Who uses a food processor these days? Jamie? Delia? Heston?
Is it time for you too to bite the bullet and buy one of these time-saving appliances, asks Claire O'Mahony
The ghosts of culinary aspirations past are often to be found in Irish attics. They're the kitchen appliances and accessories which were meant to revolutionise your kitchen life but failed to do so, such as the hardly-used crème brûlée torch (how often were you ever really going to make crème brûlée?), or the crepe maker that didn't get an outing beyond Pancake Tuesday.
As with everything else, kitchenware is trend-led and two of the hottest gadgets on the market reflect our current obsession with healthy eating. The Nutribullit is the smoothie-making nutrition extractor that has gained a cult following, while the spiralizer, which allows you to turn carrots and courgettes into ribbons of 'faux pasta', is a low-carber's dream device.
It's too soon to know whether they're destined to end up in the attic, or if they're going to become as ubiquitous as kettles in our kitchens, but it's probably fair to say that in terms of a solid investment, neither can compete with the multitasking capacities of a hardworking food processor.
Do you need a food processor? If you like to cook and chopping, grinding, dicing, pureeing, shredding and slicing are a usual part of your food preparation, then the answer is yes. It's not that you won't be able to live without one, but it does make food prep so much easier. Delia Smith, after years of using one, is convinced that every serious cook should have a processor.
While they're not the sexiest of kitchen appliances, they remove tedious, repetitious tasks from meal-making, saving you time. They also open up cooking possibilities - with one you might consider making your own pesto or whizzing up some butternut squash soup, the kind of recipes that become less of a chore because of a processor.
If you're not well versed in your food prep gadgets, food processors are not the same as food mixers, also called stand mixers. The latter is more suited to those who are more interested in making cakes and breads as opposed to savoury food, and they come with attachments such as dough hooks, balloon whisks and beaters.
Mini choppers meanwhile are small food processors, which are great for chopping nuts and herbs and pureeing baby food, but only suitable for smaller tasks. They don't have the versatility of a food processor proper but they're a good thing to have in the kitchen for times when you don't want to take out a large processor and then have to clean it after making some breadcrumbs.
Price-wise, basic models of food processors start at around €40 and go right up to €500, with KitchenAid, Kenwood, Russell Hobbs, Phillips and Bosch some of the most popular brands on the market. Celebrity chefs have gotten in on the food processor act too, with Jamie Oliver collaborating with Phillips and Heston Blumenthal teaming up with Sage to create their own versions.
According to Sean O'Reilly, kitchen appliances category manager at Currys, there's been a surge of interest in home baking and cooking resulting in a sales spike, not only in food processors but kitchen appliances across the range including juicers, hand blenders and mixers.
"In terms of food processor, we would sell mostly around the middle mark of about €100," he says.
The more expensive options are generally more powerful machines than basic models and usually come with an extensive array of accessories. "Some people will have a loyalty to a more expensive brand and some are just looking for something that will do that job," says O'Reilly.
Do you have to be a committed cook to get the benefits from a more expensive processor? "If you're into cooking and you enjoy the variety of things you can do, the higher-end models do give a lot of scope. You just have that little bit more freedom to make what you want, whether you want to make your own hummus or sauces," O'Reilly says.
Your choice of food processor will be dictated by your budget but other basics to take into account are capacity (are you going to be using it to cook for the family or just for yourself); weight (a heavy chassis stops it 'moving' while you operate it) and a quieter motor is a good thing if you have a small home and children.
It's just as important to consider what you're going to be using it for and to then ensure that it comes with the right accessories for your needs. If you like to bake as well as cook, you might want to opt for one with a dough hook, whereas a processor with a jug blender makes the machine even more versatile as you can use this to make milkshakes and mayonnaise.
Additional attachments can also include a multi-mill for grinding coffee and spices; a citrus juicer and a mini bowl for preparing smaller quantities of food. You don't have to necessarily splurge and buy one with all the accessories you'd like as there's also the option to buy a more basic model and add accessories as you go along - look up the brand online to see what add-ons you can purchase.
Your kitchen space and where you're going to store the processor are other factors to take into account. "If you're going to be keep it on your kitchen counter, you might want to consider if you've any overlying cabinets as the food pusher is usually on top so if you have a low lying cabinet it may be a bit more difficult to put food into it," says Sean O'Reilly.
"Generally speaking, size-wise they can be a little bit bigger than a toaster, all the way up to the size of a microwave so you need to think about your kitchen counter."
Colour is an important consideration too, with many people preferring to match up a food processor, especially if it's going to be on prominent display, with their existing appliances. One of the reasons for the popularity of the high performing KitchenAid range is its retro style and wide range of shades.
Processors are usually no more expensive to run than a microwave (wattage varies with the model) and in terms of its life expectancy, that depends on the brand and on how often you use it. Typically you can expect yours to keep on working for up to seven years. "They could last a life time if you use them sparingly enough when you buy a very good brand," O'Reilly says.
Many a good food processor has been ruined by washing parts incorrectly. Check the instructions before putting parts into the dishwasher. Even if it does say dishwasher safe, if the cycle is too hot, it can damage the plastic and cause it to split.
There are so many brands and varieties on the markets that it's worth putting in the time and doing the research before you invest. When you do find the processor that cuts down on your food prep time, is a cinch to use and gets you excited to cook more, you can be guaranteed that it's not going to be languishing at the back of your kitchen cupboard in a year's time.