to $30 per container.

Mid-range

The multi-component Zojirushi food jars popular with consumers who regularly pack lunches generally start at $30, with a few larger models retailing around $50. You can find Zojirushi food containers with custom colors and graphics for younger users in this range.

Expensive

At the high end of the Zojirushi container spectrum is the Mr. Bento series of stainless steel food jars, which are popular alternatives to the traditional Japanese bento box. The engineering of the individual containers is exceptional, and foods and beverages remain hot or cold for hours. Expect to pay $70 or more for these durable Zojirushi food jar systems.

A Zojirushi container serves many of the same functions as a traditional Japanese bento box but with improved insulation.

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Tips

  • Preheat your Zojirushi food container. Leaving boiling water in the container for a few minutes will improve heat retention. The same holds true for pre-chilling a food jar to prepare it for cold foods.
  • Stack foods in the order they’ll be consumed. Pack the dessert first (at the bottom), followed by the main entrée and side dishes. An appetizer should be packed on top since you’ll open that container first.
  • Don’t store hot and cold foods together in the Zojirushi container. While the outside jar is insulated, the individual food containers can still transfer heat or cold to each other.
  • Don’t overfill the food containers. Portion control is always a consideration when packing a Zojirushi container. An unwanted vacuum seal could form if a container is completely filled with hot liquid.
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Double-walled stainless steel vacuum bottles were first introduced by Zojirushi in 1981.

FAQ

Q. Can a young child open a Zojirushi container?

A. Many Zojirushi lunch jars or containers have an extra-wide mouth, not the smaller opening associated with a beverage thermos. This larger lid may be an advantage for some children, while others might find it more challenging to open. A practice session or two with your child would be helpful, and a young user should be encouraged to seek adult assistance if necessary.

Q. Can I mix hot and cold foods in these containers?

A. Generally speaking, they work best when all the foods are relatively the same temperature. Essentially, foods that are served cold should be packed together, and hot foods should be packed in another container. However, you can stack cold foods that can be served at room temperature with hot foods.

Q. Can I use the Zojirushi container lid as a bowl?

A. In most cases, you can use the oversize lid as a food-safe container, although it might not have the same insulating qualities as the standard bowls. Many people mix individual ingredients into the lid to create a larger dish, such as meat and rice.

Q. Are Zojirushi containers dishwasher safe?

A. Because these containers use vacuum technology, they aren't considered safe for automatic dishwashers, regardless of where you position the jar inside the machine. Hand-washing is the preferred cleaning method, although some accessories, such as the spork, can be safely added to other cutlery in the dishwasher.

Q. Can I remove all the individual bowls and use the outer jar as a thermos for soup?

A. There are some Zojirushi products designed for this purpose, however the outer container of a lunch jar is designed to insulate the individual bowls inside. Food leaks would be a major issue, and some Zojirushi jars can be difficult to clean by hand.

 

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