Sep 152011

[photo-muslin bag on bamboo mat]

Muslin fabric bags are inexpensive handy reusable items I like to have around the kitchen.  They are soft semi sheer bags made of a loosely-woven cotton fabric called muslin (or “calico” in the UK and Australia).  Not only do they make soups clear and keep flavors pure to its inherent taste and character, they also make foods more safe for young children and elders as described in my cooking technique post on making a fish soup creamy white.

[photo-soup cooking with fish in muslin bag]

Cooking with a muslin bag

Muslin bags are a convenient way to remove small cooking ingredients or sediments (e.g. fish bones and sandy residue from root herbs) that children and seniors are more prone to choke on.  I also use muslin bags when food presentation is important.  They help keep long-boiled or slowly-stewed ingredients stay intact at the end of the cooking process.

What to Look for in a Muslin Bag for Your Cooking Needs

As a naturalist, I often opt for natural things.  And in this case, there are good specific reasons why muslin bags meant for culinary use should be made of natural unbleached or even organic cotton.  These bags can be cooked for several hours inside your soup or stew.  The more natural the muslin bag is, the less likely chemicals from the bag can contaminate your food, albeit the amount will be small.  Look for muslin bags made of organic unbleached cotton, even for the drawstrings and stitching.  The natural color of unbleached muslin cotton fabric should be an off-white.

Most culinary muslin bags come with drawstrings on one side.  This is an useful feature as it allows you to shut and tie the bag opening securely to prevent food from slipping out during the cooking process.  A high quality muslin bag should be made of a fabric with strong weave but still allow liquid (and hence flavor) to flow through.

[photo-muslin fabric close up]

Muslin fabric close up

I would also look for a muslin bag that is slightly larger than what you think you need.  For one, the cotton fabric may shrink a little after its first contact with heat.  Also, you’ll need space at the top of the bag to shut it close.  Muslin bags are typically not gussetted, and space should be factored in for fill thickness and for the drawstring tying.  A good rule of thumb is to reserve 1.5″ – 2″ of space at the top for tying.  The muslin bag I own is about 8.5″ wide x 10″ high.  Although this size has served me well in most cases, the bag does feel a bit small when trying to put a whole fish (about 1.5 lbs and chopped in half) in for cooking.  If a medium sized bag suits your needs, here is one I found (8″ x 10″) that you can check out.  If you want a slightly larger muslin bag, I found this all-natural (8″ x 12″) one that can be considered as well.

Before the First Use

[photo-boil muslin bag before first use]

Boil muslin bag before first use

After you purchase a muslin bag, it is important to wash it by rinsing in clean water.  I also boiled mine in water for 10 minutes before actually using it in my soup cooking.  This, however, is an optional step based on your paranoia level.   =)

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  4 Responses to “Muslin Bags – A Great Kitchen Tool”

  1. Where can i buy Muslin bags ?

  2. Hi Neville,

    Thank you for your visit and for leaving a comment. Muslin bags can be found at places that sell kitchen gadgets. But one place I’d like to purchase my muslin bags from is It is convenient and easy to find muslin bags of all different sizes and dimensions.

    Hope this helps!
    Sharon | Chinese Soup Pot

  3. Are the bags reusable? If so, what is the best way to wash them? Thanks.

  4. Hi Dan,

    Thank you for submitting this great question! Yes, muslin bags are re-usable. I typically wash them with a little bit of dish washing detergent and some water. If the fabric has a lingering food scent and it bothers you, you can try soaking the bag in green tea or boiling it in plain water to see if the scent can be lessened / removed. I hope this helps!

    Sharon | Chinese Soup Pot

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