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How All-in-one Food Processors Work

Food processors make chopping and dicing veggies so much easier.
Food processors make chopping and dicing veggies so much easier.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

It slices! It dices! It....processes food. OK, so maybe an all-in-one food processor won't make tech geeks foam at the mouth like the latest iGadget. And unlike its outdoor cousin, the wood chipper, it can't effectively eviscerate a bad guy like Steve Buscemi's character in Fargo. Nevertheless, this home appliance is a handy piece of machinery that makes life in a kitchen quite a bit easier by taking on many repetitive, time-consuming tasks that a cook otherwise has to do by hand (or may simply avoid) without hogging up precious counter space.

The electric charged food processor has come a long way from the original model that Frenchman Pierre Verdun invented in 1963 -- the traveling culinary salesman called his product "Le Magimix" -- not to mention the variation of the appliance that Cuisinart introduced to North America 10 years later. Today, many "all-in-one" food processors not only cut, slice and chop any manner of food item, but also whisk, whip and puree in addition to serving as a blender and dough machine. The appliance's wide range of functions makes the all-in-one processor what New York Times food writer Mark Bittman calls "a virtuoso one-man band" [sources: Time, Bittman].

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For every Jeff Mangum, however, there is a Joe Satriani. For every Frederic Chopin, a John Tesh. This is to say that not all virtuosos are created equal. While all-in-one food processors share a number of common functions that make prep work and other cooking tasks more efficient, they vary in price, size and utility. Read on to find out how these motorized appliances perform their craft and how to decide which one is the best fit for your kitchen.

Before you start daydreaming about how a fresh new all-in-one food processor is going to change Sunday dinner into an "Iron Chef" episode, it's a good idea to get acquainted with the machine's basic functions and, more importantly, how to use them.

While features vary, a standard all-in-one food processor consists of a metal or plastic base with motorized controls and at least one bowl, a blade stem in the center and a covered top with a feed chute. The processor's blades and discs, which are attached to the stem and rotate and cut the food in the bowl, determine the functions it can perform. An S-shaped steel blade is typically used for chopping, mincing and pureeing, while metal discs handle slicing and grating jobs. Many models also include a plastic bread kneading blade. These tools are detachable, allowing the user to select the appropriate blade or disc for a given task [sources: Whistler, The Reluctant Gourmet].

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To get started, the user covers the processor bowl and starts the motor-powered blade by pressing a control board switch before sliding the food item into the machine via the feed tube. Some users place larger items directly in the bowl before starting the blade. Unlike a blender, which because of its cone-shaped bottom requires water or some other liquid to keep food moving, a food processor's flat bottom bowl allows the user to simply chuck the food in and let er' rip [sources: Whistler, The Reluctant Gourmet].

With a simple blade switch here and there, a home chef can use a food processor to perform a variety of tasks from grating chocolate and making compound butter to dicing tomatoes and onions for salsa. But what about the reluctant chef? You know, the one who not only can't be bothered to cut and slice food, but also to cook it. Enter: the Kenwood Cooking Chef. Drawing on a 1,100-watt induction burner, this souped-up appliance actually cooks food while it's being processed, producing temperatures of 20 to 140 degree Celsius (68 to 284 degrees Farenheit) [source: Kenwood].

Retailing at $1,800, however, Kenwood's Cadillac of food processors probably doesn't fit everyone's price range. The good news is that other models can be found for as little as $40 (and as much as more than $4,400). Read on to find out how to food processor that's best for you.

The wider the feed tube on your food processor, the less prep you have to do.
The wider the feed tube on your food processor, the less prep you have to do.
Zedcor Wholly Owned/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images

In the kitchen, size matters and speed doesn't. At least, that is, when it comes to selecting a food processor. Perhaps the most important factors to consider are kitchen/counter space and the types of tasks for which you plan to use the appliance. As measured by bowl size, processor models range from 2-3 cup minichoppers, perfect for small jobs like mincing shallots and garlic, to 22-cup behemoths capable of feeding both a small army and a large, hungry family. Keep in mind that processor capacities measure dry ingredients only.

Shoppers should also consider the size of a processor's feed tube. The wider the tube, the less pre-processing prep (slicing, etc.) required before using the appliance. Additionally, some models have two feed tubes, allowing the user to add multiple ingredients at the same time.

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The number and type of blade and slicing attachments that a particular processor offers should also be considered since this determines what the appliance can actually do. A minichopper, for example, will likely use only one blade. Shoppers should think about the types of tasks they want to take on with the processor before selecting one. Although a number of models tout a variety of speed settings, how fast the blades and discs move is typically not important as one speed is sufficient for most jobs.

Fancy add-ons are part of the deal too, some of which are useful. At the top of the list are nesting bowls – for when you need to use the processor for more than one job in a row – and a water tight sealed bowl cover, which will prevent spills when pureeing. Chrome and stainless steel parts, meanwhile, make a food processor more expensive and also less likely to break. Flashy, less utilitarian extras include digital scales and LED touchscreens.

For more information on these and other kitchen appliances, visit the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • Bittman, Mark. "The Food Processor: A Virtuoso One-Man Band." The New York Times. Sept. 14, 2010 (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/15/dining/15mini.html
  • ConsumerSearch. "How to Buy a Food Processor." Oct. 2011 (Feb 8, 2012) http://www.consumersearch.com/food-processors/how-to-buy-a-food-processor
  • Fante's. "Mandolines & Other Food Slicers." (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.fantes.com/slicers-mandolins.html
  • Kenwood. "Kitchen Chef: Key Features." (Feb 8, 2012) http://www.kenwoodworld.com/uk/KenwoodCookingChef/Home1/The-Cooking-Chef/key-features
  • The Reluctant Gourmet. "Choosing the best food processor." (Feb. 9. 2012) http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/food_processors.htm
  • Time. "Blade Battle." May 18, 1981 (Feb. 8, 2012) http://www.time.com/time/subscriber/article/0,33009,951688,00.html
  • Whistler, Lisa. "How to Choose the Best Food Processor." Best Food Processor Ratings. (Feb. 9, 2012) http://foodprocessorguru.com
  • Whistler, Lisa. "Standard Food Processor Features to Consider." Best Food Processor Ratings. (Feb. 9, 2012) http://foodprocessorguru.com/standard-food-processor-features

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