Strainer Vs Sieve – What’s The Difference?

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When it comes to kitchen appliances, utensils, and gadgets, I definitely don’t think you need to buy a thousand different tools for a different task that get used once then take up space in your drawer forever.

I do believe that there are some foundational items that every good kitchen needs.

These include sharp knives and a sharpener, a set of mixing bowls, a couple of good cutting boards, measuring cups and spoons, a spatula, and a couple of different-sized saucepans. 

Rounding out this list is a good quality strainer and sieve. Both have crucial functions in the kitchen and can save you a lot of time and mess when used properly.

They don’t take up too much space and no kitchen is fully complete without them. 

So, what’s the difference between a strainer and a sieve? A strainer is a large bowl-shaped kitchen item with holes that are generally used to strain liquids from solids, such as pasta from its cooking water. Sieves are made of wire mesh within a frame and separate small particles from large particles.

You can also use a sieve to make purees or strain sauces and soups. It also works as a strainer, so long as it is big enough to hold everything that you’ve cooked. 

Read on to discover more about the differences between sieves and strainers, what foods to use them with, and other handy ways to use them in the kitchen. 

What Is A Strainer? 

For easy cooking and straining a crucial tool in any kitchen is a strainer. While you may be tempted to refer to a sieve as a strainer or vice versa, technically there is a difference between these two kitchen gadgets. 

A strainer is a bowl or pot-shaped object with relatively large holes (as compared to a sieve) that is used to separate solid things from liquids.

The most common use for a strainer is to drain the water from cooked pasta. 

You might also hear a strainer referred to as a colander. This perforated bowl is perfect for straining liquids from solids, but the large holes do not make it conducive to sieving.

Check out the section below to discover what a sieve is and how it differs from a strainer. 

What Is A Sieve?

While a strainer is used to separate liquids from solids, such as straining pasta from water, a sieve is used to separate smaller particles from larger particles, like when you sift flour to break up large chunks

Sieves can also be used to squish soft solids and turn them into purees or pulps by pressing them through the fine mesh. 

Unlike a strainer, they aren’t bowls with holes in them. They consist of a wire or plastic mesh held in a frame, often with a handle so you can easily maneuver them around your kitchen.

You can have different sizes of mesh, which will separate larger or smaller particles from one another.

The smaller the mesh, the finer the sifted ingredient will be or the smoother the puree will become. I love using my sieve to make the creamiest mashed potatoes or to sift my freshly ground spice mixes. 

You will want to look for a sieve that has a sturdy handle, hopefully, coated in silicon or another heat-resistant material. It should also have a little hook on the opposite side from the handle to help you later it over a bowl or a pot.

When picking out a sieve, make sure that the handle is firmly attached by gently pulling on it a couple of times since you want it to stand up to the pressure. 

If you need to, you can also use a sieve as a strainer, since it will easily let the liquid drain through the mesh.

However, you cannot typically use a strainer to replace a sieve in a recipe instruction, since the holes are generally much too large to be of use for the ingredients indicated.

What Are The Different Sizes Of Mesh Strainer?

You might see different sizes of mesh called for in your recipes and be wondering what the difference is between them.

There are a few standard sizes including ultra-fine, fine, and large. In order to figure out what size you need, figure out what you will be mostly using your sieve for.

  • Medium (1/16-inch): Best for straining small amounts of pasta and veggies, sifting lumps out of sauces or flour
  • Fine (1/32-inch): Great for sifting seeds out of sauces, separating freshly ground spices
  • Superfine/Tea Strainer (unbelievably small): Great for straining tea, dusting sugar or cocoa over desserts

What Foods Are Best Used With A Strainer? 

When it comes to using a strainer, you are typically going to reserve it for foods that are large and which needed to be separated from a liquid.

Since it is essentially a large or small bowl with holes in it, it’s not going to be great for separating fine ingredients from one another. 

I use my strainer for the following:

  • To drain my cooked pasta from the cooking water. 
  • To drain beans and lentils from water once they’ve been cooked. 
  • To drain excess water from rice or other larger grains, depending on the size of the holes in the strainer. Things such as quinoa might be too small to pour through a regular strainer. 
  • To drain the water from boiled potatoes, beets, turnips, and other larger vegetables.
  • To rinse produce under the tap when I bring them home from the store. Using a strainer is a great way to rinse and clean your fruits and veggies, then let them drip dry on the drying rack. 

As you can see, strainers or colanders are essential for any well-stocked kitchen.

The holes allow water to easily drain through so you’re not stuck trying to hold a lid over a pot of hot water as you drain the liquid out without letting the food slip through. 

You want to look for a good quality stainless steel or ceramic coated strainer so that it will be durable and not rust. This stainless steel model is a great basic one to start with.

If you prefer a pretty enameled strainer, I personally love this super cute one from Amazon. They come in lots of different colors to match your kitchen decor.

What Foods Are Best Used With A Sieve?

Sieves are another essential utensil for the kitchen and I suggest having a variety of sizes and different levels of fineness in the mesh so that you can use them for all your kitchen needs. 

Unlike a strainer, which has large holes so can only be used with larger items, sieves can be used to separate coarser and finer materials from one another, to puree soft solids, or to strain liquids from solids.

Just don’t press any cooked items into the mesh unless you want them pureed. 

I use my sieve for the following things in my kitchen: 

  • To sift flours before baking
    • This step helps eliminate any large chunks that can impact the texture of your baked good. I use a thicker mesh for this one since a super fine mesh can be too thin to easily pass different flours through. 
  • To sift my freshly ground spices. 
    • One of the ways to up the flavor profile of your dishes is to grind your own spices using a coffee or spice grinder. Sometimes this can leave large pieces that you will want to sift out before using so you get a smooth texture. 
  • To remove the seeds and skins from parboiled tomatoes. 
    • When you want to make a silky smooth tomato sauce or soup, one of the key steps is removing the skins and seeds. Once I’ve parboiled my tomatoes I like to press them through a fine-mesh sieve to remove these bits and pieces. 
  • To make silky smooth potato and vegetable purees. 
    • If you want to make delicious potato or vegetable purees, but don’t want to dirty the food processor, you can press the cooked and softened vegetables through a sieve to get a smooth texture. Whip with some butter for the perfect mash. 
  • To sprinkle powdered sugar. 
    • If you are making a beautiful dessert and want to sprinkle some powdered sugar on top, you can tap it through a sieve for a light and fluffy sugar that is evenly distributed. 
  • To strain steep tea.
    • If you like to make tea using loose-leaf herbs, then straining the tea can be a bit of a hassle, unless you have a strainer ball. By pouring your tea through a very small and fine sieve, you can steep the perfect cup of loose-leaf tea without getting any bits in your teeth.
  • To strain water from quinoa or small grains. 
    • Some cooking methods for grains need you to strain excess water at the end. Strainers and colanders typically have holes that are too large for small grains such as quinoa, millet, or teff, but sieves are a perfect alternative. 
  • To strain water from pasta. 
    • Depending on how big your sieve is and how much pasta you’ve boiled up, you can always use a sieve to strain the water if you don’t have a colander or strainer on hand. Just make sure it’s big enough to fit all your pasta so it doesn’t spill into the sink.
  • To strain water from boiled vegetables.
    • Just like the strainer, you can use a sieve to strain water from your boiled vegetables in a pinch. You will want to make sure your sieve is large enough to hold all the veggies you’ve cooked, so they don’t spill into the sink and make a mess. 
  • To strain water from cooked beans and lentils. 
    • If you cook your beans and lentils and can’t find your strainer or colander (or just don’t have one in your kitchen), never fear, the sieve can do double duty as a strainer. Just make sure your sieve is big enough to hold all the legumes you cooked.

As you can see, there are tons of useful ways to use a sieve in your kitchen. The more sizes of sieve you have and the more differences in mesh fineness, the more ways you can use them. 

I have one very small size for straining tea, a larger size with a fine mesh to sift flours and other dry goods, and a wider mesh to use to strain cooked veggies, legumes, and grains.

This set comes in three convenient sizes to suit all your sieving needs.

Can A Strainer Be Used As A Sieve?

You might be wondering whether you can get by purchasing just a strainer to do all the tasks above.

However, because the holes in a strainer are much large than the mesh in a sieve, it can’t do the fine sifting that most sieves are capable of.

If you do a lot of sifting flours, sugars, or spices or you want to use your sieve to get a soft puree on your cooked vegetables, then it is worth investing in a sieve since a strainer just won’t be up for the job.

Can A Sieve Be Used As A Strainer?

While a strainer can’t be used in place of a sieve in most instances, I do think that a sieve can replace a strainer in most situations.

As long as your sieve is large enough to hold whatever you are trying to drain, be that vegetables, pasta, or other produce, then you can use it to replace a strainer

I have a strainer and a sieve and 9 times out of 10 I use my sieve for virtually everything I would use a strainer for.

The only time I don’t is when I need to hold a large volume, then the strainer gets dusted off and pulled from the back of the cupboard. 

If you only have the budget or the space for one or the other of these kitchen utensils, I would suggest investing in a set of differently sized sieves, since they can do virtually everything a strainer can do plus have all the benefits of a sieve. 

What Is A Chinois?

If you watch a lot of cooking shows or read a lot of recipes, you may have come across a kitchen utensil called a Chinois. So what is a Chinois and how does it differ from a sieve or a strainer? 

Technically, a Chinois is a type of sieve that has a conical shape and an ultra-fine mesh, with a sturdy handle.

It is used in high-end kitchens and recipes to produce super smooth and creamy purees, soups, custards, sauces, and other thicker foods. 

If you are a fan of silky smooth textures and want to get rid of any fibers or textures, then investing in a Chinois is a good idea.

If you’re not overly concerned about getting professional-grade silkiness to your food, then you can probably just stick with a regular fine-mesh sieve. 

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