A high-quality mixer, regardless of whether it’s for your home countertop or for a commercial kitchen, is an essential piece of the baking puzzle; arguably just as important as choosing the right recipe or buying high-quality ingredients.
If you have been eyeing up any of the top stand mixers – KitchenAid, Smeg, Kenwood or Cuisinart – or looking to invest in a commercial stand mixer, I’m sure you have come across terms like ‘planetary motion’ or ‘spiral mixer’ on more than a few occasions.
While all stand mixers fundamentally do the same task, the way in which they mix ingredients differs hugely depending on the mechanics, size, and price of each machine.
The motion in which a mixer incorporates ingredients together can be grouped into one of three categories; rotary, planetary or spiral motion.
So, what do these terms mean exactly? And how do they impact the performance of your machine?
Let’s find out!
The Three Types of stand mixers
Rotary stand mixers have fixed heads where the attachment (beater, dough hook, or whisk) is the only moving part, often spinning at variable speeds. The common examples of these types of mixers are hand mixers or stand mixers that come with a detachable mixer mechanism.
Although rotary stand mixers aren’t that common anymore, you might find that some budget stand mixers still use a rotary motion, as there are fewer mechanical components required for these mixers, and therefore, allow for lower manufacturing costs.
The types of stand mixers offer a lower quality mixing motion, as the single direction motion only stirs batter, requiring more time and effort to fully corporate your ingredients.
Planetary mixers are the most popular type of mixers for both home cooks and professional bakers.
Popularized by KitchenAid, this type of motion is used on both tilt-head and bowl-lift KitchenAid models, although this type of motion is now widely used on many stand mixers models.
Unlike a rotary machine, a mixer that uses planetary motion runs in two orbital directions. This essentially means that the head of the mixer spins in one direction, while the attachment rotates in the opposite direction.
This provides a far superior mix than a rotary motion, allowing the ingredients to be whipped and folded into one another.
Here’s a brilliant video showing the KitchenAid planetary motion in action and this creates full-bowl coverage.
The planetary motions point of contact for KitchenAid mixers varies between 59 – 69 depending on the model and their respective attachment sizes.
If you want to know how this clever, yet relatively simple, piece of engineering works, allow me to quickly explain.
A gear is mounted to the top of the beater shaft, which is placed inside a stationary gear ring. As the motor drives the beater shaft, the gears engage with one another, which generates the two opposite rotations at the same time. This Planetary mixer diagram shows the machine’s internal mechanics.
Although this simple mechanism allows for a far superior mixing quality, these gears are known to wear over time, which is one of the biggest contributions to KitchenAid’s life expectancy.
Spiral mixers are most commonly used in commercial settings, although there are a few scaled-down kitchen-countertops models available for home bakers too. These are usually more specialized stand mixers, well suited to preparing high-quality bread-based doughs like pizza, bagels, and donuts.
While the bowls in planetary mixers remain stationary, the mixing bowl in spiral mixers rotates along with the spiral hook.
These machines are great for bread dough because the spinning bowl ensures the dough is kept at a lower temperature, ensuring the dough does not prematurely ferment or overheat. Keeping your bread dough is most likely not a priority for many home bakers, but when commercial kitchens are aspiring to make consistently high-quality artisan bread, then this becomes more of a consideration.
How is this dual movement made possible?
These baking appliances come with two separate motors – one that works with the hook and the other for the bowl.
With this mechanism in place, the friction heat is kept low and you get a consistently kneaded dough. You’re assured that the dough is not overworked and that it will rise well instead of collapsing while proofing. As these mixers work with a pulley system, meaning makes less noise compared to their planetary counterparts. The dual rotation also makes it easier to clean the bowls after use.
Are professional mixers planetary or spiral?
Most countertop stand mixers for home kitchens and commercial businesses are planetary mixers. They represent the best multi-purpose functionality.
Confused about which mixer will be the right fit for your business needs?
To identify which mixer is right for you, you need to know how these mixers work and the main differences.
Planetary mixer vs spiral mixer
Now that we know the basics, it’s time to find out about other important differences between these two kinds of commercial mixers.
Planetary mixers allow you to prepare different types of baked foods from batters, doughs, meringues, frosting, sauces, cheeses, chocolate ganache and more.
As you know, many stand mixers come with other food attachments that can slice vegetables, grate cheese or make pasta. The high-end commercial models are for handling heavier doughs in big batches.
This versatility allows you to offer more baked and food options to your customers.
Spiral mixers, on the other hand, are perfect for kneading breads. Think pizzas, scones, artisan bread, croissants, and more. They keep the dough at a low temperature and provide consistent batches of dough.
The bigger capacity planetary mixers struggle with smaller quantities of batter whereas spiral mixers can handle small to very large batches of dough from 18lb to 400lb.
Planetary mixers come with different bowl capacities ranging from 5lb to large scale production units to mix up to 150lb of batter. You also have the option of interchangeable bowls and beaters to cater to different capacities.
Spiral mixers are used by bakeries, pizza eateries or restaurants to make large batches of bread. Their capacity is usually measured in terms of dough quantity rather than quarts. These mean machines can mix anything from 25lb to 600lb of dough depending on the mixer capacity.
You also have automatic tilting mixers in the spiral range that can handle around 100lb of bread dough. The best part is you need only one dough hook to do the job.
The smaller planetary mixers are designed for countertop use, but the larger ones are floor-standing models. This makes it popular with small home baking ventures to large commercial establishments and everything in between.
Most spiral mixers are large-capacity models and are placed on the kitchen floor. You need to consider kitchen space before buying one.
As such, they are better options for pizzerias and kitchens that predominantly offer bread-nased goods.
Finally, when it comes to price, commercial planetary mixers can be cheaper than spiral mixers, especially smaller-sized products. If you need extra attachments, you have to pay extra.
Spiral mixers are no more expensive than their commercial planetary counterparts, because of similarity in size and bowl capacity.
This brings us to the question:
Which commercial mixer should you buy?
Planetary mixers support multiple attachments. This makes them ideal for kitchens that need to cut downtime and effort on both baking and cooking sauces, slicing vegetables, or grinding cheeses.
Spiral mixers only mix the dough. But make up for this with speed, quality and the ability to mix small to big batches of dough.
Spiral mixers are for commercial kitchens with high volume. A planetary mixer is a better option for lower-volume kitchens.
Some larger kitchens that offer a combined baked and cooked food menu should buy both spiral and planetary mixers for quality and versatility.