Though we commonly think of the term 'food processor' as a counter appliance or kitchen tool that chops, slices, shreds, grates or minces/grinds foods, the term actually can have a long-reaching application that easily incorporates several different types of food processing equipment from juicers to manual choppers, because they all work to process foods, in one form or another.
However, for the purpose of this article, we'll look at typical food processors and note their unique differences. Though some may seem similar, not all food processors have the same function, and these differences become very important when you are considering buying one.
Please note that though I've listed the typical function of each type, not all models include blades or discs for each function. This is merely to indicate that some tools are more commonly designed for one function or another, but exceptions do exist.
Blenders - Blending, Mixing
Though some models have processing functions or attachments for chopping, most blenders can only blend or mix soft foods or liquids. Depending on the blade, some models can crush ice for blended frozen drinks.
Hand-Operated Food Choppers - Chopping, Dicing
This is the kind of chopper where you place the onion or vegetable in small portions either in the unit or on a cutting board, and a hand slap on the top springs the blade assembly into action to chop. Some models have a rotary hand-turn operation. Inexpensive, easy to store and operate, these small choppers can be very convenient for quick, small chopping/dicing tasks.
Mandolines - Slicing, Shedding, Grating
These range from plastic varieties to quality stainless steel units that usually include different sizes of cutting blades for slicing, grating or shredding. The process is usually done by moving the vegetables back and forth over the cutting blades. It's a quick, manual process with a mandoline that is reasonably easy to store and use. The process does not usually include chopping.
Cheese Graters - Grating
These are mostly manual and come in various styles for grating cheese and most households have more than one shape or size. The most common are the box type where the grated cheese accumulates in the center of the grater, but the fun rotary style that is used in restaurants for hard cheeses such as parmesan has become a family dinner favorite. Electric food processors (described below), may have a disc that can be used for grating large quantities of cheese.
Coffee Grinders - Grinding Coffee Beans
Due to the shape of the cutter and design of the appliance, coffee grinders should be used only for grinding fresh coffee beans. They're small, economical and practical appliances for grinding your own beans to improve the taste of your coffee. There are some coffee makers that are designed with a built-in coffee grinder.
Vegetable or Meat Grinders - Grinding
These come in electric and manual models and though they are very useful kitchen tools, their function is mainly to grind with a variety of discs for fine to coarse grinding.
Hand-Operated Ricers - Ricing
Once used merely for ricing potatoes, creative cooks have expanded on this decades-old kitchen tool, using it to push through other soft cooked vegetables or fresh noodles.
Juicers - Separate Juice from Pulp
Though juicers do process fruits and vegetables, they merely remove the juice from the pulp, something a food processor cannot do. Electric juicers are more popular than manual models since they require less effort, but are more expensive.
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How to Buy a Juicer Video
Hand-Held Salad Slicers - Slicing, Shredding, Grating
Presto's SaladShooter™ made these types of small hand-held electric slicers very popular. They're time-savers and designed to be held while slicing vegetables directly into a salad. The operation is simple and they're easy to store and clean.
Compact or Mini Choppers/Processors - Chopping, Grinding, Mixing
Though they are called processors, their functions are limited. These are 1-4 cup appliances for chopping onions, nuts, and spices, or for making small batches of dressings, salsa, vegetables or condiments. They're very convenient for everyday chopping/mixing needs and for making baby food from left-overs. These small choppers typically do not have any slicing or shredding abilities because they lack a feeding tube and cutting discs.
Typically called food processors, these can be found in various capacity sizes, from 5-12 cups with the smaller range being more of a chopper with limited processing abilities.
A 5-9 cup food processor will often have one disc (circular blade cutter) that enables at least some slicing, grating, and shredding. Prices of these units are influenced by power performance as well as the number of accessories. A large food processor with several discs, a dough hook plus a smaller work bowl, will be priced in the higher range, but you'll be able to use it for several applications.
How can you tell what function a particular food processor has? Look at the accessories and the design of the unit. A processor that only chops, will not have a feeding tube design which is needed for adding foods to be sliced or shredded. Some food processors may have limited accessories, but optional ones may be available for purchase to increase its function.
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