For some people, the thought of pureed food brings up images of runny green gruel or baby food. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. While pureeing food is not difficult, there are a few steps you should take to end up with a puree that tastes good and looks good. Many purees are delicious and can look appetizing.  Once you understand the basics, you’ll know how to puree food like a pro, even at home.

Why Do You Need to Puree?

The first question to ask yourself is why you need to puree. This is important because this answer will determine what qualities your puree will need.

Baby food will have different textures and even ingredients than a puree for elderly people with dysphagia. Pureed and liquid diets are also needed after some oral and jaw surgeries or when the jaw is wired shut. People eating pureed foods after bariatric or stomach surgery will also have different needs. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Or, maybe you are just pureeing side dishes and want lots of flavor. French styled purees are served in the finest restaurants in the world!

Use the Right Gear

Here is a quick rundown of some equipment you should have on hand if you are serious about pureeing:

A Good Rubber Spatula

This is more important than you may realize. Trying to scrape pureed food out of a bowl with a metal spoon is difficult and frustrating.

Get a good rubber or silicone spatula that has a smooth, flat edge. This will make scraping bowls much easier. Another benefit is you’ll be able to get most of the puree out of the bowl which reduces waste and cleans up easier.

Food Mill

Food mills are an extremely helpful gadget for making purees. Especially for making pureed soups and sauces.

They are essentially a grinder and a strainer built into one. You simply put the softened food in the top and then crank the handle. This forces the food through the grinder disks and also pushes it through the strainer. You end up with a nice, smooth puree on one side and all the seeds and skins on the other.

Because food mills do the work of two different kitchen tools, using a food mill can save time. And, I think, you end up with a better puree if you are looking for an ultra-smooth, velvety texture.

Food Processor

Food processors are electric kitchen appliances that have a sharp, whirring blade that chops, dices, and purees food.

To puree food in a food processor, you will first need to prepare the food. Either before or after it is cooked, you will need to remove any skin, seeds, or pits. Basically, anything you don’t want in the puree, shouldn’t go into the processor. You will also need a good strainer to remove any unwanted parts of a puree.

Then, turn the food processor on. Most recipes will tell you which speed, low or high, to use. If your processor has a pulse setting, I prefer that. I think it mixes the food better as it chops and you don’t end up with layers of different consistencies.

The main difference between food processors and blenders is the blade. The blade is sharper on a food processor because it is designed more for solid foods. Blenders are better for liquids or food with high liquid content like fruits and veggies.

Blender

Blenders are also used to make purees. Although, they are best for purees and blending foods that have high liquid content like smoothies and soups.

To use a blender to make pureed soup, you first cook the ingredients in liquid until super soft. Then add the food solids and cooking liquid into the blender for pureeing.

TAKE CAUTION HERE THOUGH! Do not fill up the blender with hot soup – only fill it up about a third of the way. When you turn the blender on, the hot liquid will expand and could come flying out the top. At best, it will only make a mess. But, at worst, you can get severe burns from hot soup flying at you. Also, cover the lid with a kitchen towel and use that to hold the lid in place.

Ok, now that you have had your blender safety lesson for the day, carefully pulse the blender to make sure it is safe. Then increase speed to low then high until you get the right consistency.

Blenders puree quickly and the machine does all the work. But, there are a few drawbacks. Blenders aren’t good with more solid foods. They tend to clog up. Also, you often have to work in batches which might not save time. However, for a few servings of a pureed soup, a blender can work quite well.

Immersion Blender

An immersion blender is the handheld version of the blender that sits on the countertop. It has a spinning blade on one end of the shaft with controls on the other end. Most plug into an electric outlet but there are battery powered models too.

To use an immersion blender, you cook the food and liquid until soft in a large pot. Then, put the handheld blender down into the food making sure you are holding it level. Turn it on and begin moving it around in the food. You’ll feel a suction which will help keep the blender head flat against the bottom.

Like their larger cousins, immersion blenders also turn solid food into soups quickly. But there are a few drawbacks.

First, the food must be pre-chopped into smaller pieces or the blender head will clog. This can cause a lumpy puree.

Second, they don’t play nice with some enamel pans. If the blender has a stainless steel head or the blade gets turned at an angle, it may scratch the enamel pan surface.

Finally, make sure you maintain control of the blender. If it gets away from you, you will end up with puree all over your stove and kitchen!

You don’t have to spend much to get a decent one either. Check out my recommended models here.

Potato Ricer

Potato ricers may be the one item here you haven’t heard much about. They are generally used with potatoes and root vegetables.

Potato ricers basically look like a large garlic masher. On the bottom is a screen with holes the size of a grain of rice. A pusher then forces the food through the holes so that you end up with what looks like fluffy mashed potatoes.

Believe it or not, there is some controversy with these in the culinary world. Some chefs will only use these for mashing potatoes because they say this tool makes the potatoes less starchy and fluffier. Other chefs argue you can get the same results with a hand masher or mixer.

Strainer

Strainers are important to pureeing especially if you do not have a good food mill. Using food processors and blenders for purees can leave an inconsistent final product. Sometimes fibrous foods will not puree completely. Maybe there are seeds or skins that got into the final product.

A strainer will help remove these from your puree. You put the strainer over a large bowl and force the puree through with you trusty rubber spatula. This will trap the larger particles on one side and allow a smooth, velvety puree to come out the other.

Strainers come with different sized mesh. A standard metal kitchen strainer will work for most people. If you need a super smooth puree, get a fine mesh strainer.

pureed potato on a spoonWhat Should a Puree Look Like?

So, if you have never made a puree, you might be wondering what it should look like.  A puree should:

  • Have a smooth texture.
  • A similar texture throughout with no obvious lumps.
  • Moist and cohesive, but not dry, sticky, crumbly, or rubbery
  • No chewing required
  • Easy to move or slide to the back of the mouth even with a weak tongue
  • Does not clump into large sticky chunks that could cause choking

The Spoon Tilt Test

One of my cooks showed me this test for a puree. It’s easy and allows our facilities to give consistent results.

  1. Scoop the puree into a tablespoon and hold it at eye level. Does it look moist? Does it look the same throughout? Does it maintain its shape?
  2. Tilt the spoon sideways. Does the puree slide off the spoon or stay stuck? You want a puree that is moist enough to slide off in one lump without leaving behind any kind of sticky residue.
  3. Finally, press the puree between your finger and thumb. Is it smooth and moist? Do you feel any grit or lumps? A good puree should feel a little slippery and be moist and smooth to the touch.

This test was developed for testing pureed food for dysphagia diets. You can read more about these tests at the IDDSI website.

What Should A Puree Taste Like?

A puree should be flavorful. It should taste as fresh as the ingredients used to make it. Unless there are medical reasons not to do so, don’t be afraid of adding spice or a little salt or sugar to a puree. If a puree tastes bland or watery, you need a better recipe.

How to Puree Meats

Protein is an important part of our diet. While some people get their protein from plants, many choose to eat meat. Pureed meats though have a tendency to be dry. Here are a few tips for making pureed meats that are moist and look a bit more appetizing.

  • Make sure you have removed any bones and fat. Chunks of fat will not puree well and could cause choking.
  • Dice the meat into small pieces before pureeing.
  • Use a food processor for pureeing meats – the sharper blades chop the meat up into finer particles.
  • Before processing, add hot liquid to the meat. You’ll want to add about a 1/3 cup for every 3 oz of meat. Use broths, milk, or gravy. Water will just dilute everything and not add any nutritional value.

Check out this post for some protein sources other than meat.

How to Puree Potatoes

Pureed potatoes are a staple of a pureed diet. Here’s how to get the best results:

  • Peel potatoes completely before cooking and dice into 1″ cubes.
  • Cook them in broth or even milk instead of water.
  • They will mash easily with a fork when ready to puree.
  • Add butter, milk, or smooth gravy to the potatoes before pureeing for added flavor.
  • Potatoes are best pureed with a food mill or potato ricer. A hand mixer or potato masher can also work with some effort and enough liquid.

How to Puree Vegetables

Most vegetables puree well and there are tons of recipes for them. They are the main ingredients for pureed soups, creamed soups, and standard purees. Here’s how to get good pureed veggies:

  • The vegetables should be roughly chopped and cooked in liquid. I recommend chicken or vegetable stock or even milk.
  • Saute them in a little butter first until they begin to soften. This will cut some time off the cooking. But, make sure they don’t brown or form any crust on them.
  • Once they mash easily with a fork they are ready to puree.
  • Drain the veggies from the cooking liquid BUT keep it in case we need to add liquid later.
  • Puree them in a food mill, food processor or blender.
  • Gradually add the retained liquid back a few spoonfuls at a time until you end up with a smooth, consistent puree. You could also add butter, hot milk, gravy or other smooth sauces for added flavor.
  • Do not add water. Again, it adds no nutrition to the puree and tends to separate.
  • Too thin? The puree can be thickened by adding more veggies, a little flour, or a commercial thickener.

I’ve got another article on making pureed soups specifically if you’d like to read that here.

fruits and vegetables at the marketHow to Puree Fruits

Pureed fruits are often used as a dessert or a quick snack at our facilities. Both fresh fruits and canned fruits make good tasting purees.

  • If using fresh fruit, remove all skin, seeds, pits, and cores.
  • Make sure fresh fruits are very ripe.
  • Fibrous fruits may need to be cooked first. If so, cook them in apple juice or other fruit juice for the best taste.
  • Canned fruits should be drained very well first.
  • Frozen fruits should be thawed completely and also drained well.
  • Puree the fruit in a food mill, food processor, or blender until smooth.
  • If the puree is too thick, add back some of the original juices or use apple juice or other fruit juice.
  • If it is too thin, add more fruit that has been squeezed or drained. Commercial thickeners are also available.

How to Puree Breads

Yes, I said wrote it. You can puree bread. It is for sure one of the more difficult foods to puree and make taste and look good.

  • The general process is to convert the bread product to crumbs, add liquid to it, and then puree together.
  • Don’t use crusty breads – they don’t puree as well.
  • Properly pureed bread looks a bit like pudding.
  • Try different combinations like bread crumbs with warm milk or graham cracker crumbs soaked in coffee.

Other Foods that Puree Well

  • Fruit pies and cobblers puree well for a quick dessert. Just put a slice in a food processor or blender – crust and all. Then blend until smooth!
  • Casseroles can be pureed into a surprisingly good puree. Just make sure the original ingredients are soft enough.
  • Most stews and soups puree well. Usually, no additional liquid is needed. If there is meat in the stew, use a food processor for best results. Sometimes, straining is required.
  • Chicken salad and ham salad make great tasting purees and are quick to make. Just put in a blender or food processor with a little liquid.
  • Pasta salads and coleslaws also puree well!

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has a good quick reference chart for purees that you can take a look at here.

Summary

For some people, pureed food is a necessity. Others eat it as a preference or as a gourmet side dish. Knowing how to puree food that tastes and looks good is an important skill to learn. Even for home cooks.

Having the right gear is an important factor in the quality of the final puree. Try using different methods to find the one you like the best and that serves your needs.  Experiment with the various tools you can use to make pureed food.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try putting your favorite recipes in the blender and see what happens. Try using liquids other than water like broths, gravies, and smooth sauces. Water just dilutes the puree, adds no flavor or nutrition, and has a tendency to separate out if the puree sits for very long at all.

Have you ever made pureed food before? Are you an expert or just learning? Tell me about your experiences and recommendations in the comments below. What tips do you have to share?