Are Strainers And Sifters The Same? (Are They Interchangeable?)

Image of a woman using a strainer

People often confuse strainers with sifters because they look somewhat similar and serve a similar purpose. But are strainers and sifters the same?

Strainers and sifters aren’t the same. Strainers help you to separate solid particles from liquids, while sifters help you to break down particles of an ingredient into finer particles. There’s also a difference in the mesh coarseness of strainers and sifters and how you need to use these utensils.

Some people also wonder whether you could use a strainer as a sifter or the other way around. For us to know for sure, we need to break things down a little more.

What Are Strainers?

Strainers are kitchen utensils that are used to separate or “strain” liquids from other ingredients.

Normally, they look like a large spoon with meshwork. Occasionally they’re also shaped like a big basket with a metal network in the bottom.

The meshwork is usually curved in a half-circle to have more control over the poured-out liquid. The curvature also helps in fixing the strainer over a pot.

To use a strainer, just place it above an empty bowl and pour your mixture slowly and carefully through the meshwork and into the bowl.

You should notice how some ingredients get caught in the meshwork as you pour. Give it a few gentle shakes to get those last few drops of liquid.

Once you’re done, check the liquid to see if some solid ingredients are left. You may need to repeat the process a few times before getting the solution clarity that you’re after.

If your strainer doesn’t filter all the solid ingredients even after several trials, then you need a denser strainer.

The density of the meshwork determines the ability of the strainer to separate the liquid from the ingredients. The more dense the meshwork is, the better is the strainer is in filtering smaller ingredients.

Strainers could be made from various materials. That includes but isn’t limited to steel, aluminum, and nylon.

Some strainers have hooks or curved metal endings to allow them to rest on a pot. This prevents you from having to constantly hold on to the strainer as you pour.

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What Are Sifters?

Person using a sifter

Sifters are also kitchen devices that have fine meshwork. However, there are a few differences in shape and uses.

The general shape of sifters is somewhat close to strainers, a metal container with a meshwork in the bottom. However, unlike strainers, sifters aren’t used to separate ingredients from liquids.

Instead, they help break down clumps within an ingredient. Additionally, they need to be shaken for them to work properly. This isn’t the case for strainers because all you have to do is pour down the liquid.

The meshwork in most sifters is usually flat to help spread the powder all over the surface. This makes the sieving process easier and faster.

Flour or powdered sugar are good examples of ingredients that could have large clumps. For delicate recipes, you’d need to break down these clumps into finer particles.

To correctly use a sifter, place the sugar (or the flour) in the sifter and start to shake it. The bigger particles won’t go directly through the fine meshwork.

The particles should break down into smaller particles that can go through the fine meshwork. If the particles don’t break down, you could simply dispose of them.

Some sifters have a built-in trigger that you could use to make the shaking or the sifting easier.

Like strainers, sifters could be made from steel. Additionally, they could be made from plastic. However, unlike strainers, you normally shouldn’t end up with any remnants that can’t go through the meshwork.

Can You Use Strainers As Sifters?

Not only can you use strainers as sifters, but sifters are actually the most common substitute for strainers.

However, not every strainer can be used as a sifter. The strainer should have dense meshwork to help unclog those fine ingredients.

If you use a strainer with big spaces, the bigger ingredients will just go through and won’t get broken down into finer pieces.

Place your sugar or flour into the strainer. Then use your hand to gently hit against the strainer until all the powder is sifted through.

Keep in mind that the process will be a bit slower because of the curved meshwork in strainers. The curvature forces you to work on a much narrower area.

Can You Use Sifters As Strainers?

It’s possible to use a sifter as a strainer, but there’re a few things to keep in mind.

First, the process will be a bit slower. The small openings inside sifters prevent the poured liquid from going through quickly.

Additionally, the trapped solid materials will make it harder for the liquid to go through, slowing the process down even more.

Second, most sifters aren’t curved like strainers. This makes it somewhat hard to control the flow of the liquid as it comes out of the meshwork.

To overcome this inconvenience, simply have a pot that’s as wide as the sifter. It should contain the liquid no matter how far it strays.

Last but not least, we have the problem of cleaning.

Since sifters have a much finer meshwork, cleaning them from ingredients that are mixed with liquid could be frustrating.

However, a good soft brush should make it easier for you to get this done.

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Do You Need A Strainer And A Sifter?

The answer to this question depends on how often you bake.

If you casually need to sift some ingredients and a sifter is absent for whatever reason, a coarse strainer should get the job done well enough.

However, you must make sure that the strainer is completely dry. If there are some water drops in the mesh openings, they will cause clogging and add moisture to your mix.

However, If your baking game requires precision for these delicate recipes, then it’s best to use a dedicated sifter to get the fine ingredients.

The more refined your ingredients are, the better is the dough.