Using a Food Mill
A food mill is an electric or manual appliance that helps break food down by separating out peel, pith and pits. It’s something between a food strainer and a food processor. If you want to make thick fruit or vegetable purees and sauces without seeds, a food mill will be your new best friend. And if you hate peeling fruit or vegetables, you’ll love using a food mill. A food mill is a great addition to your canning kitchen but it’s just as useful for non-canners. I bought the Johnny Applesauce Model 250 Food Strainer and here’s my review of it, as well as some general tips for using a food mill effectively.
Review of the Johnny Applesauce Food Strainer and Mill
If you’re wondering what the best food mill is for canning or if using a food mill is worth it, here’s my experience with one of the most popular models. First I review the Model 250 food strainer and then I share tips for using a food mill to process food. I dislike tomato seeds and I really hate peeling tomatoes. I like my tomato sauce and ketchup to be velvety smooth. Given that, I decided to buy a food strainer (or food mill) this year to streamline and improve my canning. I bought the Model 250 Food Strainer (branded by Roots and Branches as the Johnny Applesauce Food Strainer but also sold under the Victorio brand) on my own and this is not an ad or compensated review. I simply want to share my thoughts on the good and bad points of this food strainer to help other canners.
How does the food mill work?
In order to use this food mill, you need to clamp it to a counter, table or other heavy surface. The clamp is attached to the base of the mill and is a standard style c clamp, made of metal and very sturdy. Make sure your counter or table is at least an inch thick, with two inches of depth to accommodate the clamp. My counter tops don’t overhang the cabinet base enough for the clamp to attach and my kitchen table is round, which is also unsuitable. I knew this would be the case from reading reviews, so I was prepared and clamped my mill to a pair of stacked wooden cutting boards.
Once the base is clamped, there’s a metal spring that slips over the internal stake, and then a plastic spiral slips over the spring. The screen, which includes a separate gasket, must be pushed over the plastic spiral while the spring is compressed. A quick turn holds the screen in place, forming a closed loop. There’s a plastic cone that fits over the end of the plastic spiral to direct the waste (peels and seeds) as they are extruded. Finally, there’s a large plastic hopper that sits in the metal base and funnels raw materials into the mill. A detachable crank moves the fruit through the spiral, extruding the pulp and juice while funneling the peel and seeds away.
That sounds….efficient. Is the food mill actually good at straining food?
Yes. It works surprisingly well, actually. The screen removes peels, seeds, stems and other hard bits of the fruit. What’s left is pulp and juice. I didn’t have any stray seeds or other unwanted bits in my pulp. The screen does a pretty good job of extracting the good bits on the first pass but I still chose to run the waste through a second time. Doing so definitely yielded more pulp and juice so I highly recommend a second pass.
Previously, I had to peel each tomato and then violently puree my tomato sauce to get rid of seeds. By using a food mill, I got soft, velvety tomato sauce and smooth apple sauce. I never bothered to make my own ketchup before because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the texture right, but this year, I happily put up 11 jars of it!
Is the model 250 food strainer easy to use?
Not really. I wouldn’t call it difficult but it’s not effortless, either. For the record, I don’t consider that a drawback – processing whole, raw food requires some time and energy, no matter how you do it. The point of using a food strainer or food mill isn’t ease or speed – it’s about a finished product that’s more refined or better textured. With that in mind, it’s definitely easier to get a smoother product using this food strainer than some other manual processors.
On a scale of “hand peel, chop and core everything” and “throw fruit into a blender”, using this food mill is right in the middle. If your fruit is large or at all firm, be prepared to do some kind of pre-processing in order to move it through the mill. The softer or smaller the fruit, the more easily it will pass through, of course. The opening is about 1.5″ in diameter, to give you some idea of how small the fruit needs to be to enter the spiral. The strainer does include a plastic plunger to help push the food through but if the food is very firm, it takes a LOT of pressure to squish it through that hole.
It’s manual, unless you buy the motor
Keep in mind that the model 250 food strainer, as sold, is a manual tool. The hand crank requires a little bit of elbow grease, especially for large batches. Most food needs some help from the plunger in order to enter the spiral, so expect to be both cranking and plunging as you mill your food.
Food mill reviews
This is the only food mill I have used and I chose it because of other reviews on Amazon. While this food mill has great reviews on the sales site, I wanted to provide a detailed analysis of my experience using it to prepare food for canning. Below, find my review of this food mill and a description of how I used it to process apples and tomatoes.
Buying the Model 250 Food Strainer – what’s in the box
This is a manual food processing machine but there is an optional add-on motor available. I’m pretty analogue (and kind of a cheapskate), so I opted to stick with just the standard manual machine. The strainer includes a single screen suitable for straining out peels and seeds but there is an accessory kit with four additional screens one can purchase. Those screens have different sized holes to allow for smoother or coarser processing.
As sold, the Model 250 is useful for making smooth sauce or puree. It will remove anything larger than a tomato seed, so keep that in mind.
With the basic model 250 strainer, you get everything you need to turn whole tomatoes or apples into sauce or butter.
Speaking of canning….these are the best canning books and books about food preservation
The All New Ball Book is my favorite canning book. In addition to providing sound instruction, it has really interesting recipes and it offers guidance on how to use the food you’ve canned in other recipes.
If you only buy one canning book, that’s the one I recommend. Click on any of the books to order your own copy through Bookshop. Buying from Bookshop means I receive an affiliate credit (at no cost to you), which helps cover the costs of producing content. Bookshop robustly supports local, independent bookstores.
Pros of the Model 250 Food Mill
- The Johnny Applesauce is well made, especially for the price. Each individual component is sturdy and the finishing is smooth – there aren’t rough edges or flimsy pieces. While it’s not indestructible, it feels very sturdy and it’s handled my entire canning season without showing any signs of wear and tear.
- This food strainer basically has one job (remove seeds, skin and other large chunks) from soft flesh and it does it really well. There’s very little useable pulp or flesh lost in the processing.
- For the price, you can’t beat the quality. There are cheaper and pricier food mills and strainers out there, of course. But the model 250 really does seem to be a good intersection between cost and quality.
- Putting the food strainer together is pretty simple, if you follow the instructions. The hardest part is squeezing the spiral and screen over the spring. But honestly, I was making it harder than it needed to be because I didn’t fully understand the instructions. More on that below.
- I won’t say this food mill is 100% leak proof and water tight, but it’s pretty darn close, if assembled properly. Once or twice I had a very small amount of seepage where the hopper meets the base but otherwise, very few issues with leaks.
Cons of the Model 250 Food Mill
- This thing is a pain in the neck to clean. Most of the pieces are simple to wash in the sink or dishwasher but the screen is a nuisance. The only way I found to truly clean the screen was to use a large steel scrubby and push it in and out of the screen’s interior. Nothing else could get the pulp out of the small holes. Not the end of the world but something to be aware of at the end of a long day. Additionally, cleaning the inside of the base is tricky. Use a microfiber cloth for that in order to get into the crevices.
- The white plastic hopper and white seal stained the first time I processed tomatoes. Again, not the end of the world, but not necessarily ideal either.
- If you have any hand issues (arthritis, carpal tunnel, etc) compressing the spring enough to get the screen and spiral on is hard. I do, in fact, have several hand and wrist issues and it’s not easy for me to do that part. Not impossible, but definitely something I have to work at. And you definitely need to have some upper body strength and mobility to keep feeding the hopper and turning the crank.
- While it’s possible to use this food strainer by clamping it to something like stacked cutting boards, expect that to make the process harder. I knew my counter weren’t deep enough to clamp on when I ordered the mill and my stack of boards works all right. But I do have to keep a hand on the hopper or the base while I’m cranking to keep the whole stack from shifting around.
One more thing about the Model 250 food strainer
I’m going to add that using this food mill is messy….but processing food is messy. In this case, the plastic ‘ramp’ that helps direct the pulp and juice out of the screen does a good job of minimizing the mess. Except for where the screen joins the base – in that area, there’s not quite enough screen to keep juice from spurting around the screen. When processing really juicy tomatoes, I had to keep a towel right under the ramp and bowl to absorb some accidental trickles.
Tips for using a food strainer to make sauce or puree
Here’s what I learned about using a food strainer or food mill to make sauce and strain food.
If you’re using this food mil to make tomato sauce, be sure to check out my guide to Processing and Canning Tomatoes with Less Waste.
COOK OR CHOP THE FOOD FIRST – while some people claimed they could process apples or tomatoes without doing anything other than cutting them into quarters, I did not have that experience. Even very ripe tomatoes resisted moving into the spiral without some serious plunging. After the first hopper full, I realized it would be quicker and easier to do a bit of pre-processing.
Straining tomatoes with a food mill:
There are a couple ways to make your tomatoes easier to strain. One option is to quarter them and then throw them into a food processor or blender. That breaks down the fruit a little and makes it easier to crank through the strainer. Another option is to cut the tomatoes in half and simmer them briefly. If you opt to simmer your tomatoes, expect to have more watery juice streaming around the ramp once you finally put them into the mill.
It worked best for me to use the food processor when I was processing tomatoes for standard issue tomato sauce and tomato puree because I want a little more water in the final product. For thick tomato sauce, pizza sauce and ketchup, I simmered the tomatoes to go ahead and start removing excess water. You can, in fact, simply simmer your tomatoes until most of the water is gone and then run them through the food mill. I was always processing big batches of tomatoes, so it made sense for me to have the thick sauce tomatoes simmering while I processed the other tomatoes with the food processor.
Cut apples into halves or quarters. Add them to a large pot with an inch of water, then cover. Simmer on very low heat for 30-40 minutes or until softened.
Further processing may be necessary.
Keep in mind that the food mill simply separates soft, fine pulp from seeds, peels and thick core tissue. While the pulp and juice come out of the mill somewhat broken down, you’ll still need to process further if you’re making really smooth foods, like ketchup. After processing my fruits (twice), I put the pulp into a pan and let it simmer. Once some juice had evaporated, I used an immersion blender to puree the pulp until it was as smooth as I wanted.
A few more food mill tips-
COOL IT OFF:
Let any heated food cool before straining so you don’t warp the plastic or burn yourself.
PLAN TO PROCESS TWICE – you don’t have to run the extruded waste through a second time but doing so will make sure you get every last bit of pulp. If you’ve ever watched 25 pounds of tomatoes dwindle to two quarts of pulp, you know how important it is to get every last pit of the good stuff out. Running the waste through a second time is quick and easy.
A SILICONE SPATULA IS YOUR FRIEND – use it to scrape the pulp off the screen from time to time. While the new fruit entering the spiral pushes out the pulp, the pulp can still build up on the screen. Taking a few minutes to clean that off can make the whole process go a little faster – and at the end, you’ll need to scrape off the last of the pulp since there’s nothing else coming through to push it out.
STRAIN THE PULP – If you’re making a thicker sauce, it’s helpful to put the pulp in a fine mesh strainer and let the juice strain out before you finish processing. The juice can be used or processed separately, for things like Bloody Marys.
Is buying a food mill worth it?
Sometimes. It depends on what your goals and your priorities are. Read on to see what I mean.
Speed: Is using a food mill faster?
A food mill isn’t really going to speed up the process of peeling, coring and seeding fruit. You can’t just dump the whole fruit into the hopper, turn the crank once and have pulp. The food needs some basic pre-processing and the actual act of sending the fruit through the mill takes time. Disassembling and cleaning the food strainer also takes time, even if you have a dishwasher. So if you’re looking for ways to speed up your food processing and preparation, a food mill in and of itself isn’t going to a ton of difference.
Effort: Will using a food mill make canning easier?
Compared to peeling, chopping, coring, seeding and mashing up whole fruits by hand, a food mill makes canning and processing easier. No doubt about that. But even with a food mill, it’s a lot of work to take a whole fruit and turn it into smooth pulp. As mentioned, you can’t just chuck most whole fruits or vegetables into the mill and crank out pulp in a few minutes. So if your goal is ease of processing (and there’s nothing wrong with that!), a food mill won’t help much. You’ll be better off buying a good food processor instead.
Food Quality: Does a food mill make better sauce?
Yes. At least in comparison to every other method I’ve tried. The texture is simply better – smoother and completely free from bitter seeds or peels. If you don’t mind a few wayward chunks of peel or lingering seeds (and in some situations, I don’t), then you can probably get satisfactory results from a food processor or blender.
Is this the best food mill for applesauce?
It’s really good at making smooth applesauce, so I would definitely recommend it. I can’t say it’s the best in the world, because it’s the only one I’ve tried. But it’s hard to imagine a better outcome without upgrading to a much more expensive, electric model. At the end of the day, I put blanched, whole apples into the food mill, turned the crank (a lot) and got a bowl of apple pulp sans seeds and peel.
Should I buy a food mill?
A food mill is worth buying if you’re making foods that need to be very finely processed or very smooth. It’s also really useful if you process large batches of food each year, since you can work large quantities though it pretty fast. If you only make the odd batch of tomato sauce, it might not be worth it for you. After years of canning sauces, jams and fruit butters, buying the model 250 food strainer was definitely worth it.
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