It’s often the simplest inventions which completely transform the world. Take, for example, nails (of the metal, not finger variety). Before these strong little pins of metal were used, buildings had to be built with interlocking joints and boards to keep them upright.
Or what about reinforced concrete? Although hydraulic lime was being used as a cement as early as 6500 BC, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that the material was strengthened with steel rods, allowing us to build towering skyscrapers and dramatic architectural shapes that we take for granted today.
In food processing, the can – also known as a tin, a tin can or a steel can – is one of these inventions. Deceptively simple (and far more modern than the previous two examples), the ability to seal processed food in an airtight container and preserve it for many years was somewhat of a revolution, up there with mechanical refrigeration and the microwave oven.
Can you tell me more?
Why yes, we can!(Sorry). We spoke to UK canning machinery specialists, Eurocan, for some facts about the humble tin can.
Wait, what was that?
That’s right, although canning has been around since 1810, the first tools specifically designed for opening cans weren’t invented until 30 years later.The rotating wheel openers most of us are familiar with (even if we can never find them when we need them) weren’t patented until July 1870 – sixty years after the firstcans.
So… that must mean there’s a way to open a can without an opener?
Absolutely. Whether you’ve lost you can opener or simply never had one in the first place, where there’s a will to eat a can of tuna,there’s a way. Here are four solutions that take barely any effort at all.
Option 1: Check for the Ring-pull
If you’re a hungover student, blinded by a craving for baked beans, you might not be able to see the obvious. Before attempting any of these alternative methods for opening a can, make sure the manufacturer hasn’t already gifted you a ring-pull in the top. Definitely not there? Okay, then you may proceed.
Option 2: Using a Knife
Place the can on a table or counter. Choose a sharp blade with a sturdy handle and place the tip at the edge of the lid, against the inner seam. Keep the knife steady by holding it vertically with one handas if you’re in a slasher movie – your clasped hand should be right at the top of the handle (away from the blade).
Next, use the palm of your free hand to gently smack the top of the knife handle/that hand that’s holding it. You shouldn’t need to use much pressure for the tip of the blade to pierce through the lid of the can. Repeat this process to create puncture holes every few millimetres around the top of the can, then carefully slip the end of the blade through one of the holes and under the lid.
You should be able to pry the lid off with only a little effort, although you should use a towel to protect your hand from the sharp edges and may need to carefully saw through any parts of the lid that remain connected.
Option 3: Using a Spoon
Using a spoon in a similar fashion can also help you get into a can without a proper opener. With the can on a sturdy surface, grab a metal spoon and position it against the top lip of the can so that its “bowl” is facing inwards.
Applying a little pressure (holding the can steady with your free hand), rub the tip of the spoon back and forth over the same spot on the can lid. The repetitive force will weaken the thin metal of the can and eventually break through.
Repeat this around the top of the can until the lid is loose enough for you to poke the spoon underneath and lever it off. Again, be careful about sharp edges.
Option 4: Using Concrete
If you’re really in a pinch (and super desperate for those baked beans), you can use a rough concrete surface or a rough, flat rock to bust open a can. Place the can upside-down so that the seam is against the rock. Next, repeatedly rub the can back and forth over the surface so that the friction wears away the metal… We said it would do in a pinch – not that it would be quick, fun or interesting!
Look out for any signs of moisture on the rock, which will indicate that the seal has been punctured. Unless you’re doing this outside in the rain, in which case you should probably reassess your priorities and just go get a damn can opener from the shop. Once you see liquid, flip the can back over and use a pocket knife to prise open the weakened seal. Alternatively, you might be able to give it a squeeze and pop the lid with your bare hands.
Got a thrill for opening stuff like a caveman, or simply don’t have any utensils in your kitchen drawer? There are heaps of alternative ways to get into food packaging, like slicing the top off of a bottle of wine when you don’t have a corkscrew or popping beer bottle caps off with a skateboard. Though, maybe next time you’re in town you should just grab yourself some new kitchenware.
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