Published October 15, 2005. Web Exclusive.
Mini food processors are designed to help out with midsized jobs—are they worth the money and the counter space?
Full-size food processors are not suited for chopping small amounts of food. Everyone has tried to mince two or three cloves of garlic or a handful of nuts in a full-size food processor (usually in recipes where the processor is used for other tasks as well) only to see the nuts get chipped and dented as they fly around the huge bowl or the garlic get squished, bruised, and stuck under the blade.
Perhaps a mini food processor (aka food chopper or minichopper) is the answer for those mid-sized jobs— amounts too small to be chopped efficiently in a full-size unit, but bigger than you care to do by hand. To find out, we tested eight food choppers, each with a 3-cup capacity (or as close to that as we could get, depending on the manufacturer). Tests included chopping dry ingredients (1 cup of almonds, 1 1/2 ounces of Parmesan cheese, and fresh garlic cloves, two at a time and six at a time), mincing herbs (1 cup parsley), and processing a mixture of dry and wet ingredients (a single recipe of green curry paste with 10 cloves garlic, 15 green Thai chiles, 2 large jalapenos, 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh ginger, 2 stalks lemon grass, 1 small shallot, oil, and numerous herbs and spices).
Two models managed to do a decent job with the almonds, producing mostly 1/4-inch pieces, but each left behind 2 to 3 tablespoons of unusable powder. Lower-rated models either left large chunks of almonds or proved difficult to adjust before breaking the nuts down into powder.
All of the models handled the Parmesan fairly well, although the cheese grated in three of them was too coarse. The lowest rated model grated the cheese very unevenly, with some powder so fine that it was gummy and some powder that was very coarse. Four models did a good job, breaking down the cheese quickly into an even grind. All of the models except for one did a good job mincing both two and six cloves of garlic.
Every single one of the choppers failed to produce acceptable minced parsley. The best of the bunch (managed only a fair rating (bruised, unevenly cut leaves with a fair number of whole, intact leaves left). You’re better off mincing parsley by hand.
Green Curry Paste was our final test. We started with all of the ingredients chopped into 1/2-inch pieces. One full recipe was too large a quantity for the minis to produce a suitably smooth paste; all of the pastes except for one were too rough and/or chunky for our tastes. We had more success with making a smaller batch of curry paste (a full-size food processor can handle the whole recipe).
There were some design factors to take into consideration as well. None of the models we tested had slicing or shredding attachments, or one-touch “on” buttons (we had to hold their buttons down for the motor to run). On one model we appreciated the sealed workbowl and sealed motor unit (which kept the motor itself from getting dirty). However, the top-mounted motor made it difficult to see what was going on in the workbowl, which was a major pain because you have to monitor the food in the bowl visually to see how broken down it is. All but three of the models included drip holes in their feed tubes, to ease the process of making mayo or other emulsified sauces.
So what should you buy? If you already own a full-size food processor with a mini-bowl attachment, the attachment will work just fine for smaller jobs. But if you have the counter space, a mini food processor can be a good addition to your kitchen. Our top choice performed most of the tasks with relative ease.