“I’m looking for a hand mixer,” one of our online customers said recently.
But when she searched for “hand mixer” on our website, she didn’t see what she was looking for.
What she saw was a lot of things that look like this:
We eventually figured out that she was looking for something that looked like this:
At Sur La Table, we usually call those (very handy) gadgets immersion blenders, but people call them a bunch of different names — wand blenders, hand blenders, handheld blenders, stick blenders. Search for any of those terms on our site, and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Note, though, that we always think of it as a kind of blender, not a mixer.
We did a little followup research and found out that this customer was not alone. Some people — not a majority, but some — call an immersion blender a hand mixer.
What’s the difference between a hand mixer and an immersion blender?
Second words first: What’s the difference between a blender and a mixer?
A blender, fundamentally, turns things into liquids. (This is why “liquidiser” is a common British term for the appliance.) You want to make a milkshake or turn cooked apples into applesauce or make nose-to-tail lemonade (where you end up drinking the entire lemon), a blender is the machine you want.
A mixer most often combines ingredients, and isn’t optimized for turning them into liquids. Batters and doughs, yes; smoothies, not so much. Mixers are essential for bakers, and more of a nice-to-have if you cook more than you bake.
An immersion blender and a hand mixer, then, are versions of those machines you can hold in your hand. That makes them more versatile, but also less powerful, since the motors aren’t as heavy.
With an immersion blender, for example, you can smooth out your chunky soups while they’re still on the stove, instead of having to (carefully!) pour hot soup from a pot into a blender. But it’s not going to make a refreshing drink out of a lemon and some ice. A quick survey of recipes that call for an immersion blender: salsas, soups, salad dressings, and recipes with cooked beans, peas or similar vegetables.
A hand mixer can beat egg whites in a bowl, but it can’t tackle bread dough. Typical hand mixer recipes include waffle or pancake batter, egg dishes, cookies and other recipes where you need to cream stuff together, and whipped cream.
Hand mixers and immersion blenders have some tasks in common
Although they’re clearly distinct kitchen gadgets, there are some tasks that you can do with either an immersion blender or a hand mixer.
I’ve beaten eggs for omelettes or scrambled eggs with a hand mixer, and with an immersion blender. The immersion blender makes them slightly fluffier, but it’s not so much better you’d buy an immersion blender just for that.
I’ve whipped egg whites with both a hand mixer and an immersion blender, and the hand mixer does a better job of that. But if an immersion blender is what you’ve got, it’ll do just fine.
How are food processors different from blenders and mixers?
A food processor adds several spaces to the Venn diagram of what motorized appliances can do. You can do some blender stuff like break down fruit into a purée, and you can do some mixer stuff like (maybe — check your owner’s manual!) knead bread dough.
With a food processor, you can also do things like shred cheese or slice vegetables. But you probably don’t want to try dipping one into your soup pots to make a smooth soup.
Call it what you want to call it
It’s important to point out that all those synonyms for “immersion blender” are perfectly fine. Call it a hand blender, a handheld blender, a wand blender, a stick blender — they all mean the same thing.
Calling it a hand mixer is also fine, but it’s confusing because there’s another gadget that’s more commonly known as a hand mixer, so people might picture that when you mean the thing they know as a stick blender.
Sur La Table links
- You’ll find all our immersion blenders in our Blenders & Juicers category. They’re all great, but The Sweethome (and I) think the Breville Control Grip is the bee’s knees.
- Hand mixers and stand mixers live together in our Mixers & Attachments category. KitchenAid and Cuisinart both make great models.