One of the most useful small appliances currently on the market, a food processor is a powerful addition to any kitchen. Easy to use and simple to store, a food processor will help increase your productivity and the quality of your meals without breaking the bank. It’s a common misconception that food processors are the same as blenders, but the two pieces of machinery have very different functions. The only similarity between a food processor and a blender is that the two machines use rotating blades to break down food into smaller pieces.
Blenders are primarily used to turn soft foods and liquids into a smoother, emulsified product. A blender can be used to make fruit purees, smoothies, soups, and sauces, but not much else. A blender uses small blades rotating very fast to break down food and mix liquids. Some blenders can achieve a speed of 18,000 revolutions per minute, which is ideal for making purees.
A food processor, on the other hand, is powerful enough to break down solid foods without having them suspended in a liquid. In a food processor, the blades don’t spin as quickly, and most models only have a speed of 2,000 revolutions per minute. To two-speed food processors can rotate at 10,000 revolutions per minute, but they are primarily used in restaurants and can cost quadruple what a regular model would be sold for. The blades on a food processor are set up differently than a blender. The blades are mounted on the center column of the device and can grate, shred, cut, chop, grind, and knead, as well as make a puree. All of these features combine to make a food processor very functional and valuable to anyone who likes to spend their time in the kitchen.
Some Things to Look for in a Food Processor
When purchasing any appliance, it’s important to be well aware of the capabilities of the product you’re buying. If your food processor doesn’t measure up to your standards it can’t be used properly. Here are some of the main things your any food processor should be able to do:
Chop Dry Ingredients – Whether it’s nuts, breadcrumbs, or dried fruits, the processor should have a setting for dry ingredients. In this setting, the processor will pulse and move up and down, starting and stopping after each rotation. This rotating action will help chop and mix any of the ingredients in the bowl without cutting them too finely
- Puree Vegetables – A food processor should be able to make marinade, dips, and chunky soups. Check out the bowl shape, power, and blade design before purchasing a processor, so you can see how well it will operate with a puree. Make sure that the food processor is also waterproof.
- Grind Meats – For many people, a dedicated meat grinder or meat grinding attachment is out of the question, so a food processor that also has a meat-grinding function is important. Meat can be difficult to chop through, so a sharp blade and powerful motor are necessary
- Form Emulsions – When making sauces like mayonnaise or a salad dressing, a food processor can be invaluable. The design of the bowl will greatly affect the processor’s ability to emulsify ingredients, so make sure that the blades come in contact with ingredients in the bottom of the bowl
- Knead Dough – A good food processor should quickly and easily knead dough and other thick ingredients. Kneading dough is one of the most heavy-duty tasks a food processor will have to perform, so if it can knead dough it can grind meat and perform other intensive tasks.
If a food processor can perform all of these tasks, it’s well suited to any kitchen application.
Food Processor Features
The smallest food processors hold over nine cups and have a relatively small footprint. A processor that holds less that nine ounces isn’t considered useful because you can chop just as much by hand in the same time it would take to put it though the processor. The average processor holds about eleven to twelve cups, and it offers enough space to knead dough and grind meat. Some models also come with a mini-prep bowl built into the top portion of the machine, which can be used for smaller tasks. The ideal food processor should hold about fourteen cups and have a two-cup prep bowl.
One of the most important features of any food processor is how well it can chop ingredients. A processor that can be easily jammed by hard nuts or sticky dough isn’t as useful as an appliance that can shred nearly anything. A motor that’s connected directly to the blade shaft will have the most power, and what you can use it on almost any ingredient. When considering power, what you pay for is what you get, so a very inexpensive food processor will not perform nearly as well as a top-of-the line appliance. You should always shoot for the most powerful food processor in your price range, so you don’t have to worry about it getting gummed up or not performing properly.
While it’s possible to remove and sharpen a processor’s blade, it can be very difficult; and any mistake can break the blade or your appliance. That’s why people prefer blades with micro-serrations, which retain the blade’s cutting ability after many uses. Similar self-sharpening techniques are used in food processors and help to keep the blade cutting smoothly. While the majority people prefer sharp blades because of their all-around usefulness, many people lean towards a duller blade. A blade that’s dull by design can be used to pulverize food instead of chopping it, or to knead dough. A dull blade is preferred for kneading dough because a blade that’s too sharp will simply cut and tear the ingredients instead of properly blending them.
The overall design of the bowl and the feed tube affect the overall performance of the food processor more than any other aspect. One of the first things to take into consideration is the size of the feed tube. Models that offer a large mouth make it easier to insert and process whole ingredients. If you want shred an entire block of cheese or a potato, a large feed tube cuts down on much of the pre-processing that would have to be done by hand. Keep in mind that a food processor is there to make cooking easier, not give you extra work to do.
The biggest part of bowl design is whether the processor’s sides slope down or are straight. Both designs are good for different purposes, but many people seem to prefer straight sides. With straight sides ingredients that splatter up the walls fall down quickly and can be constantly battered and whipped. This is ideal for emulsification or for any process involving liquids. Sloping sides add to the processor’s capacity, making them ideal for anyone who will primarily be kneading dough or grinding meat.
Manual Food Processors
While many people instantly think of an electric, rotating-blade food processor it’s important to remember that there are many other types of processors on the market. Manual food processors typically serve a single purpose and can only be used with small batches, but they cost a great deal less than a high-end electric processing appliance. Many chefs prefer using manual food processors over a more modern design because they feel like it gives them more control over the ingredients.
Shred food into uniform ribbons, graters can be used to make everything from macaroni and cheese to hash browns. Graters are primarily used for cheese, but they can also be used for many other ingredients. Graters come in two main designs:
- Box Graters – Great for general use, a box grater has four sides, with each side fitted with a different cutting surface. Typically made out of tinned steel, a box grater is simple to use and easy to have full control over
- Rotary Graters – Typically found in restaurants, rotary graters help make food shredding more efficient. A plastic arm presses food to the grater’s round inner drum, which makes it easy and safe to operate. The user then turns a crank, which causes the drum to rotate and rake off small ribbons of whatever ingredient is in the grater.
Made to help people who are tired of chasing pieces of meat, vegetables, and fruits around the cutting board, choppers offer an elegant alternative to chopping ingredients by hand. A dome covers the food and a small plunger pushes a blade down into the base of the dome where it chops the ingredients.
A versatile kitchen tool, food mills use a tension-based rotating crank to force soft foods through several disks that turn the ingredients into a fine blend. The ingredients then mix with the air, which adds extra texture to the puree. The holes in the disks mash the food and separate any seeds, cores, or skin that gets caught in the food mill.
Similar to a food mill, presses extrude food though holes of varying sizes to create a puree. The only difference is, instead of grinding the ingredients into the holes, presses force the food through the holes using a plunger.
How to use a food processor?
After you’ve bought a food processor, it’s good to learn how to use one. You can read through the instruction manual and then try yourself in the kitchen of you can check out the quick how-to pages here or here. Youtube offers a lot of videos of instructions on how to use a food processor as well. Watch this video on youtube to get a good understanding what’s possible with this useful household appliance.