Sieve vs Strainer – What’s the Difference?

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Sieve vs Strainer

A well-stocked kitchen is filled with many appliances, gadgets, and utensils, and knowing how to use them all can be confusing at times. Sieves and strainers are often mixed up, and you might use a sieve when a wire mesh strainer would be a better option.

We’ve got you covered if you’ve ever wondered which one you should be using. This article will discuss everything you could think of regarding these two utensils. Once you’re done reading, you’ll know what each was made for, and you’ll feel like a pro in the kitchen.

But first, let’s make sure we know which is which.

What Exactly Is A Sieve?

fine mesh sieves for dusting

Sieves separate small and larger particles, so they are great for flour and similar ingredients. You can use it to squish soft solids and make pulps or purees when you press them through the sieve’s finer mesh.

There are different mesh sizes; each option is made to deal with varying sizes of particles. The smaller the mesh, the finer the ingredient you’re sifting will be. A finer mesh will also make a smoother puree. 

When buying a sieve, be sure to look for one with a sturdy handle and is coated in heat-resistant material. That way, it’s easier to handle, and you can sift warm liquids without problems.

What Exactly Is A Strainer? 

washing peas strainer

A strainer is used to separate food like boiled vegetables or pasta and liquids from each other. A strainer is a perforated bowl that comes into play when you want to drain water or liquid. Sometimes, it’s also called a colander.

Because of the big holes in strainers, they can’t be used to sift or sieve anything and are good for getting rid of excess water in your cooked pasta or vegetables. You can also drain canned food or rinse your food in them before cooking.

What Is Considered a Fine Mesh Strainer?

straining broth

You’ll notice when using recipes that they sometimes call for a fine-mesh sieve or strainer. A fine mesh strainer, also called a chinois, is typically ideal for washing small amounts of vegetables or herbs, rinsing rice, or straining sauces. 

The holes in this strainer are much smaller than what you have with a standard strainer, so they’re easy to spot.

You’ll use this utensil when you desire a velvety texture after straining liquids. Making lump-free soups, sauces, and custards are examples of this. They can be a bit pricey in most cases but are a must-have for any serious cook.

What Is Considered a Fine Mesh Sieve?

There are various mesh sizes to choose from when it comes to sieves, and a fine sieve has a mesh size of 1/32 inches. You use them to separate really fine particles from each other, like when you want to make a berry puree because the seeds won’t go through.

This size is also ideal for dusting desserts with confectioners’ sugar and cocoa or for sifting flour for recipes that need the flour very fine. Using a sieve with a finer perforated screen, you can get rid of any coarse particles with ease.

Being Practical: What Foods Require A Sieve?

sifting sugar

We’ve mentioned a few examples of when you’ll be using a sieve vs. strainer, but if you want to make the most of these utensils, you need a bit more information.

You’ll likely need different sizes to divide various-sized food particles from each other. If a recipe calls for a granular material such as sugar to be sifted, you’ll need a different sieve from one that’s best for purees.

Here’s a list of the situations and foods you’ll most likely use it for:

  • Sifting freshly-ground spices
  • Make silky-smooth soup and refined sauce
  • Have clump-free custard
  • Sifting flour before baking
  • Strain steeped tea
  • Remove seeds and skins from soft-cooked tomatoes
  • Make puree
  • Strain liquid from small grains (a chinois could also be used here)
  • Sprinkle powdered sugar

What Foods Call For a Strainer? 

A strainer is the perfect kitchen utensil for separating an unwanted material from another that isn’t fine or small. As you probably know, a strainer is also ideal for getting your pasta starch-free and dry.

But that’s not all a strainer is good for. Here are a few more things you can do with a good strainer:

  • Drain cooked vegetables like lentils and beans
  • Rinse food before cooking them
  • Steam vegetables over a pot of water
  • Drain canned foods (or fruits)
  • Store fragile produce (mushrooms, grapes, etc.) in the fridge

A strainer may have fewer uses than a sieve but is still meant for different tasks that a sieve will be no good for.

Can You Use a Strainer as a Sieve?

fine mesh sieves

It may happen that you misplace your sieve or just don’t have one yet, so you may be wondering if you can use your strainer in a pinch.

Unfortunately, even if you have a strainer with tiny holes, it can’t be used to separate dry ingredients from each other. Even with smaller holes, these guys are bad at straining small amounts of particles because they’d just fall through.

Can You Use Sieve as a Strainer?

washing basil with a sieve

While the difference between a sieve and a strainer means you can’t use a strainer to do a sieve’s job, you can strain with a sieve.

As long as you have one that is large enough to hold whatever ingredients you need to drain, you’re good to go. You can easily strain pasta and vegetables with this handy little tool.

If you’re forced to choose between buying a new sieve or a new strainer, buy a sieve. It can meet most of your requirements until you can add a new strainer to your kitchen utensils.

Sieve vs. Strainer: Do You Need Both?

Since you can use a sieve as a strainer, is it necessary to have both in your kitchen? Well, that depends on what you like to cook and bake.

If you like to have separate kitchen tools for different tasks, you’d be happier with having both. But if you’re not too fussy, you might want to just have a high-quality sieve or a set of different sizes.

Can You Use a Strainer for Sifting Flour?

You can only use a strainer for this purpose if you have one that has a finely woven mesh. A normal one will not be able to sift dry ingredients like flour the way a good sieve will, even if it’s got very small holes.

Sieve vs. Strainer — Which is Best for Powdered Sugar?

confectioner's sugar

For powdered sugar, you shouldn’t compromise — a sieve is the best tool for the task. You want to use the right method as well. Hold the utensil and tap the side gently with your opposite hand. Don’t shake it, or you’ll end up with concentrated spots of sugar, which is not what you’d want. Slowly move it over the areas you need to be covered with the sifted sugar.

When You Should Sift Powders

In many cases, you don’t need to sift the dry ingredients you use when baking or cooking. However, there are situations in which sifting is called for. 

Here are a few examples of when you cannot neglect to sift the ingredients of your recipes:

When You Need a Thin Layer of Flour

Sometimes, it’s necessary that you have only a very thin layer of flour that you sprinkle over a work surface because adding too much can have adverse effects on your dough. For example, it could toughen or dry, which could result in meal flopping.

When Your Cake Must Have a Delicate Texture

If you’re baking sponge or genoise cake, your flour must be sifted well. There must be no lumps that might weigh down your batter, or the cake won’t come out as light as it should.

When Your Ingredients Are Lumpy

Sometimes confectioners’ sugar, flour, cocoa powder, and baking soda can be clumpy after being unused for a while. You’ll need to sift the ingredients to get all the clumps out and have a better baking experience.

When Combining Dry Ingredients

If it’s necessary to combine several dry ingredients, sifting them together is the best way. They’ll blend better when you sift them together.

Choosing the Right Sift and Sieve for Your Kitchen

Now that you know the big role these utensils play in cooking and baking, we’ll briefly tell you what to look for when buying them.

Sieve

Material

You should consider the material used to make your chosen kitchen tool because it makes a difference in price. If the sieve is made of plastic, it will be more affordable. However, a metal sieve will probably last a lot longer.

Size

baking sieve

You’ll find sieves in many sizes, and the best size for you depends on what you want to use them for. For standard use, you’ll be good with a typical sieve. But if you bake regularly, you’ll probably be better off with a bigger option depending on the particle size distribution of the materials you’ll be straining.

Cleaning

These guys can be rather tricky to clean, so it’s good to make sure the one you choose is dishwasher safe.

Design

For the most part, the design doesn’t matter too much. As long as the hand feels comfortable in your hand, you should be just fine no matter what you choose.

Strainer

Material

stainless steel strainer

You’ll be getting your strainer wet a lot, so you need to ensure the material can endure frequent exposure. A kitchen tool that rusts is never desired, and it must be durable too. Plastic, stainless steel, and silicone are the best options.

Size

It’s likely that you’ll use your strainer in your kitchen sink a lot, so make sure it will fit well. It’s important that the strainer stays in place even when pouring liquid down it.

Cleaning

A dishwasher-safe option will be the most convenient – it can be difficult to clean by hand because food can get stuck.

Design

stainless steel strainer with base

The design matters when it comes to the size of the holes. Bigger holes mean solids and coarse materials will pass through easier. Look out for one that has sturdy handles that won’t slip out of your hands. A raised base is also a good idea to drain liquids quickly.

Wrap Up

As you can see, sieves and strainers are not the same, but they’re quite essential in the kitchen. Now that you know their purposes, you’ll be using them the right way and can confidently whip up your favorite meals just as their recipes want.

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