Choosing the right utensils for your kitchen can be tough, particularly if you’re a new cook without too much experience with buying your own products!
Sure, you may vaguely remember that you’re supposed to rinse your vegetables (or, at least, I hope that you remember that!) and that you drain things like pasta, but the exact specifics can get a little foggy.
If I gave you a colander, a strainer, and a chinois, do you think you could really tell the difference between all three of them, or do you just group them all together as “utensils with holes in them” in your head?
If you’re part of the latter: no shame, I’ve all been there!
That’s why we’ve written this simple introductory article defining strainers, colanders, and chinoises, and going through the basic differences between all three of them.
I’ll show you which one you should get for which purpose, and then I will help you identify a few of the things that you should be looking for when you’re buying one.
What is a Strainer?
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A strainer is a basic term applied to really any device that is used to drain out the liquid from an ingredient or food item.
It’s a catch-all term.
A strainer usually is bowl-shaped, made up of a meshed semi-sphere with small holes to drain out the liquid and a handle for easy holding.
Strainers can be used for a wide variety of foods; you can use it for draining pasta or rinsing food items like seeds and vegetables.
What is a Colander?
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A colander is usually a larger tool than your typical strainer, with bigger and wider holes rather than the small holes in the mesh of a strainer.
A colander still strains and drains foods (in fact, its name even comes from a root word meaning to strain!), with the main difference being its size.
It’s typically used for bigger food items; for example, if you want to rinse off large fruits or vegetables, a strainer is probably your best bet.
A colander is usually a bowl that can stand on its own, and often doesn’t have a handle.
What is a Chinois?
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Chinoises are often more expensive than your average colander or strainer, and for good reason! A chinois is cone-shaped, which comes with the benefit of extra surface area for straining.
They have very small, fine holes for extremely fine straining. They’re primarily used for straining liquids.
A chinois may even come with a wooden pestle that you can use to mash ingredients through the holes. They’re used mostly for recipes and meals that need some major pulverization; think things like soup, sauce, salsa, and more!
Chinoises often have some sort of stand that keeps them up due to their cone shape.
So, What’s the Difference – Which One Should I Buy?
So, now that you get the general gist of each type of product, let’s talk about the specific differences between the three of them.
On the surface, they may seem like they all do the same thing, and they may even look basically identical.
But, when you get into the nuances of cooking, knowing when to use each one is extremely important along with the basic difference!
Note: When it comes to differentiating between colander vs strainer vs chinois, I would rather say that the basic difference between the three lies in their design, the amount and size of holes, and the amount of flow they allow through.
In essence, colanders are something basically everyone should have, strainers can give you a few more options without breaking the bank, and chinoises can be a serious investment but are great if you’re very into cooking.
For the most part, I recommend that everybody buy a colander.
Even if you only cook somewhat regularly and aren’t the most into it, a colander is still definitely a necessity.
They’re godsends when it comes to rinsing off vegetables and draining your pasta, so even if all you’re doing is making spaghetti every night you could still definitely use one!
They have wide use and, for the most part, will cover your basic straining needs.
You don’t want to find yourself in a situation without a colander, and they’re generally pretty cheap, so go out and buy one as soon as possible!
That said, if you cook somewhat more often, you may want to consider buying strainers of a few different sizes. Mesh strainers will help if you’re working with ingredients on the smaller side, like berries.
Having a bunch of strainers of varying sizes will give you more options when it comes to cooking without making too much of financial investment, so while strainers aren’t necessarily a necessity I still recommend them!
Meanwhile, I only really recommend buying a chinois if you’re super serious about cooking.
Don’t get me wrong—-they’re handy little devices!
They’re great at whipping out fancy, tasty dishes that require fine straining that only their small holes can provide. If you wind up getting one with a wooden pestle, that’s even better!
That said, they’re also very expensive.
If you’re not into cooking on that level, it may be tough justifying the higher price point for a tool only really used to cook dishes that you may never see yourself regularly making.
They’re nowhere near necessity if you’re, say, a broke college student who’s mostly eating instant ramen and boxed pasta every night.
That said, if you can make the investment and you are interested in taking your cooking up another notch, consider buying a chinois!
How Can I Choose the Best Colander, Strainer, Or Chinois?
When buying a colander, strainer, or chinois, there are a few different factors to consider.
In particular, you should think about what size you want your utensil to be, what material it will be made of, and the actual flow of the strainer.
Think about the size of the colander, strainer, or chinois that you’ll be buying
What size do you want your utensil to be? You should consider how much counter space you’ll be working with on a regular basis and how you will eventually need to store your utensil.
You should likely avoid clunky, overly large devices, but also be sure to not make the beginner’s mistake of buying a colander/strainer/chinois that is far too small!
It’s very common for beginner chefs to buy a colander/strainer/chinois that’s only a few inches big, only to find that their straining is way too slow, or flat-out stagnant!
If you need fine straining, I recommend buying a typical chinois, but oftentimes I don’t have the best sense of size when it comes to colanders/strainers/chinoises!
You may find that you don’t need quite as small a strainer as you think/ If you’re very limited on size, consider buying collapsible colanders, strainers, and chinoises.
These will help you reduce the amount of space your utensils take in the cupboard without sacrificing the efficiency of the device.
It’s the best of both worlds!
What material will your colander, strainer, or chinois be made out of?
When choosing the right material for your colander, strainer, or chinois, you should think about issues that may arise such as rust and warping.
You’re going to be placing a wide variety of ingredients into your colander, stainer, or chinois depending on exactly what you’re cooking; one day you may be working with a bunch of cold berries and the next you may be draining hot pasta.
And, depending on the utensil you buy, you may be subjecting it to harsh conditions on the regular, so you will want to pick a material that will avoid wear and tear.
If you care a lot about aesthetics, you’ll want to avoid a colander, strainer, or chinois that will stain easily, too.
Plus, consider the fact that you’ll be cleaning it often, so you will want to make sure that however you do that works with the material that you chose!
I recommend a material like stainless steel; it’s resilient to both wear and stains, will last you a bit longer, and will avoid issues like staining and rusting so you can keep your kitchen’s pristine appearance!
How well will liquid and ingredients flow through your colander, strainer, or chinois?
You should be sure to consider the flow rate of your sink when buying your colander, strainer, or chinois.
The flow rate is the speed at which the liquid is able to flow through your colander, strainer, or chinois.
A flow rate is always calculated in “GPM,” which stands for gallons per minute.
You’ll want to be sure that the flow rate of your sink is compatible with your colander, strainer, or chinois; depending on your flow rate, you may require either a larger or smaller straining device.
This may not be too important of a factor for amateur cooks and there’s definitely ways to avoid thinking about it.
But if you’re regularly cooking then you’ll want to be sure that you’re straining as efficiently as possible, and that requires knowing about both the minimum and maximum of your sink’s flow rate.