Busy modern schedules mean fewer meals at home. Due to these time constraints, the few meals most people eat at home are assembled from a number of canned and packaged ingredients, which may not only contain added sugars, salts and damaged fats, but heavy metals, plastics and other non-food substances leached into the food. Others just microwave something dragged out of the freezer.
Crockpots a.k.a. slow cookers and pressure cookers are one way that many people, who are serious about their health and their food, are able to minimize unwanted chemicals in the diet. Time-saving microwaves, on the other hand, are likely to present other health hazards over time. They may also alter flavor profiles to the point that they no longer taste like food.
A few years ago, I decided to upgrade my old $20 crockpot for something more versatile and hands-off. The dilemma I faced was which one to choose. My research led me to the two discussed in this review.
The Instant Pot® has been all the rage for several years now even inspiring other manufacturers to create similarly inspired devices. Cooking a whole frozen chicken in an hour without the need to thaw sounded hella attractive for someone who often forgets to take something out for dinner several hours ahead.
Yet I was also intrigued by the VitaClay® pot, billed as the healthiest cookware on earth. Who doesn’t want that?
Of course, it meant that in order to know which one I wanted the most, I’d have to try them both. Here is what I discovered.
The VitaClay® Review
Let’s start with the VitaClay®. I have the 6-quart VM7800-5C. Damn, I love this thing!
The company calls it the healthiest cookware on earth claiming it actually infuses minerals into the food. From their website: Organic unglazed clay activates enzymes and minerals in your foods, enabling you to extract extra flavors and nutrients from your recipes while increasing digestibility. Clay is also alkalizing—everything the ancients prized in healthy cookware, superior taste and perfect texture and synergistic properties—clay working together with your foods and spices to create a synergistic partnership to let food be your medicine—right in your own kitchen.
I don’t have equipment to figure out if the enzymes and minerals are particularly activated, but if smell is anything to go by, then there is at least some truth to this. Everything I put in the VitaClay smells fantastic and the scent of deliciously prepared food wafts from my kitchen counter and into the neighborhood. It’s one of those “you have to be there” type of experiences.
Every afternoon, I work in the garden for three hours after my writing and interacting with staff is done. By the time I come inside for dinner, it’s too late to do any real cooking.
Putting the VitaClay on before putting on my overalls to go outside, not only allows food to cook while I’m working, but it whets my appetite the whole time I’m outside because I can smell it from the far end of our one-acre property! Since it cooks fast, I usually don’t need to run it for more than an hour for the average meal even on the ‘slow’ setting. The ‘steam/fast’ function can cook in half that time, but I rarely use it unless cooking something in A LOT of water. I’m too afraid that anything with very little water could scorch on the bottom potentially cracking the pot (although there’s really no need for that to happen in 30 min).
I had read some reviews claiming that the food tasted “better” coming out of the VitaClay. I didn’t understand it until that first bite. Actually, it was the second bite. The first bite burned the hell out of my mouth.
Once I got past the pain of scorching my tongue, the Indian curry I had made was like buttah!
Unlike cooking on the stove or with other slow cookers, the sauce was smooth, velvety and perfect. If you’ve made stews containing yogurt or coconut milk, which tend to clump or curdle, you’ll understand why this is not always achievable without adding some sort of flour or starch. I do need to do this on occasion, but it really depends on the type of sauce I’m going for.
As mentioned above, the food comes out of it piping hot — also something I haven’t seen quite to this degree using any other cooking vessel. Seriously, put your food on your plate or in a bowl and walk away, pour a drink or do something for a good 5-10 minutes before taking your first bite. Trust me on this one.
Other nifty little features include:
- cooks 500% faster than the average slow cooker or crockpot
- does not require any additional wait time to depressurize the pot
- the electrical cord detaches from the base, not just the wall, meaning that you can bring the housing along with the insert pot to the table or use it for a buffet without a thick cord in the way.
- easy to clean
- has a delay timer to start cooking, even if you can’t be near the unit
- no lead or non-stick coatings that might leach into your food
- has lower temperatures for making porridge, yogurt or keeping things warm
The hardest thing with the VitaClay is that the insert is clay! That means it is more prone to cracking or breaking than the Instant Pot’s stainless steel insert. Here are a few tips to avoid that:
- Start with food as close to room temperature as possible. When I make bone stocks from frozen bones, I pour room temperature water to cover then use the ‘warm’ setting for half an hour to take the chill off. I will run that setting multiple times at the same 30 min interval until I feel it is safe to run without any drama.
- Make sure to run with at least a cup of water, even so, don’t run for too long with small amounts of liquid.
- Increase water with increased cooking time and larger amounts of food to be cooked
- Don’t use milk when making overnight oats
- Don’t use this model for cooking rice or other grains (as a side dish — porridge is fine)
I accidentally cracked my first insert by making overnight oats using their old instructions. Read, then re-read the instructions that come with your pot, then check out the website for good measure before doing this yourself. Due to the comparatively fragile insert, I’d highly recommend buying yours on Amazon and getting the insurance, if available.
The Instant Pot® Review
Unlike the VitaClay, the The Instant Pot® has lots of copycats on the market. This pot can do everything from sautéing to pressure cooking and even baking even though the food won’t brown on top.
One of its super powers is the ability to go from frozen whole chicken to cooked chicken meal in under and hour (note that depressurizing the pot could take some 20 minutes even when using the pressure release system as I found out recently found out). This is a fantastic feature to have, if you’re the sort who frequently forgets to think about dinner before dinner time despite having a freezer full of food.
As someone who has saved “used” bones (leftover from roasts and stews) in the freezer for making stocks for 30 years, I know that getting a clean stock that doesn’t get too thick, slimy or viscous can be hit or miss depending on what kind of previous cooking method was used. I’ve discovered, however, that with the Instant Pot set to “slow cook” for two or more of hours typically results in a clear, clean stock that rivals any stock used in a high end restaurant and can be used all by itself as the base of any clear soup or consommé.
The results for making stock from these recycled bones are somewhat less consistent in the VitaClay. I find the same to be true when making amazake — a Japanese fermented rice-based sweetener, which if left to ferment long enough becomes the popular alcoholic drink sake. Amazake is best fermented in a tight window of 125º-145ºF, which I achieve in the Instant Pot by setting it to warm and using a splatter screen on top instead of the regular lid. I will update this post, if I figure out why this is.
For those who like to cook in large batches, the Instant Pot tops out with an 8-quart size. Obviously this size makes it bulkier than the 6-quart, VitaClay, but should be noted if you have storage concerns. Of course, the Instant Pot comes in many sizes too!
Like the VitaClay, the Instant Pot features a delay timer and is easy to clean. It definitely wins in the inner pot’s durability department. Note, however, stainless steel typically contains nickel, so those with nickel sensitivities will find this unpalatable.
Other drawbacks include:
- Pressurizing/Depressurizing adds to cook time
- Flavor and aroma are just average
- Texture variable
- Food burns more easily
All of this is a lot to take in, so let’s look at some of these details in a side-by-side comparison.
VitaClay & Instant Pot Comparison Chart*
|VitaClay®VM7800-5C||Instant Pot® Duo|
|Size||6 quart||8 quart|
|Grains||Some models||All models|
|Time saving||500% Faster||70% Faster|
|Delay timer setting max||9.5 hours||24 hours|
|Cooks from frozen||N||Y|
|Add cold water during cooking||N||Y|
|Add ingredients during cooking||Y||Only with non-pressurized cooking|
*Please note that this comparison chart only applies to the models I have. Both companies have added several models with upgraded features since I purchased mine.
VitaClay or Instant Pot? The Verdict:
As is to be expected, both of these pots have a learning curve. Whichever you buy, spend some time getting to know it and testing it in different ways.
If you’re a true epicurean, however, you’re likely to fall in love with the VitaClay® as so many of us have. It’s definitely my go-to pot when I’m feeling a bit stagnant in the kitchen, want something deeply nourishing or I just want to get something cooked with minimal fuss. There are definitely weeks where this is the only pot I use.
Do you have either of these cookers or another brand you love? Leave us a comment below to let us know about your experience!
Read this post for the Best Gifts for Health-Conscious Cooks for more recommendations.