Skip to Content

How does a tomato strainer work?

A tomato strainer is an indispensable kitchen tool for anyone who enjoys cooking with fresh tomatoes. Tomato strainers make quick work of removing seeds and excess liquid from tomatoes, allowing you to easily create thick tomato sauces, soups, salsas, and more. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how tomato strainers work and how to use them effectively in your cooking.

What is a Tomato Strainer?

A tomato strainer, also sometimes called a tomato sieve, is a specialized kitchen tool designed specifically for straining tomatoes. It typically consists of a handled rim with a screen basket attached to the bottom. The basket contains small holes or meshes that allow the seeds and liquid to drain out while the tomato pulp and flesh remain inside the basket.

Tomato strainers come in a few different designs but serve the same essential purpose:

  • – Fine mesh strainers: These feature a super fine screen that separates even tiny seeds and skin from the tomato flesh.
  • – Medium mesh strainers: The moderate hole size removes most seeds while retaining more pulp.
  • – Food mill strainers: This style presses the tomatoes through a perforated disk, filtering out seeds and skins.
  • – Chinois strainers: These have an extra-fine conical shape that strains out every seed and bit of skin.

The fineness of the mesh determines how much pulp ends up in the finished strained tomato product. A medium mesh is sufficient for most cooking needs. Fine mesh and chinois strainers produce the smoothest most seed-free tomato puree.

Why Use a Tomato Strainer?

Straining tomatoes is a simple kitchen technique that makes tomato-based recipes smoother, thicker, and better textured. Here are some of the benefits of using a tomato strainer:

  • – Removes seeds: Tomato seeds can add unwanted texture. Straining removes them smoothly.
  • – Thickens texture: Eliminating excess tomato liquid concentrates flavors and thickens up sauces.
  • – Improves sauce consistency: Straining results in a smooth, lump-free tomato sauce.
  • – Purees tomatoes: Pressing or milling tomatoes through a strainer purees them into a pulp.
  • – Prevents watery dishes: Excess tomato juice can ruin the texture of recipes like chili.

While it’s possible to strain tomatoes without a specialty tool by pressing them through a mesh strainer, a tomato strainer makes the process much easier and more efficient. The handy basket design lets you work in batches and strain a large quantity of tomatoes quickly.

How to Use a Tomato Strainer

Using a tomato strainer takes just a few simple steps:

  1. Cut up tomatoes: Tomatoes can be put through the strainer whole or cut into chunks. Cutting them up first helps speed the straining process.
  2. Place in strainer basket: Put tomatoes into the basket, filling it no more than 3/4 full for the best results.
  3. Set over bowl: Place the strainer basket over a large bowl to catch all the tomato liquid and seeds.
  4. Press and stir: Use a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to press and stir the tomatoes, forcing the pulp and juice through the mesh holes.
  5. Periodically scrape underside: Pulp and seeds can cling and clog the mesh underside. Frequently scrape the bottom of the basket with a spatula.
  6. Rotate tomatoes: Stir and rotate the tomatoes in the basket to expose all pieces to the mesh for thorough straining.
  7. Discard seeds and liquid: When straining is complete, discard the collected seeds and watery tomato juice.

The strained tomato pulp left in the basket is now ready to use in sauces, soups, stews, and anywhere else a thick, smooth tomato product is needed. Let the excess liquid drain fully before adding the tomatoes to recipes.

Tips for Using a Tomato Strainer

Follow these handy tips for getting the most out of your tomato strainer:

  • – Choose ripe tomatoes: Overly firm unripe tomatoes are harder to press through the mesh. Fully ripe tomatoes strain easily.
  • – Work in batches: Don’t overstuff the basket. Straining smaller batches of tomatoes at a time is most efficient.
  • – Don’t press too hard: Excessive force can damage the screen. Let the strainer do the work for you.
  • – Stir constantly: Keep tomatoes moving around to expose all sides to the mesh.
  • – Prevent clogs: Stop to scrape off any pulp or seeds clinging to the underside of the basket.
  • – Add liquid: For smoother tomato puree, add a splash of water or broth as you press tomatoes through.
  • – Fine strain for sauces: Use a fine mesh for the silkiest seed-free tomato sauces.
  • – Go coarse for soups: A medium or coarse mesh leaves more pulp for textured tomato soups and stews.

Choosing the Best Tomato Strainer

With many tomato strainer options on the market, here are the key factors to consider when selecting one:

  • Mesh size: Finer mesh catches more seeds. Coarser mesh leaves more pulp. Choose based on your needs.
  • Durability: Opt for sturdy stainless steel over plastic models.
  • Capacity: Larger baskets are ideal for canning or big batches.
  • Ease of use: Look for smooth interior surfaces and comfortable handle grips.
  • Dishwasher safe: Check that your tomato strainer is dishwasher safe for easy cleaning.
  • Price: Tomato strainers cost between $10 – $40 based on quality and features.

Conical shaped chinois strainers or food mills with interchangeable mesh disks offer the most versatility. High quality stainless steel models from name brands like OXO Good Grips and Cuisinart are reliable choices sure to last through years of tomato straining tasks.

Maintaining Your Tomato Strainer

To get the most life and performance out of a tomato strainer, be sure to clean it properly and store it carefully:

  • – Rinse thoroughly after each use
  • – Scrub mesh basket with a brush to remove residual pulp and seeds
  • – Avoid abrasive scouring pads that could damage the mesh
  • – Allow to air dry fully before storage to prevent mold and odors
  • – Hand wash only fine mesh strainers to prevent damage
  • – Store assembled or nested in a secure cupboard location
  • – Periodically check mesh for holes or tears

With proper care and maintenance, a quality tomato strainer should provide many years of reliable service in the kitchen.

Putting Tomato Strainers to Use

Now that you know how tomato strainers work, here are some delicious ways to put them to use in your cooking:

Thick Marinara Sauce

Pass fresh tomatoes through a medium mesh strainer to remove seeds and excess liquid. The resulting thick, pulp-rich sauce clings beautifully to pasta.

Smooth Soup

For silky textured tomato soup and gazpacho, puree fresh tomatoes using a fine mesh strainer.

Chunky Salsa

A coarse mesh is ideal for straining tomatoes to make homemade salsa, yielding just the right tomato chunks.

Tomato Paste

Cook down strained tomato pulp over low heat to reduce it into thick, concentrated tomato paste.

Seeded Tomato Water

Save the excess tomato liquid caught when straining for use in soups, cocktails, and more.

With the right tomato strainer, efficiently separating tomato seeds, skins, and excess liquid is easy. Incorporate strained tomatoes into all kinds of delicious recipes for improved texture, consistency, and flavor.


A tomato strainer is one of the most useful kitchen tools for anyone who regularly cooks with fresh tomatoes. While often under-appreciated, tomato strainers can quickly transform fresh tomatoes into silky smooth sauces, chunky salsas, concentrated pastes, and endless other tomato delights. Learning how tomato strainers work and the best techniques for maximizing their effectiveness helps unleash the full potential of fresh tomatoes in your cooking. With a durable and high quality tomato strainer in your kitchen arsenal, you’ll be ready to easily infuse any dish with the bright, flavorful essence of fresh tomatoes.

Tomato Strainer Benefits Ideal Uses
  • Removes seeds
  • Thickens texture
  • Improves sauce consistency
  • Purees tomatoes
  • Prevents watery dishes
  • Marinara sauce
  • Tomato soup
  • Salsa
  • Tomato paste
  • Tomato water

With a little know-how, tomato strainers make it easy to unlock the full potential of fresh tomatoes in your cooking for delicious results.