8

What are the trade-offs between using round vs square food storage containers?

I'm looking to buy a supply of several sizes of commercial-grade (eg Cambro or Carlisle) food storage containers. I'm debating if I should go all-round, all-square, or a mix of the both.

Photo of several differently sized plastic graduated food storage containers with various frutis & vegetables in them Photo of several differently sized square plastic graduated food storage containers with various frutis & vegetables in them
Round Food Storage Containers Square Food Storage Containers

For example, if the material is the same thickness, then I'd guess that round food storage containers would objectively take up more space yet be more durable (due to physics). But are there any other less-obvious trade-offs?

In practice, what are the pros & cons of using round or square food storage containers in the kitchen?

3 Answers 3

9

When it comes to freezing, containers that tesellate (nearly) make far better use of space. This is also true whenever space is at a premium, but seems worse in a freezer where things are packed in for long term storage than in a fridge where you tend to have enough free space to shuffle containers around. Of course getting the right size is also important for efficient space-filling.

If you're serving directly from them, maybe round looks nicer, and if you're spooning from them, corners can be limiting.

I have both, and use the round ones much less often (so I don't have many of those). Strength is rarely an issue, so long as they're designed to last.

6

For the sake of completeness, I'll list three more points. They have a rather minor practical impact though.

  • It's easier to pour liquids out of square containers without spilling, because the corner can be used as a spout.
  • If you're blending directly in the container with an immersion blender, the square one gives you better blending. This is very nitpicky, because you probably won't blend in these anyway, and blending still works in round containers, just a tad less efficiently.
  • If you're washing by hand, the round ones are quicker to get clean.
  • If you're directly drinking from the containers, a very narrow round shape is the most convenient one.

In general, I see round containers as a nod to tradition. In earlier centuries, most containers were round because of the limitations of container-producing technology (glass blowing, basket weaving, wood carving). Also, if people didn't use different containers for storage, cooking and serving, but just had "bowls", the round shape is more practical for cooking. I haven't encountered functional advantages in a round container when used for storage only.

3
  • "the square one gives you better blending" - I find this counterintuitive. (FWIW, I find Chris' point about tesselation the most compelling by far; I like being able to fit multiple such containers neatly in a cupboard, for shelf-stable dry goods.) Feb 3 at 1:47
  • 4
    @KarlKnechtel it's related to the physics of blending. If you have a round vessel, you get a well-shaped vortex, and the pieces of food tend to ride along endlessly, without really getting into the blades. They do get sucked in eventually, and with an immersion blender, you can chase them, but still, the uneven flow in a square vessel helps create more mixing, speeding up the process.
    – rumtscho
    Feb 3 at 10:50
  • I'd add to that that irrespective of the outline (round or square/rectangular) one also needs to consider the "draft" i.e. the angle of the sides that make them easy to remove from the mould during manufacture. A pronounced draft makes packing less efficient, but reduces the risk that things could freeze together. Feb 3 at 13:29
3

I switched to round restaurant deli containers years ago and haven't looked back. There is a reason round containers are practically an industry standard in the restaurant world.

Round containers are much easier to clean by hand. And unless you are using glass, you want to wash them by hand as older dishwashers eventually gunk up plastic and make them cloudy if your water is hard.

Also, they break far less often. I think I've had two break on me in three years. Before I used square and rectangular containers and I broke one about once a week (because the freezer makes them brittle).

8
  • 1
    I don't think the breaking is related to the shape. It's much more likely to be about the exact molecular structure of the plastic (which a consumer can't recognize beforehand). Also, I don't remember any dishwasher ever ruining my clear plastics, even though I always wash them in it - I have had yellowing problems after deciding to run non-kitchen-items through it, like a phone holder. My guess is that your first containers were made from a badly chosen material.
    – rumtscho
    Feb 3 at 10:52
  • 1
    @rumtscho what material should be used for rectangular containers that go through daily freeze/thaw cycles and need to last multiple generations? Feb 3 at 18:00
  • 1
    @MichaelAltfield There is no simple answer to your question. How the material was processed matters just as much as what it is. Imagine that three bakers would sell you a rectangular slab "made out of wheat", but one would turn out to be shortbread dough, the second a slice of ciabatta, and the third a piece of boiled seitan. You couldn't predict the physical properties of the product just based on the information "made out of wheat", you'd have to go to the baker who promised you that his product is intended for use as a pie crust. It's the same way with your freezer container - you (cont.)
    – rumtscho
    Feb 4 at 10:36
  • 1
    (cont.) have to find a manufacturer who sells containers intended for freezing, and trust him that he made them properly. Saying "I want containers from polypropylene" won't guarantee you having long-lasting containers, even if there are long-lasting freezer polypropylene containers out there. And as Stephie said, "long-lasting" here means several years, if you're lucky maybe a couple of decades, but not generations.
    – rumtscho
    Feb 4 at 10:38
  • 2
    TIL you can buy gastronorm stainless steel pans with 200 mm depths (sizes 28 liter, 12L, 7.5L, 5.2L, 3.2L, 1L) and fitting standard-sized stainless steel hermetically-sealed lids (with a silicon gasket) that would make great freezer-safe food storage containers that should last generations en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gastronorm Feb 4 at 12:57

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.