Food Processor vs. Blender: What's the Difference?

Blender bowl of green spinach on white table.
You can use a food processor to make hummus or pesto, or to speed up your overall cooking prep. Anna Blazhuk / Getty Images

Do you know when to use a food processor vs. blender? They both have blades for chopping food into smaller pieces, so do you really need both kitchen appliances? Learn how food processors and blenders work, and when to use each.

How Food Processors Work

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.

<b>Cuisinart DLC-2011BC Prep 11 Plus Food Processor.</b> Photo courtesy Consumer Guide Products
Cuisinart DLC-2011BC Prep 11 Plus Food Processor. Photo courtesy Consumer Guide Products

The Basic Components of a Food Processor

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.

  • Motor: 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 pounds (9 kilograms). 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.

  • Bowl: The bowl, which is usually made of durable, transparent plastic, fits onto this shaft and locks into position. Some models come with large and small bowls for use with the same base.

  • Lid: 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.

Food Processor Attachments

<b>KitchenAid KFPDCS 5-Disc Set.</b> Photo courtesy Consumer Guide Products
KitchenAid KFPDCS 5-Disc Set. Photo courtesy Consumer Guide Products

In a basic food processor, the attachments fit over the shaft inside the bowl. Standard attachments for a food processor are an S-shaped blade — also known as a sabatier blade — and shredding and slicing discs.

  • Sabatier blade: The sabatier blade sits at the bottom of the bowl. It consists of two small, curved blades arranged on opposite sides of a central plastic pillar that fits onto the shaft inside the bowl. The blades of the sabatier are usually made of metal, but are sometimes made of hard plastic. You may find that metal blades are preferable because they retain their sharpness longer.

  • Shredding and slicing discs: The shredding and slicing discs are made of metal and sit at the top of the bowl, over the shaft. You push food down the feed tube and it contacts the disc, at which point it is grated or sliced into the bowl. The holes on the shredding and slicing discs may yield fine, medium or coarse bits of food. You can purchase these different versions of the discs separately if they are not included with your food processor.

In addition to the standard attachments that came with your food processor, you can supplement your equipment and make your appliance more versatile by buying additional attachments. Other common attachments include:

  • A dough blade: This blade is made of plastic or metal and has straighter (less curved) paddles than the sabatier blade. You use this to make dough for bread and pizza.

  • An egg whip: This attachment has two straight arms with large open paddles at the ends. You use this to beat egg whites and whipping cream, incorporating sufficient air to ensure a fluffy end product.

  • A julienne disc: This piece has a row of protruding, short, sharp teeth. You use this to cut food into long, thin matchsticks.

  • A French fry disc: This is similar to the julienne disc but yields larger, fatter pieces.

  • A citrus juicer: This is a dome-shaped attachment that fits on top of the shaft and turns to squeeze the juice from oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, etc.

  • A non-citrus juicer: This purees fruits and vegetables introduced into the feed tube, collecting the pulp in the middle and straining the juice into the bottom of the bowl.

How Blenders Work

Blenders predate food processors by a few years. According to the Illinois State Museum, the first electric blender was developed in 1922 to produce malts and shakes at soda fountains. The first blender patent was issued in 1932.

Blenders rely on liquid ingredients to create a swirling vortex that pulls ingredients down towards the blades for pureeing and then releases them back up to continuously circulate the ingredients and create a smooth mixture.

The Basic Components of a Blender

Every blender is different, but the basic components are:

  • Housing: This is the base of the blender where the motor lives. Just like a food processor, a blender benefits from having a sturdy base to prevent tipping.

  • Blade: The location of the blade differers between models. In some, the blade is removable. In others, it is permanently attached to the blender jar or jar base.

  • Jar: Although it's called a jar, the part of the blender where food goes usually takes the form of a glass or plastic pitcher. Fun fact: Some jar bases are compatible with a regular-mouth Mason jar, meaning you can use an actual jar as your blender jar, which can save an extra dish when making smoothies or soups.

  • Gasket or seal ring: In blender models with a removable blade, the blade sits on the gasket, which sits on the jar base.

  • Jar base or jar nut: The jar base is where the jar attaches to the housing.

  • Lid: In some blenders, like the Magic Bullet, the jar base is also the lid.

Food Processor vs. Blender: What's the Difference?

Food processors and blenders both have blades, but they're not interchangeable. Here are some of the differences.

Blenders Create a Vortex

Blenders work by creating a vortex — a spiral movement of fluid — that pulls ingredients towards the blade. That's why blender blades are angled upward, in contrast to the flat blades of a food processor.

In order to work, blenders require the ingredients to be sufficiently liquid. Once a blender gets started, its high-speed blade pulls ingredients down and forces them back up to create a more uniformly smooth product.

Blenders Chop More Finely Than Food Processors

"Machine-powered food processor blades chop very finely, and blender blades, working in a more con- fined space, chop and shear more finely still," writes Harold McGee in "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen."

Blenders excel at creating a uniformly smooth product, like a bisque or smoothie. Food processors are great at chopping food while maintaining some texture.

Food Processors Have Interchangeable Blades

Most food processors come with multiple blades, while blenders typically have one fixed blade. The interchangeable blades on a food processor are ideal for kitchen tasks like shredding cheese or kneading dough.

When to Use a Blender or Food Processor

In general, food processors are better for cutting, grating, slicing or otherwise processing solid ingredients, while blenders are ideal for crushing and pureeing liquids and solid foods together. Food processors can leak when used for liquids, while blenders can get stuck if there isn't enough liquid.

Here's when to use each.

Use a Blender for Smoother Purees and Soups

You can use either tool to puree food, but a blender will yield smoother results — especially for purees with more liquid, like baby food, soups and sauces.

"The pureeing process itself is a physical crushing or shearing that breaks the plant tissue into pieces and liberates thickening molecules from them," writes Harold McGee in "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen." He goes on to say, "Blenders and mortars are the most effective tools for this; food processors slice rather than crush."

When making a hot pureed soup, an immersion blender can be a handy tool; if you don't have one, carefully pour the soup into the blender jar and cover the lid with a towel to prevent splattering.

Use a Blender to Make Frozen Drinks

Blenders were created for making milkshakes, so it makes sense that they would be the best tool for drinks from smoothies to frozen cocktails. A blender's tall jar has room for more liquid than a food processor. The fast, sharp blades of a high-powered blender were made for liquifying frozen fruit.

Use a Blender to Crush Ice

Use a blender for crushing ice. As appliance tester Cindy Fisher told Tasting Table, "the ice can damage the food processor's chopping blade and plastic container."

Use a Food Processor for Nut Butters

The wide bowl of a food processor is better for processing mixtures that are low on liquid, like nut butters.

Use a Food Processor for Mixing and Kneading Bread or Pastry Dough

A food processor is the only appliance that works for cutting butter into flour to make a pie crust.

Use a Food Processor to Grate Ingredients

The shredding disc on your food processor is great for grating ingredients like from carrots to cheese.

Use a Food Processor to Chop Dry Ingredients

A food processor's wide bowl is better for chopping a large batch of vegetables. Use the pulse button to avoid turning your vegetables into a puree.

Use Either for Making Pesto

A blender will yield a smoother pesto, while a food processor will yield a slightly coarser pesto. A Ligurian nonna, however, will tell you to use neither — a mortar and pestle is the traditional way to do it. (The word "pesto" comes from the verb "to pound.")

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