How does it work?
By using different blades, food is sliced, diced, pureed and chopped. The idea is to make preparing food faster.
Is it multi purpose?
It cuts a variety of foods, limits are based purely on the model being used. How multi purpose any given machine is will depend on the bowl size, motor and blade choices. Mini food processors generally have limited capabilities because they are so small. Some models are more than just a food processor. I have a mini food processor that doubles as an immersion blender.
Counter top varieties (known as full or compact) vary in the container size, tube size and shape as well as the number of blades offered with the unit. One must consider how it will be used before purchasing any food processor. If you do not have a mixer or blender, a good quality food processor can do those jobs for you. It can also take the place of a mandolin without fear of slicing your fingers. There are limits to what a processor can do, it will never puree soup as well as a blender, but if you are going for as few appliances as possible, I think you will be happy with the results.
How much does it cost?
Mini processors can start as low as $15 but full sized models can be several hundred if you go for the professional models. If you are going to spend the big bucks, view at it as an investment. Purchase one with a good warranty from a company that is well established.
How do brands and features differ?
Feed Tube Located on the lid, this allows food to be pushed into the blades safely. You want a tube large enough for the foods you intend to slice. For even slices, the tube should not be very much larger than the foods being pushed in. Machines that offer a couple of choices of tubes allow the most versatility. Make sure it is realistic as well. Potatoes for example are not always the same size or shape so if the cook intends to use it for that purpose a tip is to take a potato to the store with you and see which best suits your needs. If you have to cut food in order to fit in the tube, it is rather redundant.
Blade/Disc Blades come in plastic and metal. Metal tends to stay sharp longer. The most common blade is the S blade. It has curved blades on opposite sides of the attachment piece and is used for chopping. Slicing and shredding discs will vary in how large a piece is cut. Machines with the disc is right over the motor work better.
Attachments Some machines offer a variety of attachments that can be purchased separately such as a dough blade, whips, julienne discs and juicers. Some full models even provide a small bowl that can be used for smaller jobs.
Bowl A food processor that refers to the cup capacity is describing the bowl. This is the part that food goes in so it is a very important feature to consider. Do you make large batches or small? Some come with handles, but not all do. A handle makes it easier to attach the bowl to the machine and especially in larger options, easier to carry the bowl from 1 place to another. Bowls hold from 1 to 20 cups of dry ingredients. If considering liquid capacity, remember it needs more room and so will be half of the amount listed for dry ingredients.
Wattage This determines how hard the machine can work. Higher wattage means it can tackle hard foods, large loads and thick foods easier without wearing out the motor. Look for buttons that are easy to use and clean.
Not all processors require an outlet. Companies such as Pampered Chef have mini versions that are great for small items such as garlic and herbs. The user pushes down on a pump and the bland goes up and down cutting the food. Cheaper versions can be found in kitchen supply stores. Hand crank versions for larger jobs are also available.
How much space does it require?
While the mini versions can fit in a drawer, compact and full versions need cupboard or counter space.
Will I actually use it?
Do you currently do a lot of chopping? How are your knife skills? A food processor can cut a lot of time from your food prep, but only if the appliance is easily accessible. If you have to spend 10 minutes every time pulling it out and putting it together, you likely won’t be using it. This is why so many models now come in fun colors making it look nice sitting on the counter when not in use. If you do minimal chopping then perhaps starting with a mini processor is a good bet for you.