We all love the small kitchen appliances that make our lives so much easier. From the public introduction of the blender in 1938, to the seismic kitchen shock created by the US launch of the Cuisinart in 1973, these countertop machines have revolutionized the way we cook. Imagine the time very simple kitchen tasks would take us without them.
And while both seem similar (a container, with a blade at the bottom, and one or more power buttons), the results of using them could hardly be more different. The simplest way to describe the difference is:
Of course there is overlap, and there are times you can swap one for the other (especially if you only own one of the two!) but the construction and design of the blades, and the shape of the containers make the two generalizations above fairly accurate.
To Blend or to Process?
The tall slim container of the blender causes the contents to be continually sucked back into the center. And this vortex allows for a very smooth puree, especially if a fair bit of liquid is involved. The wide, flatter shape of the processor work bowl tends to fling the contents toward the sides, making it good for chopping and combining. Another way to generalize their purposes would be: blender = wet, processor = dry.
So, in general, I like to use my blender for pureed soups, sauces, and anything with a lot of liquid. Smoothies are at the top of that list! I’ve also started using the blender for making pesto—something I have always done in either a mortar and pestle, or a food processor if I was feeling particularly lazy. The high speed vortex of the blender seems to emulsify the pesto so beautifully that, days later, it’s still bright green. I use my processor for grinding nuts, coarsely chopping or shredding things, making dips or spreads like hummus, and combining dry ingredients like flour with fats for doughs and crusts.
When to Do It By Hand
And now, of course (you knew this was coming), we get to the things that I believe should never, ever be done by machine. And first amongst those: mashed potatoes. I understand the temptation, but unless you want to make potato-flavored wallpaper paste, never mash potatoes with an appliance. The speed of the blades will break the potatoes down so far and so fast, that they almost instantly become glue. And unfortunately, there is no way to rescue them at that point. Instead, use a ricer or a food mill. (You’ll be amazed at the texture!)
And if you’re making a dough in a food processor, it’s critical that you not over-process. The speed of the blades generates heat, so you’ll melt your fat AND toughen the dough by over-developing the gluten. A few short pulses is all you need. And, I believe, at least once a summer, you should make pesto the old fashioned way...with a mortar and pestle.
If used correctly, blenders and food processors are true game changers. Just remember that the speed and heat generated by machines always needs to be taken into account. Sometimes, it works in your favor—but not always.