06 February 2007

Kitchenalia: Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker

A couple of months ago Catherine, Food TV Canada’s resident blogger, found herself with quite the dilemma: her workstation was overrun with Jamie Oliver Flavour Shakers in need of homes. Whomever received one had to try it out and blog about it. Always one for toys – especially kitchen toys – I dropped her a note and the gadget appeared last month. It’s taken a while for me to complete toy testing as my sore wrist kept me from unscrewing the tool.

It looks like a plastic Barbapapa: bowling pin in shape with a bulbous bottom, slimish middle and bit of a head on top. Did I mention the snazzy rubber grippy swoosh?

It’s made of four parts: a two-piece plastic case, a ceramic ball and a rubber gasket. You use it as you would a Boston shaker – seal the spices, herbs and whatnots into the contraption, and you shake so the ball bruises and crushes its contents.

I read the pullout (“Once you’ve used my Flavour Shaker you’ll never want to be without it,” and “It will crush, grind, mix, purée, blend and release flavour from whole spices (including cinnamon stick and star anise), herbs, garlic, nuts citrus rind or even lime or bay leaves.”) and perused its recipes (Best herb marinade, Hot tandoori rub, Spicy jerk Caribbean rub, Old English sugar’n’spice, and Creamy garlic French dressing) before deciding to follow my own path.

Experiment Number One: Dry Spices
I popped in a cinnamon shard, screwed the shaker together, and was careful to align the two sets of guide arrows that ensure that the unit locks correctly, and shook. This was more difficult than originally thought; my Flavour Shaker’s two sets of arrows will not align at the same time.

I shook it for about 15 seconds before adding cardamom seeds and whole cloves. As Jamie would say, I gave it a good bash for 30 seconds, and produced a course grind: discernable bits of spices, not anywhere close to the powdery and slightly gritty texture I was accustomed to with my trusty mortar and pestle. I closed it up again and shook it for another 30 seconds: medium coarseness: mostly homogenous, but there were still chunky bits. I closed it up again and bashed it for another 30 seconds: I still considered it a medium grind, just with more powder.

I stopped then because I realized that the Shaker probably wouldn’t mimic the fine-ish grind I prefer.

A static charge built up because of all that mid-winter shaking and called upon my trusty pastry brush to sweep out the finer contents that adhered themselves to the Shaker’s insides.

Experiment Number Two: Wet and dry spices
The second set started with a 60-second bash of cumin and coriander seeds along with a few black peppercorns. Afterwards I plopped in garlic chunks and crushed everything for another 30 seconds. Thanks to the garlic’s moisture, the contents clung to the ceramic ball for dear life. At best, the garlic was coarsely chopped – again nowhere close to finely chopped niblets my knife produces. I stopped here as I didn’t believe anything better would come of additional bashing time.

Washing instructions seemed hopeful: “It’s not fiddly to keep clean like electronic equipment.”

I washed it by hand in hot and soapy water. After it dried I gave it a sniff. It smelled like curry. I washed it again, this time soaking in soapy water for a while. After it dried I gave it a sniff. It smelled like curry. I filled it with acidulated water, let it sit for a couple of hours and then washed it. After it dried I gave it a sniff. It smelled like curry.

Experiment Number Three: Whipped cream
The instruction pamphlet indicates emulsified sauces could be made but I wasn’t interested in making creamy vinaigrette. I was interested in whipped cream for one—not an emulsified sauce, but the shaking motion would whip in air and hopefully produce creamy goodness. I poured in a little heavy cream with a pinch of sugar and shook. After about 45 seconds I had a very thick cream, akin to luscious double cream. It would have been perfect if the cream hadn’t picked up the residual curry flavour.

The instructions noted it was dishwasher safe (top rack only) and my darling TFE has a dishwasher. I trundled over there, Flavour Shaker in hand (yes, the gadget still smelled like curry) and explained the situation. He was more than happy to help out. A couple of days later he returned the gadget to me. It smelled like curry.

The only thing that got rid of the smell was soaking the pieces in bleach water. After a 30-minute soak I checked the pieces…they were submerged in murky liquid…. I had no idea that bleach dissolved unglazed ceramics. I took out the ball, washed it, and dried it—only a wee bit smaller than when it started life. I washed and dried the other pieces. I sniffed it. They didn’t smell of anything…apart from a little bleach. Of course I wouldn’t be able to use it for a couple of days as it needs to air properly.

In the grand universe of kitchen gadgets, I categorise Jamie Oliver’s Flavour Shaker as a toy: cute, friendly and plastic. Now that I’ve had a chance to use it, I’m glad I didn’t actually buy it. There are too many annoying things about it: the guide arrows don’t align; it takes too long to get a mediocre grind, and cleaning it is more than a pain.

I’m going back to my usual ways: mortar and pestle and a good sharp knife. I can get the texture I want in less time and there aren’t residual oils left to taint my next preparation.

At a glance:
Ease of use: 3/5
Effectiveness: 2/5
Total rating: 2/5

Pros: It’s cute.
Cons: Ineffective for fine grinding and difficult to clean.


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burekaboy — said...

hmmm interesting. never heard of this thing before.

i'm not a big gadgety person; i always go back the using standard items and those gadgets get shoved away somewhere or discarded.

thanks for the review, anyway.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Cute and doesn't do what it's designed for - now that's a gadget.
I really enjoy that the best thing to peel ginger with is a flatware spoon but I do love my mandoline and mortar and pestle!
Thanks for the review. It needs to work.

Anonymous said...

and here i thought this thing was a godsend. i'm glad i haven't bought one yet! i'm also glad to hear that a mortar & pestle is a good bet -- i've been wanting one for a while, but wasn't sure how much i'd use it.

Sara said...

Loved reading this Jasmine. Very thorough and funny!

Freya said...

Hmm, I had a feeling that this couldn't be the Jamie Oliver version of a Pestle and Mortar, cute though it may be - I'm sure it made him lots of money although I'm seeing it here in reduced dumper bins now. Shame, because his books are good.

Anonymous said...

What an odd little thing!

I can't imagine though ever replacing my mortars and pestles and my coffee grinder. They do the trick admirably for most things, and curry pastes taste way better using them then even a food processor (I only own a tiny one).

Plus it's kind of relaxing to bang the heck out of something in a M&P.

Elizabeth said...

Well. That sounds like a completely useless thing to get. Thanks for the great review and saving us from even for a moment thinking it might be a fun gadget to have in the kitchen. Well done for persevering with all the tests.

Also interesting that chlorine bleach removes the curry smell (I wonder if that would work with the plastic top of our spice grinder...)


P.S. I'm having a devil of a time getting this comment published. Here's hoping that my fourth time of entering the word verification letters will be the lucky one.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jasmine - thank you for this review, I nearly bought this last christmas for my food-novice friend but am glad I didn't :) I think you're right - pestle & mortar and a good knife are always the best :)

jasmine said...

Hello all

BB - some gadgets are worth the money...this one definitely isn't.

Tanna - I agree--sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones.

Suzy - Definitely get the mortar and pestle--I love mine...really.

Sara - Thanks!

Freya - You know, I don't know. It looks like the one he "mentions" in his book "Cook With Jamie." I wonder if they realized it's foibles and thought they could offload it over here?

Diane - I think there's a reason mortars and pestles have been around for thousands of years...and this one probably won't last five.

Elizabeth and Keiko - Nottaproblem. The way I look at things is someone needs to look at this thing (and cookbooks and the rest) honestly and not fall victim to smarmy marketing and smarmy companies. Others seem happy with it as a vinaigrette shaker...I say save the $30 and use an old jar.


Anonymous said...

I'm happy I found your review; it was a lot of fun to read and I'll save my aeroplan points for something else!

(this is currently offered as an aeroplan gift, but you need the same number of points as many $50 gift cards... making it horribly expensive finally!)


Anonymous said...

A brilliant idea let down by one critical and possibly leathal problem...the plastic used in its construction is too fragile and rigid for the task at hand!
On first use the teeth around the outside of each seal which hold top & bottom together cracked.
I sealed it correctly with the arrows but not tight enough to do that level of damage and shook it less violently that Jamie does on TV!
Clearly those who designed this and made all the critical decisions on what plastic to use had no clue just how much punishment that ceramic ball could dish out!

Anonymous said...

Looks like this dialogue is pretty much over, but couldn't resist a quick comment. First, I have had a Flavour Shaker for a year and use it more or less exclusively for grinding up coriander, which I tend to throw in just about any pot I see. Works like a treat. OTOH, I too had a bit break off inside, and sent a note to the FS web site, and they sent me a replacement immediately, no if's, and's or but's. As for the lining up problem, I never saw it. But yeah, it doesn't seem to do quite the job that Oliver claims for paste-y things. Can't wait to try out whipped cream. As for getting rid of smells... baking soda works every time.

Nigel, Edmonton