TRIED & TESTED / Ready for the chop: Food processors promise to perform those tricky tasks for the busy cook. But do they live up to their claims? Our panel find out

WHEN food processors first came on the market in the Seventies, the idea was that they would slice, shred, mix, blend and mince without the fiddly business of having to fit a different accessory for each job. Today's food processor, though, is likely to have more accessories than Imelda Marcos. There are specialised attachments for virtually every kitchen task you've ever heard of - and some that you probably haven't. You can also buy a food processor combined with a blender, a food processor with a mini-bowl for preparing small quantities, or even, for the ultimate in culinary one-upmanship, invest in a food-processing system instead - a mixer, processor and blender in one.

We asked six students at Leith's School of Food and Wine in London to set aside their chef's knives for an evening and see how well our selection of seven food processors performed. A few cut fingers later, these are the results of our test.

THE PANEL

Jo Brook, Sarah Hobbs, Rachel Oatley, Tamsin Burnett-Hall, Sarah Jones and Charlotte Mullens, all full- time students at Leith's School of Food and Wine.

THE TEST

Each student tested one job on the machines: grating Cheddar (Sarah Jones); mixing a sponge-cake dough (Tamsin Burnett-Hall); chopping parsley (Rachel Oatley); pureeing a banana (Sarah Hobbs); and whisking egg whites (Charlotte Mullens). Jo Brook sliced onions and, when the food processor had a julienne blade, julienned carrots. The students gave each machine marks for how easy it was to assemble, dismantle and clean, how good the instructions were, how convenient it was to use, and how well it performed the task being tested. The marks were converted into a best-buy star rating.

**PHILIPS HR7805

ELECTRONIC COMBI 3000

3.5 litre bowl, pounds 149.95

This machine scored well, though overall its performance was no better than the cheaper Philips HR2892. It didn't mix the cake well - the mixture, which was lumpy, stuck to the side of the bowl leaving the flour at the bottom - but it was good at grating the cheese. It has a much bigger bowl than any of the others, useful if preparing food for large numbers of people, and many gadgets, such as a juice extractor and citrus press. 'An amazing array of extra attachments, probably too many to be practical,' Tamsin Burnett-Hall said. 'It seems good value, but you probably wouldn't use many bits.' 'It made a lot of noise when working. But the blades come in a neat case,' Sarah Hobbs said.

**BRAUN UK280

1 litre bowl (plus mini-bowl), pounds 89.99

The students rated this processor highly for most tasks. Rachel Oatley said: 'It was fast and efficient and chopped the parsley very finely.' Good features included the ability to change the thickness of slices without having to buy new discs, and blades to grate both finely, for cheese for example, and coarsely, for apples and carrots. It didn't perform so well on the cake-mixing: 'The wire on the whisk was very flimsy. The mixture got stuck around the edge and up the centre of the bowl,' Tamsin Burnett-Hall said. The machine was also rated the hardest to wash.

*TEFAL FOODMASTER FOOD PROCESSOR

800ml bowl, pounds 39.99

You won't get an array of exotic attachments with this machine. It is very basic, with only one speed control. The panel's view was that, in this case, you get what you pay for and they it didn't rate it as highly as the other machines. While it pureed the banana, grated cheese and mixed the sponge well, it didn't chop the parsley very finely and sliced the onions unevenly. It doesn't have an egg whisk. 'Very simple to use, but the bowl is a bit small,' Rachel Oatley said. 'The double feeder made it harder to clean, with lots of nooks and crannies - probably designed by a man]' Sarah Jones said.

***PHILIPS HR2892

2.5 litre bowl, pounds 64.95

This machine was almost as good as the winner, the much more expensive Braun Multisystem. It was one of the best cake-mixers and parsley- choppers. 'Fast and efficient. Chopped very evenly,' Rachel Oatley said. It didn't score so well on cheese grating. 'Only does quite coarse grating and left a large lump,' Sarah Jones said. The most obvious disadvantage, however, was the baffling instructions. 'The diagrams show how to assemble your machine in just 24 easy steps. The instructions are very complicated, with symbols that are too small to see,' Tamsin Burnett-Hall said.

**KENWOOD FP505 WITH LIQUIDISER

1 litre bowl and 1 litre liquidiser, pounds 84.99

This performed all the tasks competently and was the best at cake-mixing, but it failed the onion-slicing test miserably. 'Terrible, did not work at all,' Jo Brook said. 'Easy to use, though switch is difficult to turn on. Worked well, though didn't chop parsley very finely,' Rachel Oatley said. The panel found the instructions clear and the machine easy to assemble, dismantle and wash up. They did not like the plastic sleeves for the blades: 'If the blade is as sharp as it should be, they would be sliced in half in a short while,' Sarah Jones said. But Tamsin Burnett-Hall added: 'The machine is easy to keep clean. The instructions are easy to follow. I would be happy to have this machine sitting on my worktop.'

**MAGIMIX CUISINE SYSTEME 3000

2.5 litre bowl (with mini-bowl) pounds 99.95

As with most of the machines, this was good at some things - in this case cake-mixing and cheese-grating - but not at others. It wasn't much use for pureeing the banana and was the worst at whisking the egg white. 'The whites did not fluff up as much. Most of the mixture flew to the sides of the bowl and after five minutes there was still a bit of runny white at the bottom,' Charlotte Mullens said. The panel couldn't see much point in the mini-bowl, which fits inside the main bowl, but the storage tray for the accessories, which is intended to fit into a kitchen drawer, was appreciated. The machine regulates its speed automatically, depending on the food being processed: 'This makes use much less complicated,' Sarah Jones said.

**** BRAUN MULTISYSTEM .TX.-2 1/2 pint bowl, blender, mixer bowl pounds 199.99

This got the highest scores for the various tasks in the test. It did everything well. 'Excellent for whisking egg whites. Of all the machines, it produced the best texture, with lots of very tiny bubbles, very light and fluffy,' said Charlotte Mullens. The panel also found it easy to assemble, dismantle and wash, and thought that it had good instructions. The only disadvantage is the price. 'Good for the serious cook who wants to cut down time in the kitchen, but for basic use it is rather expensive,' Tamsin Burnett-Hall said.

Next Week: Lawnmowers

(Photographs omitted)

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