A food mill is a kitchen device used for grinding or puréeing foods such as soups, sauces, or mashed potatoes. It may be used during canning or making preserves to produce a smooth puree without seeds, skins, or stems. It can be used with hot or cold food. It may also be called a rotary food mill.
Parts of a Food Mill
A food mill is typically a manually powered device with a hand crank on top. It is shaped like a wide-mouthed inverted cone with legs or projections to set over a bowl and be held stable while you are pouring in the food to be sauced and turning the crank. The bottom is perforated and it strains the food being ground into the receiving bowl.
There is a grinding plate attached to the crank. As you turn the crank, the food is mashed down onto a perforated disk at the bottom of the food mill, where it is strained through the sieve holes into the bowl you have placed under it. Food mills often come with interchangeable perforated sieving discs for achieving finer or coarser purées.
If you reverse the direction of the crank after you've extracted as much as possible, the seeds, skins and other debris are brought up to the top of the grinding plate. Then you can easily invert the food mill over a kitchen trash or compost can and discard the debris.
Uses for a Food Mill
You can use a food mill to make applesauce or tomato sauce, with the advantage of being able to add hot, unpeeled or unskinned fruits or vegetables to the mill and produce a puree without the seeds or skins. This leads to less food waste than would be found with peeling or deseeding. Often only a tiny amount of debris and seeds is left after milling. This can be composted or discarded.
Food mills can be used to make baby food or purée for people who are on soft food restrictions for chewing or swallowing difficulties. Duchesse potatoes or other puréed items can be made with a food mill or a potato ricer.
Food Mill Compared with Food Processor
Food mills are simple, mechanical, non-electric pieces of kitchen equipment. They can usually be washed in the dishwasher. They can be used with hot or cold food and soft, semi-solid, or mostly liquid foods.
Food processors do not strain out seeds and skins. If you process a tomato with skin and seeds in a food processor, you can end up with a gritty texture as they are chopped up but not liquefied. A food mill is effective for straining and ensuring the sauce doesn't have gritty bits of seeds and skin.
Food processors are more appropriate for solid foods, which cannot be effectively ground with a food mill, such as cheese or nuts. The food ground in a food mill must be soft, often being steamed, baked, or boiled before being processed.