How Food Processors Work

Cuisinart DLC-2011BC Prep 11 Plus Food Processor
Cuisinart DLC-2011BC Prep 11 Plus Food Processor
Photo courtesy Consumer Guide Products

A food processor is a versatile kitchen appliance that can quickly and easily chop, slice, shred, grind, and puree almost any food. Some models can also assist the home cook in making citrus and vegetable juice, beating cake batter, kneading bread dough, beating egg whites, and grinding meats and vegetables.

­­­The food processor was introduced to the North American market in 1973 by engineer Carl Sontheimer, who had spent a year adapting a French industrial blender for the home cook. It took a few years for consumers to realize how useful the new appliance could be, but once they did, the food processor became a bestseller. Sontheimer's invention revolutionized food preparation in home kitchens around the world.

In this article, we'll learn about food processors and how to use them to perform common kitchen tasks. We'll also walk you through an easy recipe for your food processor.

The Basic Components

Modern food processors come in three basic sizes: full, compact, and mini. No matter what size they are, however, the basic components are the same: a motor, a bowl with a lid and feed tube, and a set of attachments.

The motor is housed in the base of the appliance, and it is the heaviest part of the device. Full-size machines generally have larger, more powerful motors, and can weigh more than 20 lbs (9 kg). This weight has a utilitarian value: The heaviness of the base gives the appliance stability and ensures that it doesn't move around while the motor is running. Though the first food processor bases were clad only in white, hard plastic, today they are available in a range of stylish colors and with metal and plastic finishes, ensuring that your appliance will fit in with your kitchen decor.

From the motor, a shaft extends upward to power the attachments. The bowl, which is usually made of durable, transparent plastic, fits onto this shaft and locks into position. The lid, usually made of the same material, locks onto the top of the bowl; in many older models, engaging the locking mechanism turns on the motor, but newer models generally have an on/off switch or button.

The lid has a feed tube fitted with a plunger. You can insert food into the device through this feed tube, pushing it down with the plunger. Some models have wider and narrower feed tubes for use with larger and smaller food items. The size of the bowl varies according to the size of the machine:

  • Full-size bowls generally have a capacity of 9 to 13 cups.
  • Compact-size bowls can accommodate 5 to 7 cups.
  • Mini-size bowls can fit 2 to 5 cups.

Some models come with large and small bowls for use with the same base.

In the next section, we'll look at the attachments that do a food processor's slicing ­and dicing.