Strainer vs. Sieve: Unveiling the Key Distinctions

Strainer vs. Sieve: Understanding the difference

When it comes to kitchen tools and gadgets, it’s important to have a few basic items that can serve multiple purposes. Among these essential tools are colanders and strainers, which serve critical functions in the kitchen and can save you time and effort when used properly. In this article, we will explore the key differences between colanders and strainers, their uses in the kitchen, and some practical tips for choosing the right one for your needs.

What is a colander?

A colander is a large bowl-shaped kitchen utensil with holes that is primarily used to separate liquids from solids. It is commonly used to drain water from cooked pasta or to rinse produce under the tap. The colander, also known as a strainer, is not suitable for straining fine ingredients because of its large holes. However, it is an indispensable tool for separating larger food particles from liquids.

What is a colander?

Unlike a strainer, a colander is designed to separate smaller particles from larger ones. It is commonly used to sift flour to break up large chunks or to remove seeds and skins from parboiled tomatoes. Sieves consist of a wire or plastic mesh held in a frame, often with a handle for easy maneuverability. They come in a variety of mesh sizes, allowing you to separate materials with different degrees of fineness. The finer the mesh, the smoother the separated ingredient or puree will be.

Key Differences Between Strainers and Sieves

  1. Purpose:
    • Strainers are used to separate liquids from solids and are ideal for draining water from cooked pasta, beans and vegetables.
    • Sieves are used for separating smaller particles from larger ones, sifting flour and making purees.
  2. Construction:
    • Strainers are bowl-shaped with larger holes that allow liquids to drain while retaining larger food particles.
    • Sieves have a wire or plastic mesh with smaller openings that effectively separate particles of different sizes.
  3. Versatility:
    • Strainers can serve multiple purposes, such as rinsing produce or removing excess water from grains and legumes.
    • Sieves excel at tasks that require finer separation, such as sifting flour, removing seeds from fruit, and making smooth purees.

Common Strainer Applications

  1. Draining pasta: Strainers are perfect for separating cooked pasta from its cooking water, ensuring that you don’t lose any delicious pasta down the drain.
  2. Rinse beans and lentils: After cooking beans and lentils, colanders are useful for removing excess water and preventing them from becoming soggy.
  3. Straining cooked vegetables: Strainers can be used to remove excess water from boiled vegetables, making them easier to handle for further preparation.
  4. Produce washing: Strainers provide an efficient way to rinse and clean fruits and vegetables and allow them to drip dry on a drying rack.
  5. Straining sauces and soups: Although not their primary purpose, colanders can also be used to strain sauces or soups, provided the holes are large enough to accommodate the ingredients.

Practical Uses of Strainers

  1. Flour sifting: Sieves are essential for breaking up lumps and ensuring a smooth texture in baked goods by sifting flour.
  2. Grinding spices: Sieves are useful for separating large pieces or lumps from freshly ground spices, resulting in a smoother spice mixture.
  3. Removing seeds and skins: Sieves are excellent tools for removing seeds and skins from parboiled tomatoes, resulting in a silky smooth sauce or soup.
  4. Making purees: Strainers can be used to press cooked and softened vegetables through the mesh, resulting in silky smooth potato or vegetable purees.
  5. Powdered Sugar Sprinkling: Sieves provide a light and fluffy distribution of powdered sugar when sprinkling over desserts.
  6. Straining Tea: For loose-leaf tea enthusiasts, pouring tea through a small and fine strainer helps separate the tea leaves from the liquid for a more enjoyable tea drinking experience.
  7. Straining water from small grains: Sieves are ideal for straining excess water from small grains such as quinoa, millet, or teff because their fine mesh prevents the grains from slipping through.

Choosing the Right Strainer or Sieve

The following factors should be considered when selecting a strainer or screen:

  1. Size: Make sure the colander or strainer is large enough for the amount of food you typically handle in your kitchen.
  2. Mesh size: Choose a colander with a mesh size that is appropriate for your specific needs. Finer meshes work well for sifting flour, while larger meshes work well for straining liquids.
  3. Material: Choose colanders and strainers made of durable materials, such as stainless steel or ceramic-coated metal, to ensure longevity and resistance to rust or stains.
  4. Handle: Look for a colander or strainer with a sturdy handle that is firmly attached to the frame. A heat-resistant handle provides added comfort and safety.
  5. Stability: Make sure the colander or strainer has a sturdy base or feet that allow it to sit securely on a countertop or in a sink.
  6. Easy to clean: Choose a colander or strainer that is easy to clean, either by hand or in the dishwasher, to simplify your kitchen cleanup routine.

Bottom Line

In summary, colanders and strainers are essential tools in any kitchen, each with its own purpose. Strainers are ideal for separating liquids from solids, while colanders excel at separating smaller particles from larger ones. Understanding the differences between these two tools and their specific uses can help you make informed decisions when choosing the right one for your culinary needs. Whether you’re draining pasta, sifting flour, or making smooth purees, having a reliable strainer or colander in your kitchen arsenal will undoubtedly enhance your cooking experience.


What is the main difference between a strainer and a colander?

The main difference is in their purpose and design. A strainer is used to separate liquids from solids, while a screen is used to separate smaller particles from larger particles.

Can a strainer be used as a screen?

While a strainer can perform some screening tasks, it is not ideal for finer separations due to its larger holes. A screen, on the other hand, is specifically designed to sift and separate smaller particles.

What are some common uses of a screen?

Colanders are commonly used for draining cooked pasta, rinsing beans and lentils, straining cooked vegetables, washing produce, and occasionally straining sauces and soups.

What are the practical uses of a colander?

Colanders are especially useful for sifting flour, grinding spices, removing seeds and skins from fruit, making purees, sprinkling powdered sugar, straining tea, and removing excess water from small grains.

How do I choose the right strainer or colander?

When choosing a strainer or colander, consider factors such as size, mesh, material, handle, stability, and ease of cleaning. Choose one that meets your specific needs and preferences for functionality and durability.

Can I clean a colander or strainer in the dishwasher?

The dishwasher is generally suitable for cleaning most strainers and colanders. However, it is recommended that you check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure that the specific product is dishwasher safe.