Colander vs Strainer – What’s the Difference?

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Colander vs Strainer

People are often confused by the differences between a colander and a strainer. If you have ever wondered what sets one apart, you are in the right place.

In this article, we will look at the differences between strainers and colanders, the strengths and weaknesses of each, and answer some commonly asked questions.

What’s the difference between a colander and a strainer?

straining cocktail

Strainers and colanders are multi-purpose kitchen tools with overlapping purposes. While one can be and often is substituted for the other, and both are used to separate liquid from solids, they are technically different utensils.

Their primary difference is in how they are used in classical cooking.

A colander is used to separate solids remove fluids, and save the solids like when draining cooked pasta or rinsing vegetables.

As it is often called, a strainer or sieve is intended for filtering solids from liquids when you want to keep the liquids. This could be for making stock or broth for soups or creating sauces.

What is a colander?

A colander is a deep, footed bowl-shaped kitchen tool that can be made of plastic silicone or metal. They can be solid with small holes to allow fluids to drain or be made more like a basket of fine mesh. Colanders excel at draining pasta, washing produce, and rinsing grains but are not intended to catch fine particles. They generally have bigger holes than strainers.

What is a strainer?

A strainer could be thought of as the exact opposite of a colander. Where a colander is used to save food and discard liquid, the main purpose of a strainer is straining liquids so you can discard the solids.

Strainers usually have fine wire mesh or very small holed perforations. A cone-shaped stainless steel strainer, called a chinois, is generally considered the best of the best, but cupped fine mesh strainers and even flexible mesh bag types can be useful for special applications.

How to use a colander.

colander with cranberries

Colanders are designed with larger holes to allow fluids to pass through at a high flow rate. The most common way of using one is to set it in a sink where excess water can escape easily down the drain.

This is the normal arrangement for draining boiled vegetables, draining water from pasta, or when you need to rinse vegetables before cooking.

A colander can be used as a coarse strainer by placing it on top of a wide bowl, slowly pouring food in the center, and possibly using a wooden spoon to mash some through the openings as you would with a sieve. Unless you have an extremely fine-meshed colander, your strained liquids will be inferior to what a sieve would provide.

How to use a strainer.

There are two commonly used types of strainers; fine wire mesh and chinois.

Fine Mesh Strainers

Mesh strainers come in many sizes, from ones that will sit inside a cup to ones with a large deep bowl. Most have a long handle that extends from one side and one or two helper hooks. This is so it can be suspended on top of a wide bowl.

Mesh strainers of this size excel at smaller tasks like steeping a cup of tea, sifting flour and powdered sugar, or filtering lemon juice.

Chinois Strainers

chinois strainer with pestle

Chinois strainers are the kings of the strainer world. They are cone-shaped kitchen tools with perforated screen bodies. Many come with legs so you can stand them over a pot or bowl, and they are intended to be used with a wooden pestle.

You can use a chinois to perform everyday tasks like straining soups, but where the stand-alone is, you want to create a refined sauce or creamy puree.

You can place your food inside the sieve and use the pestle to force smooth food particles through the mesh. Fluid passes through easily, and by mashing the remaining solid matter, you can extract every last drop of flavor and nutrition from them.

Which is better for sifting flour?

sifting whole wheat flour

A sieve of any type will do a better job of sifting any dry ingredients than a colander. The stainless steel mesh thingy is natural for breaking up clumps of powdered sugar or flour and making sure you have a smooth, dry texture to work with. Most colanders have holes that are too large vs. strainer mesh.

That is the main difference between a colander and a strainer. Strainer’s finer openings deliver smoother everything.

When just talking about sieves, a handheld mesh strainer of the appropriate size is your best option. They allow superb control and come in many sizes to fit whatever sifting job you may have.

Use a colander or fine mesh strainer to drain liquids?

colander with pasta

Colander features lend themselves to letting liquid stream through. The strained liquid might not be as clean and pure as what comes out of a strainer, but a colander wasn’t intended to provide pure fluids.

Their bigger holes were designed to let liquid stream away.

A strainer can drain liquids from pasta, cooked vegetables, and the like but will be subject to clogging and may be difficult to clean afterward.

Wrap Up

There are many differences between a colander and a strainer, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Liquid passes easier through a colander, but a strainer delivers smoother food products.

You will have several of both in your kitchen in a perfect world. On the other hand, it is rarely a perfect world, so feel free to use whichever you have, considering its limitations.

One last word of advice. Whichever you choose to use for whatever purpose you might put it to. Always buy stainless steel and clean them carefully to keep your kitchen device functioning properly.