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A pinch bowl is a very small bowl which is designed to hold a limited amount of ingredients. There are a number of uses for pinch bowls, and many chefs and cooks like to keep a set around, often in a handy location so that they are easy to access in a hurry. Most kitchen supply stores sell pinch bowls made from a variety of materials and in an assortment of shapes and sizes.
There are a number of uses to which pinch bowls can be put. One of the most common is as serving containers for condiments like ketchup, mustard, dips, and so forth. Such condiments can look unsightly when served in the container or in large bowls, and there is more of a potential for wastage when large volumes are set out. Offering condiments in pinch bowls encourages people to use them more efficiently, and looks more aesthetically pleasing; a pinch bowl of tartar sauce, for example, can be dressed up with a sprig or parsley or a wedge of lemon to make the overall presentation look neater and more elegant.
A pinch bowl can also be used to hold a side, like lemon wedges, salsa, or coleslaw, and pinch bowls are also used to present small amounts of food on appetizer platters. These bowls are especially useful for corralling foods which might otherwise roll or bounce away, such as pickles, olives, and so forth. Some households also use pinch bowls to hold seasonings like salt and spices, allowing guests to season their food to taste.
In the kitchen, a set of pinch bowls can be vital for mise en place. Many cooks use pinch bowls to hold small amounts of chopped ingredients so that they are out of the way and ready for use, especially when making complicated dishes. Many Asian dishes, for example, require things like chopped garlic, scallions, ginger, and so forth, and rather than trying to keep those ingredients organized on a cutting board, cooks can push them into pinch bowls and then upend a pinch bowl over the wok as its ingredients are needed.
Pinch bowls may be glass, ceramic, plastic, or wooden. Many of them are designed to go through the dishwasher, and some also come with lids, allowing cooks to preserve small amounts of expensive ingredients for later. A good pinch bowl is seamless and evenly textured inside, so that ingredients do not cling to it, and the edge may be lipped to provide something for the cook to grip.