A food mill is a tool that you use to both purée and strain soft or already-cooked foods. There are both manual and electric models available.
Food mills are particular popular with home canners at canning time. Even if the food mills are only used that one time of the year, home canners say they save so much work that they have earned their keep just for that.
Food mill features
Food mills come with interchangeable milling disks, sometimes referred to as “screens”, with each having different kinds and sizes of holes in them. Some, for instance, come with special disks for berries, whose seeds can easily gum up the wrong screens. Some models let you purchase additional, specialty disks.
A manual food mill has a crank handle on it. The food placed in it gets turned against the disk while being pushed through the holes in it.
There are two different types of manual models:
- One type can be like a bowl with a screen at the bottom. A handle turns a paddle inside the bowl which presses the food down through the holes. This type is meant to be placed over a receptacle such as a bowl to receive the processed food falling down through the holes;
- Another type is like a meat grinder and clamps to the edge of a work surface: the food goes in the top, a screw pulls it down into the device and pushes it sideways out through the screen.
How good a quality of food mill you should pay for depends on how often you think you’ll use it. The price varies based on:
- the material the food mill is made from – stainless steel, plastic, aluminum covered with chrome, etc;
- the capacity;
- whether the mill comes with interchangeable disks and if so, how many;
- whether the mill has a “wire bar” that brushes across the bottom to clear away built-up food stuffs that could block the screen holes;
- whether the mill has a tension adjustment screw or knob on the bottom to adjust the tension determining how close the paddle is to the disk.
You can get very small ones designed for making portions of baby food; they’re called “baby food food mills.”
You can buy food mill attachments for some food processors.
Many think a food mill will do everything a ricer will do, and more, making it a more versatile tool that is likely to be used more often. Still, many food mills languish in the back of cupboards.
A chinois will purée more finely.
Some but not all electric ones will have a reverse switch to help dislodge stuck food.
Some electric food mills are designed really just one a few types of food. Here’s a review of a food mill designed mostly just for milling tomatoes into sauce for home canning (link opens on our dedicated home canning site.)
Issues with food mills
- The food being processed needs to be relatively soft – beware of hard pits in some grapes, and of food that was frozen and is not thoroughly thawed. Hard items can permanently damage your screens;
- Pieces of food need to be small enough so that they can get caught by the turning disk;
- Peel will get trapped in and clog up the disk;
- Food can just get pushed around inside the mill instead of passing through it (some mills have a fixed blade in them that prevents food from simply spinning around inside);
- The holes easily plug up, meaning you are constantly stopping and scraping them clean. With higher capacity ones, you don’t have to do this as often;
- Anything put through a food mill comes out pretty much uniformly smooth. Don’t expect to be able to have any kind of coarse or uneven texture, even where desirable;
- Raw tomatoes are hard to push through.
- Can strain out seeds and skin from items such as tomatoes and puréed chiles, out of berries for seedless jams;
- Can be used for making fruit butters;
- Puréeing vegetables for soup, gazpacho;
- Many people like the quality of mashed potatoes made by being pressed through a food mill. A few turns should get one potato through.
Some think a food mill is easier to clean than a food processor. You just run water through it, and maybe use a dish-washing brush if you have one.
Ones that are aluminum covered with chrome can’t go through a dishwasher; plastic and stainless ones can.
If food gets stuck or just spins, try reversing direction, or if that fails, use a rubber spatula to clean it out. You can put the waste through a second time to try to get more out of it.