Sifter (Sieve) Vs Strainer (What’s the Difference)

Sifter (Sieve) vs Strainer

In cooking, a sifter and strainer are two completely different tools.

But people often use the words strainer and sifter (sieve) interchangeably. So I don’t blame you if you are confused about the differences between these two kitchen tools.

Now in this article, I will help to enlighten you on the differences of both tools, as well as when to use them and how you can use them interchangeably.

Difference between a Sifter and a Strainer

A sifter is a tool that is used to separate, aerate and break up particles or clumps of different sizes in dry ingredients such as flour, before finally combining all the uniform particles together.

A strainer on the other hand is a device that purifies, filters, or separates liquid from solid food particles.

So essentially sifters are used for ensuring dry ingredients have uniformed particles and strainers used to separate the liquids from solid ingredients.

Recommended Sifter

I usually use a great mug sifter that is hand-cranked, it sifts flour and other powders really fast and makes it super easy to do. Plus it is very affordable you can click here to see it on Amazon

Recommended Strainer

I found a really good 3 piece metal strainer set on Amazon, you can click here to see the current price. What I like about these strainers is that the mesh can work both as a strainer and a sifter.

How a Sifter Vs a Strainer works

Both of these tools function similarly that is why they are often mistaken for each other.

By using a Sifter, the coarse particles or clumps are separated or broken up by grinding against one another and the screen openings, which is usually a woven screen such as a mesh or net or metal.

strainer works in the same way, a perforated screen or opening, which can be anything (including a screen or a cloth) is used to separate solid from mixing in a liquid.

The same technique is used but the main difference is in the outcome, which will vary because of the difference in the type of food used in the sieve.

The main difference is that a sifter will sift powders and leave no food particles in the screen, whereas a strainer has solid remnants left in the screen and the liquid is passed through the perforated screen.

Is it Necessary to have Both a Strainer and a Sifter?

In my opinion, the answer to this question depends on whether you do a lot of baking.

I think that a strainer is an absolute necessity in any kitchen, however, a sifter is only needed if you do a lot of baking that requires ingredients to be sifted.

Can you use a Strainer to Sift Powders?

Yes you can use a strainer to sift a powdered ingredient such as flour if you are in a sifting dilemma. Using a fine mesh strainer will sift any powdered ingredient but it may require more patience and time than if using a sifter.

Just ensure the strainer you are using is clean and dry. Any moisture will trap the powdered ingredient you are attempting to sift and cause it to become pasty and difficult to pass through the screen of the strainer.

How to use a Strainer as a Sifter

If you try to use a strainer to sift a powder, like flour, Gently tap the sides of the strainer until all the flour falls into the bowl.  The flour should be thinner and lump free as it falls into the bowl.

When is it Necessary to Sift Powders?

Long ago people had to sift flour to get rid of bugs that hatched in the flour or chaff (husk of corn or seeds).

Now there have been great advances in commercial flour refinery so that now this process is generally unnecessary in most ordinary, everyday baking. 

There are times however, when flour sifting is necessary.

  1. When baking cakes with a very light, delicate texture like genoise or sponge, flour should be sifted to eliminate and prevent lumps that would weigh down the batter.
  2. Certain ingredients like Cake flour, almond flour, baking soda, confectioners’ sugar, and cocoa powder tend to form clumps, either in their unopened packages or once they’re exposed to air so they benefit from sifting also.
  3. Sifting can be beneficial if you want a thin layer of flour to add over a work surface since adding too much additional flour to your dough can dry or toughen it. 
  4. Sifting also helps to combine dry ingredients, such as cocoa powder, powdered sugar.

When is it Necessary to Use a Strainer

Strainer are also useful tools in any kitchen. Here are some cases where having a strainer is necessary:

  1. Fine mesh strainers come in handy when you need to wash small amounts of fruits such as berries.
  2. Strainers are also useful when you need to get rid of chunks from foods and extract a pure liquid ingredient for example in making chicken or beef stock.
  3. Removing seeds out of a raspberry puree, or chunks out of a sauce.
  4. Separating juices from crushed fruits.
  5. Sifting powdered sugar over desserts.

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