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Vast world of kitchen gadgets can be fun but bewildering

A cook’s best tools are her hands.
It can be fun to buy the latest kitchen gadget, but the shine often wears off.

WESTERN PRODUCER — Do you ever feel like you are missing out when you don’t buy the latest kitchen gadget trend. I did, both with the bread maker and the Instant Pot.

However, I believe that a cook’s best tools are their hands. So many of these trendy tools accumulate in the back of kitchen drawers and shelves until they are discarded.

How do you choose what to buy? How often should they be replaced? If you take good care of your kitchen tools you will extend their lifespans. But most kitchen tools, except maybe a cast-iron skillet, aren’t meant to last generations and will need to be replaced eventually.

Some gadgets are fun. Old-fashioned cooking tools falls into this category. I have a collection of vintage cookie cutters. A cookie press, food mill, meat hammer, cherry pitter, potato ricer, meat grinder or pickling crock are other examples.

The first utensils in history were mortar and pestles. They are still common and a tool I like to have. They are usually made of marble, stone or a hard wood and used to crush spices and herbs.

Electric choppers have replaced the mortar and pestle in many home kitchens.

Coffee is possibly one of the most popular beverages and with it comes a plethora of gadgets. The coffee percolator was patented in 1889. Before this invention, hand-ground coffee was boiled with water and strained.

Now, many different types of coffee-making machines are available, such as the French press, filtered, the Italian style moka pot, coffee pots with built-in bean grinders, drip pots and espresso machines. There are manual and burr bean grinders, milk frothers, mug warmers and insulating sleeves. Gadgets are available for making a cold brew and Vietnamese style coffee. And this list is only the tip of the iceberg.

Coffee makers don’t typically need to be upgraded that often, but there are so many new ones out there with all the bells and whistles, it’s tempting to want to swap yours out on a regular basis. Consider getting a new coffee maker if you notice changes in how your java tastes. If you suspect that your coffee isn’t as bold as it once was, try descaling solutions to clean your coffee machine first, and see if that gets your cup of Joe back up to par.

Knives rival coffee gadgets in the number and variety of choices. Most home cooks have a favourite knife and may even take it with them when they travel. Along with the assortment of knives goes the knife-sharpening tools. We all know the adage that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. If the handle on yours has worn out, or if sharpening techniques are no longer working, it’s time to replace your knife.

Microplane graters and vegetable peelers can fall into the knife category. These are two must haves in my kitchen. The downside of a microplane grater is that it can’t be sharpened so it does have to be replaced when you notice it becoming dull or taking more pressure to grate garlic or ginger.

Toasters were invented about the same time as the coffee percolator. The first toaster was invented in the 1890s, but it only heated one side of the bread at a time. In the 1920s, the pop-up toaster we know and love was introduced, and it’s become one of the most common household appliances.

Toasters need to be replaced from time to time and who isn’t guilty of keeping it well past its prime. The main culprit that can shorten the lifespan of your toaster is not cleaning the crumbs. Many toasters do have trays you can remove to dump out crumbs, but some can still get stuck inside and impact your toaster’s ability to work properly.

When is it your toaster’s time to go? If your appliance is toasting unevenly, taking a lot longer than usual, or showing signs of rust, it’s a good time to upgrade.

Most kitchens have a food processor. If you are careful with washing and always make sure the pieces are dry before putting them away, you can keep your food processor for years. As long as the motor is running well it is worth fixing any parts that may break, such as the lid or bowl. If the blade becomes dull, simply replace it. The two places I have found parts for small appliances is Hometech Bosch Small Appliances and Vacuums in Regina and Myric in Calgary. I have been able to get replacement pieces for my more than 20-year-old Cuisinart food processor.

Trendy tools come in and out of popularity. If space is a concern in your kitchen or pantry then consider how often you will use an item before you buy it. Is it a single-use item or can it be used in a number of applications?

Instant Pots were all the rage in 2010 and their Facebook page still has more than two million followers. However, where is your pot now? Popularity has waned and they are a big space taker. That is just one example of a trend that has lost its lustre. Air fryers, sous vide and vacuum sealers are next to go that way.

Think about your cooking style and more importantly, what your household likes to eat before investing in a seldom-used tool or gadget.

Divide gadgets into three categories: must have, nice to have and not necessary. Decide which category the item fits into before buying. Collecting dust takes more of your personal energy than you probably realize.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at Contact: [email protected].