What is a Colander?

R. Kayne

A colander is a bowl-shaped sieve used in cooking to drain liquids from foods such as pasta. Colanders were traditionally made of aluminum with a pattern of holes punched throughout the bowl, and they featured two opposing wire handles at the lip for lifting. Today, they are often made of plastic and do not require handles, but are otherwise unchanged.

A colander can be used to clean raw beans before cooking them.
A colander can be used to clean raw beans before cooking them.

When using a colander to drain hot liquid from food such as noodles, it is safest for cooks to place the sieve in the sink, rather than holding it. The cook might want to run cool water to one side, which will help reduce steam as hot water from the pot is slowly poured into the colander.

A salad spinner is a type of colander.
A salad spinner is a type of colander.

People should avoid standing over the colander, as rising steam could scald the face. Once the pot has been emptied, a few shakes of the colander will drain any residual liquid. Then the noodles or other items can be emptied onto a serving dish, or back into the pan to add sauce.

A colander may be used to prepare salads.
A colander may be used to prepare salads.

A colander also comes in handy for draining canned vegetables before cooking, or for cleaning raw legumes like lentils or pinto beans. Many people use it for preparing salads. After washing the vegetables, they can be simply tossed into the bowl, where they will continue to drain while the rest of the ingredients are being prepared.

For an even better result in preparing salads, cooks may want to try a salad spinner. This is a colander enclosed in a slightly larger bowl, resting on a spindle. The lid of the salad spinner has a crank, or in some models, a pump, that is used to spin the colander inside the bowl. This creates centrifugal force that pulls water off the vegetables to settle in the bottom of the encasing bowl. A salad spinner delivers salad that is fluffy, fresh, and ready for serving.

A colander is an inexpensive but necessary tool in anyone’s kitchen. Whether draining pasta, preparing salad, rinsing raw lentils or working with canned vegetables, it can serve many purposes. People who enjoy making salads may benefit from a salad spinner as well.

A colander is a bowl shaped sieve.
A colander is a bowl shaped sieve.

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Discussion Comments


@Terrificli -- I don't know what kind of colander you got your hands on, but a traditional, aluminum one should not rust. That is because aluminum is wonderfully rust resistant.

That is precisely why aluminum is so popular in aircraft construction. Expose aluminum to rain, sleet, snow, hail and whatever else and it will not rust. If aluminum won't rust on an airplane, imagine how well it would do on a colander.


Forget about tradition. If you want a colander, buy a plastic one. If you go for the aluminum types, you are risking having something that will rust before too long. Believe it or not, a plastic one can actually last longer.

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