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A mixer is a kitchen utensil which uses a gear-driven mechanism to rotate a set of beaters in a bowl containing the food to be prepared. It automates the repetitive tasks of stirring, whisking or beating. When the beaters are replaced by a dough hook, a mixer may also be used to knead.
A mixer may be a handheld mechanism known as an eggbeater, a handheld motorized beater, or a stand mixer. Stand mixers vary in size from small countertop models for home use to large capacity commercial machines. Stand mixers create the mixing action by rotating the mixing device vertically: planetary mixers, or by rotating the mixing container: spiral mixers.
Mixers for the kitchen first came into use midway through the nineteenth century; the earliest were mechanical devices. The demand from commercial bakers for large-scale uniform mixing resulted in the development of the electric stand mixer. Smaller counter-top stand mixers for home kitchen use soon followed.
When selecting a mixer, the purchaser should consider how the mixer will be used. Electric mixers with more speed options give the user more control over the development of the mixture.
An eggbeater is a handheld device with a crank on the side geared to one or more beaters. The user grips the handle with one hand and operates the crank with the other, creating the rotary action.
Stand mixers mount the motor driving the rotary action in a frame or stand which bears the weight of the device. Stand mixers are larger and have more powerful motors than their hand-held counterparts. They generally have a special bowl that is locked in place while the mixer is operating. A typical home stand mixer will include a wire whip for whipping creams and egg whites; a flat beater for mixing batters; and a dough hook for kneading.
Stand mixers are generally available in either counter top (also called bench) or floor models. Heavy duty commercial models can have bowl capacities well in excess of 100 quarts (95 L) and weigh thousands of pounds, but more typical home and light commercial models are equipped with bowls of around 4 quarts (4 L). Whether a mixer is a counter top or floor model depends on its size. Mixers that are 20 quarts in size or smaller tend to be counter top mixers, while larger mixers tend to be floor models due to their size and weight.
Spiral mixers are specialist tools for mixing dough. A spiral-shaped agitator remains stationary while the bowl rotates. This method enables spiral mixers to mix the same size dough batch much quicker and with less under-mixed dough than a similarly powered planetary mixer. Spiral mixers can mix dough with less agitator friction than planetary mixers. This allows the dough to be mixed without increasing its temperature, ensuring the dough can rise properly.
Planetary mixers consist of a bowl and an agitator. The bowl remains static, whilst the agitator is rapidly moved around the bowl to mix its contents. With the ability to mix a wide variety of ingredients, planetary mixers are more versatile than their spiral counterparts. Planetary mixers can be used to whip and blend, whereas spiral mixers cannot.
A hand mixer is a hand-held mixing device. A handle is mounted over an enclosure containing the motor. The motor drives the beaters which are immersed in the food to perform the mixing action. The motor must be lightweight as it is supported by the user during use. The user may use any suitable kitchen container to hold the ingredients while mixing.
The mixer with rotating parts was patented in 1856 by Baltimore, Maryland tinner Ralph Collier. U.S. Patent 16,267 This was followed by E.P. Griffith's whisk patented in England in 1857. Another hand-turned rotary egg beater was patented by J.F. and E.P. Monroe in 1859 in the US. U.S. Patent 23,694 Their egg beater patent was one of the earliest bought up by the Dover Stamping Company, whose Dover egg beaters became a classic American brand. The Monroe design was also manufactured in England. In 1870, Turner Williams of Providence, R.I., invented another Dover egg beater model. U.S. Patent 103,811
The first mixer with electric motor is thought to be the one invented by American Rufus Eastman in 1885. U.S. Patent 330,829  The Hobart Manufacturing Company was an early manufacturer of large commercial mixers, and they say a new model introduced in 1914 played a key role in the mixer part of their business. The Hobart KitchenAid and Sunbeam Mixmaster (first produced 1910) were two very early US brands of electric mixer. Domestic electric mixers were rarely used before the 1920s, when they were adopted more widely for home use.
In 1908 Herbert Johnson, an engineer for the Hobart Manufacturing Company, invented an electric standing mixer. His inspiration came from observing a baker mixing bread dough with a metal spoon; soon he was toying with a mechanical counterpart. By 1915, his 80-quart mixer was standard equipment for most large bakeries. In 1919, Hobart introduced the Kitchen Aid Food Preparer (stand mixer) for the home.
Older models of mixers originally listed each speed by name of operation (ex: Beat-Whip would be high speed if it is a 3-speed mixer); they are now listed by number.
Mixers require blades that turn easily and consistently during the mixing process. Electric mixers typically have several mixing speeds either in numbered settings or simply low, medium, and high speeds. More settings give more control over the mixing process. Choose a mixer that fits the types of food being prepared and the balance and ease of use offered by the design of the mixer. If a wide range of foods are commonly prepared, select a mixer that offers more speed settings and possibly more attachments, such as bread dough hooks, spatulas, whisks, sifters, and bowls. Balance is another consideration when selecting a mixer. Make sure the placement of the motor does not make it difficult to hold or tiring on the hand or arm. Wattage will not make much difference, since a higher wattage will not necessarily affect the performance.
Electric mixers should allow the beaters and mixing bowl to be separated from the electric motor portion of the mixer for cleaning.