When cooking up a storm in the kitchen, it is sometimes hard to know which tool to use for what task.
If your kitchen is anything like ours then your worktop is probably also covered with small appliances all serving just one or two purposes, but we can’t do without any of them.
We’re sure more than one domestic baker or chef has wondered if you can blend when the recipe states to mix and vice versa.
We get to grips with the specific function of blenders and mixers and explore which tasks call for each, both or neither.
What’s The Difference Between A Mixer And A Blender?
A blender will chop, puree, crush ingredients and make sauces, while a mixer will whip cream, beat butter, knead dough, and emulsify. But how do you know which tool to choose?
To help you decide, here are some key differences between a mixer and a blender:
A blender is a small kitchen appliance used to purée soups, smoothies, juices, and produce other liquid-based foods. This is great for blending vegetables, fruit, and herbs to create delicious drinks.
Blenders have powerful motor-powered blades that spin at high speeds to break down food particles and turn solids into liquids.
For blenders to work, you often need to add a certain level of moisture, which is perhaps why they are popular for creating drinks like smoothies, milkshakes, and blended iced coffee beverages.
Common types of blenders are handheld stick blenders such as the traditional immersion blender or jug-style blenders.
The nutribullet is a household name but is essentially a canister blender that uses blades inside a plastic bottle to thoroughly blend the contents of it.
When attached to the base which has an electric motor, the button will power the internal blades to blend the contents smoothly into a liquid.
Some blenders like the stick blender work by being immersed in a bowl or jug of ingredients and then as the handheld blender is moved around, its spinning blades chop up the lumps until it is smooth.
Another name for a stick blender is an immersion blender because they need to be immersed in the mixture to work, and more importantly, to avoid an apocalyptic mess.
A mixer is used to combine liquids and dry ingredients together. You’ll find this in domestic kitchens where cakes and loaves of bread are frequently made, as well as in commercial kitchens.
They are perfect for whipping egg whites into meringue or making cake batter from scratch.
A whisk is a type of mixer, not a blender. Whisking is done by moving a wire whisk back and forth over an ingredient until it becomes light and fluffy.
Many food mixers have different attachments which perform slightly different culinary functions.
Some common attachments might be whisks, paddles, or beaters. Whisk prongs can be used to whip egg whites into a meringue or make whipping cream for deserts.
Paddles are often used to knead bread dough and beaters might be useful for combining ingredients like sugar and butter to make a smooth mixture.
Common types of mixers you might find in the kitchen are handheld, manual, and automatic mixers. The automatic ones tend to be the more expensive options, but also the most versatile.
You can get whisks that are powered by either electricity or by manually turning a handle.
You can use whisks to mix wet and dry ingredients together as well as using them to whip. Whisks are designed to cut through lumps while trapping some air inside the mixture.
Apart from eliminating lumps in a mixture, mixers are not designed to cut the food molecules.
It would be more accurate to say they combine, stretch and elongate the food particles which is more suitable for batters and doughs which rely on the joining of particles, rather than separating them.
From a domestic science point of view, blenders and mixers serve very different purposes, going down to the molecular level.
All matter is made up of particles and molecules and how we treat and manipulate them in baking determines the qualities of that finished baked item.
Shortening is the process of discouraging food particles from joining and stretching. This can be observed in the recipe methods for items like sugar cookies or shortcrust pastry. These break easily and are crumbly in texture.
That is because, during the mixing process, the shortening keeps the particles from forming long strands which connect with others.
That is essentially the difference between a gooey, moist cookie, and traditional shortbread for example. shortbread snaps cleanly and easily because the molecules are not well interconnected.
If you tried to break a moist cookie in half though, you can clearly see that the particles would rather not part from one another. That’s because when mixing cookie dough, we are encouraged to mix in a certain way that encourages the molecules to form bonds with others.
That is why you cannot usually substitute a blender for a mixer or vice versa, because one cuts molecules, while the other encourages them to bond to others. This determines the texture and culinary qualities the finished product will have.
The Guardian describes the combination of flour and eggs as “structure-building” while fats and sugar are “structure-weakening”, but it’s not just the ingredients that determine the molecular structure of baked goods, it’s also the method of mixing.
Are Food Processors Blenders Or Mixers?
A food processor is neither a blender nor a mixer but they fall somewhere in between the two. Food processors have a chopping blade that spins around inside a bowl. They are commonly used for mincing garlic, onions, ginger, and other spices.
The blades spin at high speed so that the ingredients become finely chopped. These machines are ideal for quickly preparing raw ingredients such as nuts, seeds, cheese, vegetables, and meats.
Think of it like this, your food processor will help you finely chop and mince to make an excellent pico de gallo, but your countertop blender will make amazing guacamole. Food processors take solid food and turn it into smaller chunks of that solid food.
Blenders, put simply, blend. They can combine ingredients (like mixers do) but they do this by breaking down the food particles into tiny pieces that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. That is when we consider a mixture, truly blended.
Blender Or Mixer?
Now that you know the difference between blenders and mixers (and food processors for that matter), the next thing you’ll need to know is which is the appropriate kitchen appliance for each specific task.
When To Use A Blender
We’re heavily paraphrasing the Good Book here but there is definitely a time for everything under the sun. There is a time to blend and a time to mix, but which is right for each task?
Well, we’ve talked about the wide range of types of blenders, but now let’s discuss some common functions of a blender and look at some examples of blenders used correctly.
Common uses of Blenders are:
- To blend (obviously) – This involves breaking down food particles into tiny pieces which can’t be distinguished by the naked eye.
- To crush – crushing solid items like seeds or nuts is a common task for blenders.
- To chop – This falls more into the realm of the food processor, but blenders can be used to chop things very finely too if you don’t have a food processor.
- To puree – A lot of parents use blenders to get weaning off to a good start, as blenders ensure the food will be completely smooth with no lumps which can be hard for tiny mouths to deal with. Then again, Hell’s Kitchen seems to love a puree too, so maybe babies just have finer palates than we do.
- To turn solids into liquids – to make a smoothie, you’ll probably use solid fruits and vegetables and perhaps some chunky ice cubes too. It’s then the blender’s job to chop those chunks down so finely, that they now exhibit the properties of a liquid.
When Not To Use A Blender
We think we have managed by this point to clearly communicate that blenders and mixers perform different functions, and while some culinary processes could be performed by either, there are a few situations in which you shouldn’t confuse the two.
Dough-n’t Do It
If you’re making cookie dough, bread dough, or pizza dough, you should not use a blender to combine the ingredients. This is because doughs have specific ratios of emulsifying ingredients and shortening ingredients to encourage long bonded strands to form.
This is why doughs are stretchy in nature as they need to be. Blending will only cut through those bonds and leave you with bread crumbs instead of a loaf.
When To Use A Mixer
A mixer is designed to work on the principle of emulsion, but it does this using a mixing bowl and paddle attachment. Mixers are most useful for combining dry ingredients together, such as flour and salt, and wet ingredients, such as eggs, milk, or water.
Some common situations in which to use a mixer are:
- Whipping – When using a whisk attachment or mixing paddle, a mixer can be used to significantly cut down the amount of time it takes to whip ingredients like cream, butter, or egg whites. Whipping by hand takes a considerable amount of time and effort, so an electric whisk or a mixer is a most welcome modern kitchen invention.
- Whisking – sometimes you just need a whisk but don’t need to whip. If you’re beating eggs together, then a whisk is what you need. Using an electric mixer with whisk attachments can save you time when mixing wet ingredients.
- Beating – Less violent than the word suggests, beating is the process of combining two or more ingredients together and removing natural lumps to make a smooth mixture. Beating together stiff butter and sugar can be an arduous task, so having a mixer to help is handy.
- Kneading – If you’re making a dough of some sort, then a paddle attachment used with an electric mixer will save you some serious effort in kneading the dough by hand to lengthen the bond strands and trap air inside. If in doubt, recite this mantra “mixer for pizza dough, blender for the sauce” and you should be making pizza just-a like a-mama used to make it.
When Not To Use A Mixer
If you are seeking to break foods down, rather than combine them, that’s where blenders excel and the capabilities of mixers fall short.
Essentially if you want sauces, smoothies, or soups stick with a blender, and if you want things…well, mixed, by which we mean that you want to combine ingredients without breaking them down, then use a mixer.
Plenty of people have found themselves conflicted in the kitchen, mid recipe, by culinary terms, and found themselves wondering if you can whip cream in a blender. We’ve been there, although we haven’t actually tried that one, but do let us know how it goes.
Just remember this simple rule and you should be able to make the appropriate choice between a blender and a mixer every time:
Use a blender, when you want ingredients violently pulverized into submission and to end up as a liquid. Use a mixer to mix wet and dry ingredients together without breaking down their molecular integrity.