Unless you live in a handful of prefectures, you’ve probably never even heard of I-wrap, but those who know it swear by it.

In light of recent events around western Japan I often find myself casually wondering what household items can help me scale up or down from a fifth-story balcony, and conversations with others casually segue into emergency shelter locations and the topography of the city in the event of flooding or tsunami.

One such conversation between our Japanese writer Masami and her friend in Yamagata Prefecture led to the discovery of I-wrap, a bag-like plastic wrap that’s surprisingly handy. I-wrap is actually sold all over Japan, but apparently only sells well in Yamagata, Toyama, Ishikawa, and Fukui prefectures.

Most people outside of this area have never even heard of I-wrap, including Masami, who, at the suggestion of her friend, picked up a box to try it out.

It’s very easy to see why these unassuming little 200-yen (US$1.79) boxes with 60 bags each get overlooked in much of Japan. But one advantage they have over other wraps is being able to withstand temperatures of over 120 degrees Celsius (248 degrees Fahrenheit), allowing you to cook with them.

This is of special interest to the Japan Red Cross Society, who are said to have begun using I-wrap in food preparation at disaster sites. By boiling food inside these bags they can reuse the water multiple times and make limited supplies last longer.

Likewise, if you find yourself trapped inside your home with no running water you can stretch even a little amount out for a longer time and keep cooking with the help of these bags.

Masami decided to try them out by making a serving of rice, chicken, and mushrooms. It was all very simple. First, she put in some dry rice and the corresponding amount of water. Then, she added the other ingredients and a dash of seasoning.

Another added benefit is that using the wrap to hold everything reduced the contact raw food came into with dishes, thus reducing the risk of contracting food poisoning.

When everything was ready Masami closed up the bag and put it in a pot of boiling water. It is important to use a sieve here so that the bag doesn’t touch the actual pot and start burning.

She left everything to boil for 40 minutes and when that was finished she left it to steam some more as it cooled on the counter. And just like that it was finished!

The rice was evenly cooked and everything turned out great with surprisingly little effort.

Even if you aren’t facing the threat of severe water rationing, I-wrap bags can really streamline meal preparation and save you time and energy on doing dishes. They’re great for camping too and can be used to carry and cook fresh food in.

They’re handy even if your worst emergency is whipping up a pot-au-feu for last-minute guests.

That being said, be sure to use them sparingly, just on special occasions, for the environment’s sake.

Since they’re cheap and compact, I-wrap seem like the kind of thing that’d be better to have and not need that need and not have while stocking up on supplies. You might be surprised to find that they’ve always been sold nearby.

Related: Iwatani Materials, Twitter/@i_wrap_official
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