I've been a bad blogger: It's been months since I last posted a food related post, and I sadly neglected Edible/Usable's one year anniversary that happened on January 30, 2009. I've been busy at my new job, and haven't been inspired by winter cooking. But now that spring has sprung, I've got no more excuses! I'll get back into the action with something I've been meaning to do since I started this blog more than a year ago: a kitchen tool usability review.
I've been meaning to do a kitchen usability review for some time, but just haven't had the time to really develop my test criteria and actually do a test of different products. I've also been meaning to come up with a kitchen tool rating methodology similar to how I did with restaurants and food web sites. I thought that mandolines would be a great place to start, partly because a mandoline something that I've been meaning to get for awhile (there have been multiple moments when I've stood at the counter with a piece of food in my hand wishing that I had one) and they also seem to embody many of the 'judgment criteria' that I think about when I buy or use a kitchen tool:
- Does it do what it was designed to do better than a simpler solution (i.e., a knife, my fingers, a rock).
- Is it something that I will use fairly often. This is kind of related to the first, but more specific.
- Physical attributes: Is it easy to set up and use, does it use limited storage space when it's not being used, does it look and feel high quality and like it won't break or fall apart. If it is something that needs to stay on my kitchen counter, is it nice looking.
- Is it easy to clean. For me there is a "time to clean specific tool:doing it by hand" ratio that determines whether I reach for that specific tool or just use a knife or other simple way of doing something - even if it means I'll get poorer results. Food processors are prime examples of this ratio.
Both of these mandolines do what they were designed to do really well - at least so far with the few times that I've used them. They have similar functionality - they do straight slices, julienne slices and have a V blade that is super sharp that cuts through harder vegetables like carrots quickly and easily. The only food item that they both failed at was a ball of fresh mozzarella (I haven't tried a tomato yet which is the . But the OXO has additional features that I was sure would make it a better and more useful tool:
- The OXO mandoline can be adjusted to slice in four different thicknesses, while the Borner only allows for two.
- The OXO has legs that fold down on one side so you can slice at a downward angle
- The OXO has four different blades - straight, crinkle cut, julienne and french fries, the Borner has three blades
- The OXO is confusing to put together and take apart. It's got several moving and adjustable parts that flip open, pull out and clip in. Every time I use it I spend a few minutes trying to figure out which thing I have to flip up to use the right blade or change to a different blade.
- The slices don't go where you think they will. I really thought that the standing leg would be a key differentiator between the two slicers, but because of the fold down leg, you actually can't prop this slicer over a bowl to catch the slices as they come out. Because of the angle, the slices end up accumulating at the lower end of the slicer which means you can't even put a plate under the slicer to catch the slices as they come out. It ends up being really messy and you have to stop slicing and clean out the slices, put them in your bowl then start again.
- It's difficult to clean because all of the parts are stored in the slicer body. Although the body is dishwasher safe, because all of the different blades are stored in the body, you have to remove them from the body before you wash it. This means that you have random sharp blades lying around your kitchen. And I always forget how to put it all back together. Maybe if I used it a lot, I would get it eventually.
- It doesn't seem safe. In the storage position, the sharp blade is still exposed and it seems like you could easily cut yourself on it accidentally.
The Borner on the other hand, is really simple: The mandoline body slides in an out of a hard plastic case that also holds the additional blades. There aren't any additional moving parts - you simply slide in the inserts to change the slicing thickness or the blade type. There is a square notch at the bottom of the slicer that fits over the lip of a bowl or dish so you can slice directly into a bowl or other container. When the mandoline is stored in the plastic case, the blades are completely covered and not exposed. It is very easy to clean - even though it isn't dishwasher safe. The Borner is a great example of how simple = usable. The Borner has become the mandoline that I reach for, even for simple small jobs that I would have normally just used a knife and a cutting board.
There is one thing that neither of them do very well: the food holder/guard that you are supposed to use to protect your fingers. They both have a similar contraption - a round disk with prongs in the center that you push into the food to hold it while you slice. This might work for some food, but for hard foods like carrots or small food like radish, this doesn't really work, which means I never actually use it. I haven't seen any mandoline that has anything that works better than what is included with these tools. I may end up getting one of these cut resistant gloves.
Mandoline Smackdown winner: Swissmar Borner V-Slicer Plus Mandoline