Mixing Bowl
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For most of history, a bowl was a bowl, even if it was a rectangle, a triangle or a square. There were not many specialty bowls with their own sub-designations, Salad Bowl, Soup Bowl, until closer to our modern era. Purpose build "Mixing Bowls" like the iconic Mason Cash Cane Bowl first hit the market in 1901.

Today, Mixing Bowls are generally used to hold and mix foods behind the scenes. They can also be used to Marinade, Temper, Measure, Store, Whisk, Hold, Reheat, etc. Often they can be the most expedient way to pull together an Ice Bath or a Double Boiler, for example. They are not normally used to serve foods at table, but sometimes needs must, and they are brought out for service.

When discussing Mixing Bowls, the first concept we should put forward is that there is not one "best mixing bowl.” There are so many varied uses that one bowl just can't be good at all of the tasks. Each type has pros and cons that may work, or not work, in a given situation.

The characteristics that should we consider are Reactivity, Fragility, Absorption, Size, Shape, and Weight.

REACTIVITY

We don't usually think about it a lot, but the kitchen is akin to a culinary chemistry lab so we need to understand that some ingredients and materials don't play well together. When you are the chef, you are in charge. If you make a bad match between materials, you can end up with bad tastes, weird colors, staining, etc.

The most noted reactive compound in the kitchen is Acid with Vinegar being one of most common. But Acid is also found in Wine, Citrus (Lemons, Oranges, etc.), Tomatoes (including Tomato Sauce), and many other Fruits (Pineapple, Peach, Apple, Grapes, etc.). These Acidic Foods can be problematic if they come in contact with metals like Copper, Cast Iron, Aluminum, some types of Steel, or other reactive materials. When working with acid or acidic foods, Glass or Ceramic  Mixing Bowls are best. Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls can work well too.

FRAGILITY

Another consideration is fragility, by which we mean, softness, brittleness, and temperature sensitivity. Some materials are softer than other materials. Aluminum, for example, can be scraped by harder metals and discharge shavings into your food. While the FDA recognizes ingesting small amounts of Aluminum as "Generally Recognized as Safe," (GRAS) and it occurs in some common products like anti-acids (those with aluminum hydroxide), Baking Powder and Pickles (Alum), a prolonged exposure and toxic buildup occurs can also be detrimental. Aluminum shavings can also alter the color and taste of your food. Think about your mixing bowl and the utensils that you employ. Softer utensils (Wood, Silicone, Plastic) should be used with softer bowl materials.

Other items, like glass for example, are brittle. As we all know, if you drop glass the odds are that it will break. Even tempered glass can break. Think about which uses and which helpers should be working with a fragile mixing bowl. Junior Chefs can be left on the floor with a Stainless Steel Mixing Bowl but should not be with a glass or ceramic one.  

Tempered, oven-proof bowls are very handy for mixing, cooking, serving and cleaning only one vessel. Remember though, that all items are not oven-proof, or freezer proof either. In the wrong circumstances they can shatter. Also, some items are such great conductors of heat, like metal, that filling them with a hot item can cause the whole bowl to heat up to such a degree that your could burn yourself without proper precautions (Oven Mitt, Kitchen Towel, etc.)

 ABSORPTION

Some mixing bowl materials do a better job of repelling fats and repelling odors. If you have ever stored Spaghetti Sauce in an absorbent plastic bowl, you should know the dreaded, red schmear that lingers. The stain remains because the plastic of the bowl is absorbent and took on some of the colored Oil (a Fat) from the Sauce.

It is similar with odors. Storing Onions or Garlic in the wrong type of bowl can leave an odor that might taint the next item(s). Fruits are particularly susceptible and do better stored in glass, ceramic or in a single-use container like a paper bag or plastic bag (depending on the fruit or vegetable).

Copper is an example of how absorption can work in your favor in the opposite direction. Copper Ions can leech, beneficially, into a product being Whisked inside a Copper Mixing Bowl. The copper ions can stabilize, Egg Whites, for example and lead to stiffer peaks.

SIZE

Mixing Bowls come in many sizes. Not every size is right for every kitchen or chef. Generally, Mixing Bowls can be classified by size as:

1. Under Two Quarts

2. Two to Four Quarts

3. Five to Seven Quarts

4. Eight to Ten Quarts

5. Eleven to Twenty Quarts

6. More than Twenty Quarts

The smallest Mixing Bowls are easy to store and can be handy for small tasks like Whisking together a few eggs. Slightly larger bowls are good for handling parts of a Recipe that will later be consolidated in a larger bowl. Separately mixing the wet & dry ingredients for a batter, is a good example. Bowls larger than 5 quarts tend to have enough space to hold multiple ingredients and still do some work. The larger the bowl, the better your margin for error when stirring, mixing, whisking, beating, etc. Tall sides will help keep any of your mistakes or missteps inside the bowl and off of the counter.

Once you get over ten quarts, you are probably working with larger batches or have copious storage space available. Over twenty quarts in size and you are probably going to be working with double-sized, or triple-sized recipes. They can also get heavy so consider your bowl materials and bowl size in conjunction with your fitness.

Most home-chefs choose a Small (under two quarts), a Medium(two to four quarts) and a Large Mixing Bowl (five to seven quarts) as a starting point.

SHAPE

The issues with Mixing Bowl shape really come down to depth, geometric shape and rims.

Mixing Bowls are most actively used for Mixing, Whisking and Tossing. Generally, Mixing requires higher sides, meaning a deeper bowl. Keeping the mixed contents inside the bowl leads to a better yield and an easier clean up. Higher sides are also best for holding rising dough.

If the sides are too high, it can be more difficult (especially for shorter chefs and junior chefs) to reach inside the bowl and do their work. This is especially true for Whisking, where a shallower bowl makes it easier to tilt and maneuver the bowl to get the job done. With Tossing the trade off is maneuverability versus containment. We tend to favor tossing with bowls where the height is just slightly more than the width / diameter.  

As to specific shapes, Mixing Bowls are normally round but technically can be any shape. A lot of time can be spent discussing the slope of the interior walls, the type of seams / edges, etc. but we think those items are matters of personal preference. If you don't have a preference now, you will form one as you are trying to pour out the contents or scraping down the edges and fishing out those last bits of dough from a difficult seam.

The issues with Rims are mostly about manipulation. How easy, and or comfortable, is it to grasp and move the bowl?  A rim gives you something to hold on to while you work. One quarter inch to one half inch of rim is our preference.

WEIGHT

The issue of weight in Mixing Bowls comes down to how much weight can you manage. Some Mixing Bowls can weigh three or four pounds standing alone, empty. Add the contents to be mixed and a lid and they may get too heavy to be managed by some people. Generally, plastic bowls are lightest, followed by metal bowls with glass and ceramic bowls being the heaviest.

Varieties

Ceramic Mixing Bowls, Glass Mixing Bowls, Melamine Mixing Bowls, Plastic Mixing Bowls, Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls, and Wood Mixing Bowls are the materials that are most often used to manufacture Mixing Bowls.

Mixing Bowls can also vary by size, shape, and features.

Purchasing

When picking a specific bowl, or bowl set, there are a lot of choices. We like to have bowls made out of Stainless Steel and ones made out of Glass or Ceramic. We also like to have a few different sizes available, typically at least a small, medium and large sized mixing bowl.

Some mixing bowl sets are designed to be “nested” or stored one inside the other from largest to smallest. Nested mixing bowls come in various sizes ranging from ¼ cup - 12 cups. Some Mixing Bowls have handles and / or built in spouts to ease pouring. Others have non-skid materials to prevent slipping. Some come with covers for each of the bowls. Lids are handy to maintain freshness and avoid flavor migration in the refrigerator, if you plan to use your Mixing Bowls as Storage Bowls as well. There are many factors to consider when Purchasing Mixing Bowls.

Storage

Think about how much storage space you have in your kitchen and pantry. How often will you be using that twenty quart monster and where will it go? With limited space, bowls designed to be “nested” or stored one inside the other from largest to smallest, can be a good choice. Nested mixing bowls come in various sizes ranging from ¼ cup - 12 cups.

One feature to consider if you are going to be using your mixing bowls for storage as well as for preparing recipes is a matching lid. An air-tight lid will improve freshness and help avoid any odors escaping from your stored food and "influencing" any other foods in your refrigerator.

If you are going to be handling and moving your mixing bowl a lot in storage, handles might be helpful. 

Culinary Uses

Mixing Bowls come in many sizes and materials. Generally they are used for manually or mechanically combining ingredients. Mixing, Whisking, and Tossing are some of the methods employed.

Mixing Bowls can also be used to marinade, store, measure, ferment, Re-hydrate, melt, etc.

Different shapes and combination are arguably best for different uses. We discuss the specifics of different types of mixing bowls on their own Resource Pages (See the Varieties Section for links to specific types of mixing bowls).