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6 Different Types of Food Strainers for Getting to the Heart of the Meal

Everything you need to know about the different types of strainers. Sure, you're familiar with the pasta strainer, but that's not the only type. Moreover, there are different options for straining pasta as well. Check out this epic guide to food strainers.

Straining rice with a sieve.

Food strainers are ingenious devices that are relatively simple yet offer so much use in a kitchen — any kitchen. Whether you are ordering kitchens supplies so you can cook for yourself or you are growing your food service business, a strainer is a must-have item. The question thus isn’t whether or not you need a food strainer, but rather what type of food strainer you should get.

Food straining devices are typically classified by their ability to either strain liquids away from solid food ingredients or to sift fine food ingredients from larger food ingredients. As this definition is based on how you use the device, food strainers can take many shapes and be made from many different types of materials. For example, you’ll readily find strainers made of stainless steel, cloth, nylon, and aluminum, with each material generally chosen for certain types of food and straining purposes. The following is an examination of the different types of food strainers, what they are commonly made of, and when you might use them:

Types

Food Mill

A closer look at a yellow food mill. This strainer is used for mashed or pureed foods, such as mashed potatoes, tomato sauce and jam.

A closer look at a yellow food mill. This strainer is used for mashed or pureed foods, such as mashed potatoes, tomato sauce and jam.

A food mill is a type of strainer that packs quite a bit of muscle. This strainer typically consists of three parts: A bowl where you place soft foods, metal blades that rotate around the bowl via a crank, and a bottom plate where the more formal sieve is. The purpose of the food mill is to puree soft food while simultaneously straining out the undesirable skin, fiber, pulp, and seeds the whole food that’s being pureed has. For example, if you put raspberries in a food mill and use the crank, then you’ll nicely be able to crush and puree the raspberries, sending the juicy part through the sieve and leaving the seeds and excess stringy pulp up top.

Food mills are the exact strainer you want when you need anything mashed or pureed. A few great foods that can be easily crafted with a food mill include mashed potatoes, tomato sauce, applesauce, and jam. But it’s important to get a quality food mill if you want it to last. Keep the following in mind when look at a food mill to buy:

  • The hooks or loops for hooking onto a bowl. Food mills are most effective when they have the right hooks to securely perch or otherwise hang onto a bowl. This makes it easy for the pureed or mashed food to be separated.
  • Interchangeable blades. Unless you plan on only using your food mill to puree one type of ingredient, it’s a good idea to choose a unit with interchangeable blades for more versatility.
  • Deep capacity.  Most people aren’t looking to mashed potatoes just for one person, but still too many food mills are sold with tiny capacities. Choose a deeper, more generously-sized food mill so that you can more easily do all jobs, big and small.
  • Easy assembly. Get a unit that’s easy to disassemble for cleaning and assemble back for use.

Colander

Colander is a deep strainer traditionally made in aluminum. It is a versatile strainer that can be used for draining pasta.

Colander is a deep strainer traditionally made in aluminum. It is a versatile strainer that can be used for draining pasta.

Colanders are the type of strainer most people envision when they hear the word ‘strainer’. These kitchen tools look like deep, round baskets with often over a hundred small holes. Colanders were traditionally made out of aluminum, which was a metal that was easy to punch a pattern of holes through for water to drain out of. However, today, colanders come made out of all types of materials, including plastic which is probably the most popular type of colander material.

Colanders are very versatile tools and perhaps are best known for their ability to strain hot liquid from pasta, but that’s not all that they are good for. These simple tools are also handy for draining foods like canned vegetables before cooking, rinsing out leafy greens, and getting rid of the juices from beans. Some people also love using colanders to drain rice of excess water.

No matter what you choose to use your colander for, there are some things to keep in mind when buying a colander:

  • Mid to large-size. Unless you are only preparing food for yourself (and often even if you are), going with a larger sized colander is often the best bet. That’s because larger colanders are easy to place in your kitchen and can take care of those big cooking jobs.
  • Two sturdy handles. You’ll often find yourself pouring hot liquid into a colander, so you want to be sure to choose one with thick, sturdy, non-stick handles that allow you to easily pick up and grip your colander no matter how hot the foods and liquids you’re handling or how heavy.
  • Raised base. Another must have is a colander with a base that makes it so that its bottom is raised above the ground. This feature makes it possible to sit the colander somewhere like in the sink without infringing its ability to drain water, juices, and other liquids.

Chinois

A focused look at a Chinois strainer on a white background. Chinois is a popular strainer for soups and sauces.

A focused look at a Chinois strainer on a white background. Chinois is a popular strainer for soups and sauces.

Sometimes called a China cup, the chinois is a strainer that has a very different shape than the aforementioned bowl-shaved strainers. These strainers have a conical shape and are comprised of very, very fine mesh and often featuring a pestle for really getting the most out of your ingredients. Chinois strainers tend to be more expensive than any other type of strainer because of their fine mesh and delicate design, but they should be considered a must for any serious home and professional chef. With the fine mesh a chinois, you can easily enjoy lump-free soups, custards, sauces, and so much more.

When buying a chinois for your kitchen, consider the following features:

  • Hooks for stability. Like the food mill, the best fine food chinois strainers feature hooks that allow its users to easily grip onto the bowl or glass you’re using and keep the kitchen tool stable.
  • Heat insulative handle. A  comfortable, heat insulative handle is important if you plan on using the chinos for hot liquids or foods, such as in the making of teas or fine soups. When you are choosing a chinois with a handle, make sure to check that the body and handle are made of one single composite material for extra sturdiness and durability.
  • Stainless steel mesh. Chinois, like other strainers, can come in a variety of mesh materials but we recommend stainless steel for best effects.

Tamis

A look at a pastry chef doing his craft, using tamis strainer.

A look at a pastry chef doing his craft, using tamis strainer.

Tamis, pronounced tammy, are unique strainers that also have a more unconventional look. Where all the other strainers on this list have a rounded shape, a shape that utilizes gravity to make things easy, the tamis strainer has a flat-bottom. It is, however, round in shape, looking very much like a snare drum. These kitchen tools typically feature an outer metal ring or hoop with an open top and a bottom that is comprised of a fine mesh.

Tamis strainers were invented during the Middle Ages and are most well known today in the preparation of Indian dishes. A tamis strainer typically features either a wood or metal outside hoop and a mesh disc comprised of fine metal or nylon, although you may also find them made of more interesting materials like horsehair.

To use a tamis, you’ll place it above or within a larger bowl and then added the food ingredient to be strained at the tool’s center. Then, using your hands, a scraper, or a pestle, you’ll push the ingredient down and through the mesh, working it in a horizontal manner until the ingredient has been thoroughly mashed.

Unlike the other strainers on our list, there is no one or two thing to specifically find in order to determine you have a good strainer. But there are a few things that will help guide you to picking the right tamis strainer for your needs. Those things are:

  • Size. Tamis strainers range in size from about 12 centimeters in diameter to 40 centimeters. We recommend choosing a size that will neatly fit into your favorite large cooking bowl or saucepan.
  • Mesh material and gauge. You can get all sorts of size mesh and mesh material. Typically, however, nylon mesh is the most resilient (and often most expensive). Tamis strainers outfitted with nylon meshing are ideal for things like fruit purees where you need something capable of sifting out fine fruit particulates and you want to avoid any type of rust. If, however, you need something sharper and more capable of handling harder or rougher foods, then you should go with the wire meshing.

Potato Ricer

Potato ricer is a unique kind of strainer known for processing potatoes by forcing it through a sheet of small holes, making the food look like rice.

Potato ricer is a unique kind of strainer known for processing potatoes by forcing it through a sheet of small holes, making the food look like rice.

Sometimes called a food ricer, the potato ricer is a very specialized device that, as its name suggests, is primarily bought and used for the purpose of cooking potatoes. However, potato ricers are a unique type of strainer and can actually be found useful in the cooking and preparation of a variety of foods and ingredients, so long as you pick a high quality unit and correctly know how to utilize it.

Potato ricers don’t really look like most of the of the other strainers on our list. This product comes outfitted with a long handle that attaches to what looks like a small, opened tin can with an attached plunger. The bottom end of this opened tin can has large holes through which the plunger can be used to push out boiled potatoes or other ingredients. Altogether, this kitchen tool looks very much like an oversized garlic press, and acts like one too. Most potato ricers will come sold with a variety of cup bottoms so that the owner can choose the size of the holes they want to use.

Why buy a potato masher when there are so many other good general strainers available? The key to understanding why the potato masher is first understanding why mashed potatoes. There are a number of foods that will offer different types of nutrients based on the way they are prepared and cooked. Potatoes are one such food. Boiled potatoes are packed with starch but the best way to release that starch is to break the cells apart by mashing them. Yet, you want all good things in moderation as mashing boiled potatoes too much results in the starch becoming gluey and ruining the taste and appearance of the dish. A potato masher is neatly designed to break and mash potatoes down to the smallest of pieces and with the least amount of motion. The result is a mashed potato dish that is delicious and nutritious.

While a potato masher is an ideal solution for mashing potatoes, there are a number of other things this handy kitchen tool excels at. For example, with a light press of the handle, you can easily get the excess water out of things like cooked spinach, or play with the varying sizes of mesh holes in order to create the smoothest of guacamole from your avocados. If you have an infant, few devices can so readily make baby food as a potato masher.

Of course, not all potato mashers are created equal. To get the best out of this type of strainer, then you will want to select a model based on the following key features:

  • Go hefty. There are some types of kitchen devices where you want something more delicate and finely crafted, such as the chinois cup, this is not one such device. You want something hefty and sturdy, a potato masher that can neatly stand up to the brute force you are likely to apply when potatoes are being difficult to mash. So stay away from any potato mashers that are made out of aluminum (likely to bend) and plastic (likely to crack and break).
  • Go comfy. In addition to being sturdy, a high quality potato masher will also be comfortable. This is to say look for a unit with large rubberized handles or one that is neatly designed to straddle certain bowls. Pressing potatoes can get tiresome and can the repeated motion can easily make your hands cramp if you’ve got a lot of potatoes to prepare, and so having a unit that is outfitted for comfort like this can significantly make using the food masher more enjoyable.

Spider Strainer

Perhaps the most popular type of strainer, the spider strainer features a wire basket that looks like a spider's web. It is a very versatile kitchen equipment.

Perhaps the most popular type of strainer, the spider strainer features a wire basket that looks like a spider’s web. It is a very versatile kitchen equipment.

The spider strainer is an ingenious tool that should be in every kitchen. Also known as a wok skimmer, ire scoop, and wire skimmer, the spider strainer features a long (often ooden) handle that is attached to a wide metal basket. This wire basket is created in such a way that it looks like a spider’s web — which is where it gets its name. The holes in the basket aren’t narrow, but they are wide enough to hold large food ingredients.

The most obvious use for such a kitchen strainer is to drain a bit of pasta or to scoop out large vegetables while allowing water or oil to neatly drain out, or to simply separate them out. But as they say in television advertisements, that’s not all! Spider strainers can be used to separate eggs, simply crack the egg into the basket and the white will strain through while the yolk will remain in the basket, and they can prove a big boon when deep-frying, well, anything.

When looking to buy a spider strainer the most important thing to know is that they come in two designs. Here’s what to know about them:

  • Traditional design. The traditional design of the spider strainer features a bamboo handle attached to a thin wire mesh. This design is preferred by cooks who prioritize having a more firm yet comfortable grip.
  • Modern design. The modern design of the spider strainer features a metal handle and the basket is typically made of much thicker wire. This design is much easier to clean and preferred by chefs who plan on using the device across a variety of situations.

Now, Time to Strain

This one is a traditional strainer. A pastry chef is using it in this photo during the preparation of his bread.

This one is a traditional strainer. A pastry chef is using it in this photo during the preparation of his bread.

As you can see, while all strainers function in a similar way, there are many different types of strainers available to the home and professional chef, with each one of them specializing in its own, unique task. If you aren’t ready to bring home one of each of these different types of strainers, then consider adding first the more popular colander, then the versatile and multi purposeful spider strainer, and then go on from there on your preferred picks for kitchen use. Some specialty dining and culinary stores will offer demonstrations of each of these types of strainers so that buyers can better see what each of the strainers look like, how they feel in one’s hands, and experiment to see exactly how each strainer performs at its given task. As they say, there really is a tool for every (kitchen) job! Happy cooking!