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The art and science of the smoothie


Fat Guy
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Better not to defrost them, I find (fewer ice cubes required that way), and if I have enough forethought, I peel them first and wrap them in plastic wrap before putting them in the freezer, so I don't have to peel them with a knife. If I don't have a chance to peel them first, a quick rinse under warm water makes it easier to cut off the peels without thawing the banana.

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Another vote for freezing bananas, and also using only frozen fruit without adding ice cubes. For my taste, ice cubes really spoil the flavor of a good smoothie.

A nutritionist turned me on to using pineapple juice as a base for smoothies (something about the enzymatic properties that are particularly healthful), and although it didn't sound great on the face of it (I thought the pineapple would overpower any other single ingredient), it's turned out to be my favorite smoothie base, and other juices now seem far too sweet. Not so the pineapple juice.

Also, vanilla-flavored, whey protein powder and flax seed ground to a fine consistency.

Until recently, I had a Waring blender that could produce a super creamy smoothie that resulted from the sort of alchemy of protein powder, ground flax and banana. Sometimes if I'm not in the mood for a banana-flavored smoothie, I'll use only half a frozen banana and it's enough to contribute to the smooth factor without rendering a banana flavor overall to the smoothie. If I leave any one of those three elements out, the smooth factor isn't quite the same.

My favorite smoothie:

pineapple juice

scoop of vanilla whey protein powder

2 tablespoons very finely ground flax seed

a half or whole frozen or ripe unfrozen banana

a handful frozen blueberries

roughly the same of strawberries

Blend for maybe 1 or 2 minutes til smooth and creamy. If you end up with something too thick for your taste, add a little more pineapple juice.

edited to note: I peel and then slice the bananas into manageable pieces before I freeze them, although they break up pretty easily when they're frozen. But peel them first for sure, whatever else you do.

Edited by devlin (log)
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Ooh: all good ideas. So you put 'em in the blender whole? What kind of blender?

Sometimes whole, but usually I break them up into three pieces or so.

I have a Waring Commercial BB900, which is a standard bar blender from their restaurant line with two speeds. I've tried to fathom the power ratings of blenders in a couple of posts earlier in this thread, and I think there's just no telling. I think the motor, for instance, is just as powerful in amps as my parents' feeble Osterizer, and the Osterizer takes at least five minutes to do what the BB900 does in one minute.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My friend Sean called a few weeks ago to tell me he'd acquired a Waring Xtreme super-high-power blender. It took some time to arrange an experiment, because he lives in Connecticut, we both have kids, etc., but this past weekend we pulled off a blender challenge.

It wasn't much of a challenge. The Xtreme blender is so much better it's just a question of how much better. Depending on the system of measuring, the difference could be infinity, because the Xtreme passed our test and the conventional Waring didn't.

These are the two blenders:

blendercompare2.jpg

We built a fairly difficult smoothie in each blender using identical ingredients: a variety of fruit including peel-on apples; a little pomegranate juice; a handful of ice cubes. Because of the small amount of liquid, this was going to be hard work.

blendercompare1.jpg

(Because the Xtreme blender is larger, the pitcher looks less full. It has the same amount of stuff in it as the other blender, though.)

We then made a 1-minute video of the two blenders at work on the same project. We did not assist the blenders by shaking, poking or anything like that.

It wasn't exactly easy for either blender, however after a little bit of activity the Xtreme managed to generate a smoothie. The conventional blender had to work long beyond the duration of the video. After about 2 more minutes the motor was starting to smell like it might explode or melt, so I started tamping down the fruit. After several cycles of that, the regular blender finally made a smoothie.

As for the quality of the smoothies, the Xtreme smoothie was much more . . . smooth. Assuming the goal of smoothie making is to have a smooth smoothie, there was no contest. The Xtreme smoothie had the texture of a milkshake (though of course not as creamy). The conventional smoothie had little bits of apple skin and an overall coarser texture.

Some of this of course can be compensated for. If you use a less powerful, smaller blender you can add more liquid, etc. But if you have the Xtreme (or, presumably, a Blendtec or Vita blender) you don't need to compensated. You just put stuff in and push go, and even if you start with a challenging set of ingredients you have a smoothie in one minute.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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A few months ago, I made smoothies that contained frozen peaches, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries. I must have thrown some apple juice in there, too, as well as a bit of lemon juice. They tasted great, but were crunchy as hell due to the blackberry seeds. How does one get around this? Would a Vita-Mix pulverize all seeds into oblivion? Should one even eat pulverized blackberry seeds? Is this why I don't hear blackberries being mentioned? I suppose most folks just dismiss strawberry and raspberry seeds, but blackberry seeds are kind of difficult to ignore.

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I think if you really wanted to get rid of the seeds, you'd have to puree the blackberries separately and then put them through a chinois or some other fine mesh strainer.

A lot more work than desired when you just want a quick smoothie, but it's either that or skip them altogether.

Or you could puree and strain, and then freeze them in ice cube trays. Then you could just pull out whatever you needed whenever you needed it, and the work only needs to be done once in a while.

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I used frozen blackberries in a smoothie this morning. The seeds were there but not bothersome to me. I wouldn't be surprised if a high-power blender liquefied the seeds. Those blenders are very powerful. But I'd have to try it on blackberry seeds specifically to be sure.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Great idea about pureeing, straining, and freezing the blackberries ahead of time. Thanks.

I just remembered that the aforementioned smoothies also contained bananas and almond milk. I used almond milk because of a vegan guest, but it turned out great. Might be a decent option for those looking to avoid dairy in these things.

Edited by abooja (log)
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as I'm trying to live a bit healthier, this thread comes in handy! I've also been thinking about a VitaMix recently, the price is outrageous, but it seems to be a very good machine. And Thomas Keller recommends it in the new Ad Hoc book, so there.

My main problem is that I don't like sweet stuff all that much, I'd have to experiment with some savory recipes. Haha, I guess that would be cold soups actually!

Or something with nuts, peanut butter sounds good already, Nutella probably would be good too. Add a pinch of cayenne or smoked paprika?

I'm secretly hoping that Costco might have a demo again soon, that way I could "hide" the purchase in the bill for all the other stuff. I doubt anybody would realize that it's a different blender, as I hardly ever use the one we have. Not in years I think.

Come to think of it, I guess you could throw any dish into the blender and experiment. Well, maybe not any dish, but pasta, salads, salsas, hmmmm....

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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A VitaMix/Prep or other high-power blender may be difficult to pass off as the old blender. The high-power models are massive. I couldn't believe how puny my regular Waring looked next to the Xtreme. When you see something in Costco (or most any store for that matter) it's hard to get an idea of scale. But a high-power blender can really dominate a kitchen when it's in use.

There's a whole literature of savory smoothies out there, focusing in particular on "blended salads." What I've read is that, when you chew a salad, you fail to break down a very high percentage of the cellulose in the lettuce and other vegetables. Whereas, when you blend it (especially in a high-power blender), you break down the cells and can therefore utilize more of the nutrients.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I've been adding vegetables to my smoothies lately. I'm still trying to figure out the acceptable combinations, so I'd love to hear what you all think works.

Carrots seem to be acceptable with just about anything.

Beets really stand out against mild flavors, but a little beet with a lot of blueberries and blackberries and it's just noticeable. (Agave or fructose really helps, too.)

Red cabbage seems to go well with anything except the most mild flavors... If I were making a strawberry-banana smoothie or a pear-banana smoothie I'd skip the cabbage.

I haven't made it to kale, swiss chard, or spinach, yet. What works?

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To me, a smoothie is made with whole fruit, thinned down a little and whizzed to a pulp. If you're just mixing liquids, that's not a smoothie, IMO! Dairy is optional, but can be nice. Personally, I often make smoothies just with fruit, and not using bananas. Every damn smoothie in the shops seems to have bananas in it, and I find it just makes them all taste very similar. Also, a banana-free smoothie seems more refreshing to me. I don't think I'm the only one who gets fed up of banana either, as Innocent (a UK smoothie company, for those who don't know) now make a smoothie without bananas. It's very good, see here.

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Having only had wimpy blenders, I was seduced into buying a Vita-Mix at a Costco demo with this smoothie topic in mind. I watched the demo yesterday for at least 30 minutes and left to think about it. Went back tonight and took it home. But I may return it and order the Vita Pro 3 1005 on eBay, as Sam suggested, since it's about the same money from the lowest price eBay vendors and about $65 more at the highest, after accounting for sales tax and shipping.

BTW, a check of the Vita-Mix website indicates that the Vita Pro 3 1005 is the only one with 3 horsepower. The other Vita Pro 3 models are 2 horsepower like the Vita-Mix.

Even the Vita-Mix is impressive. The frozen bananas are no problem. Frozen fruit of any sort just means you can use less ice. But making soup with one seems to be more of a parlor trick. You can do it, but why not do the heating on the range top or in the microwave?

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As I get a little closer to thinking a high-power blender purchase is justified, my mental picture of the relevant criteria comes into focus. There seem to be a few factors that influence blender performance. Horsepower is one of them. In terms of raw horsepower, the Vita products are actually not at the top of the hierarchy. The Waring Xtreme is 3.5. The Blendtec models tend to be 3. Almost every Vita unit is in the 2s, except for one that's 3. But raw horsepower is only one consideration. There's the way speed is controlled, there's blade design, pitcher design and various other things. These seem to be the areas in which the Vita products really excel.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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But making soup with one seems to be more of a parlor trick. You can do it, but why not do the heating on the range top or in the microwave?

From what I remember of the demo I saw, it wasn't just used for heating the soup, but you put all the ingredients in, blended it and heated it at the same time.

It's much more efficient than cooking all the ingredients, then transferring them to the blender, then putting them back in the pot to heat again (if necessary).

I bought a VitaMix last summer so I could make smoothies, but I never got around to taking it out of the box. When I return to Canada, I will experiment more. I'm hoping it will pulverize frozen strawberries (the big ones from Costco) without my having to cut them into small pieces first.

A lot of people seem to use banana to help sweeten smoothies without adding sugar. Is there any other fruit that could serve the same function? I hate bananas in my smoothies (generally I hate ripe bananas), but I'd like to avoid adding sweeteners. I've just been doing strawberries and yoghurt with a bit of protein powder and fibery stuff, plus a tablespoon or two of sugar.

About adding vegetables--should you cook them first? Or cook some but not others?

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Frozen strawberries don't seem to be too much of a challenge for my normal Waring blender. Frozen fruit of any kind tends to puree up pretty easily, assuming you get a sufficient liquid (water, juice, milk, whatever) in there with it. The big challenges for my blender seem to be 1- some fruits, such as blackberries with their little seeds, don't puree to complete smoothness in the regular blender; 2- the regular blender is not great at breaking down ice to a smooth texture; and (therefore) 3- the regular blender requires more liquid than high-power blenders.

Bananas, for me, aren't really a tool to provide sweetness. They're a textural element. They provide creaminess. For pure sweetness, apples seem to work pretty well.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Do you think apples would provide enough sweetness to avoid adding sugar altogether? I need it to off-set the tartness of both the yoghurt (I use plain unsweetened) and the frozen strawberries (which are never sweet). I actually have an apple handy (rare for me), but I ran out of frozen strawberries, so it'll be awhile before I can try it.

I don't like to add too much liquid to my smoothies. That's probably why I have to cut the strawberries up so much (they're pretty big strawberries, to!). Well, that and because my Japanese blender is pretty crappy (as most Japanese blenders are).

For creaminess, you can also try psyllium. That's the fiber-y stuff I couldn't remember the name of earlier. It might provide a different creaminess than what you're looking for, but I've noticed when I use it in frozen smoothies, it makes the smoothie seem creamier (when in fact, it's probably just more mucousy).

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There's a whole literature of savory smoothies out there, focusing in particular on "blended salads." What I've read is that, when you chew a salad, you fail to break down a very high percentage of the cellulose in the lettuce and other vegetables. Whereas, when you blend it (especially in a high-power blender), you break down the cells and can therefore utilize more of the nutrients.

This has always seemed a bit dubious to me. Especially since most of the hardcore "blender fanatics" out there promulgating this information are pursuing some fairly fringe dietary and health philosophies. Even if it is true, it seems quite clear to me that most people who can afford a high power blender and eat a normal diet are far more likely to be overnourished than undernourished. Middle class people in developed countries don't tend to suffer from undernourishment as a generality.

As I get a little closer to thinking a high-power blender purchase is justified, my mental picture of the relevant criteria comes into focus. There seem to be a few factors that influence blender performance. Horsepower is one of them. In terms of raw horsepower, the Vita products are actually not at the top of the hierarchy. The Waring Xtreme is 3.5. The Blendtec models tend to be 3. Almost every Vita unit is in the 2s, except for one that's 3. But raw horsepower is only one consideration. There's the way speed is controlled, there's blade design, pitcher design and various other things. These seem to be the areas in which the Vita products really excel.

There are two features I really like about the VitaPrep: First, there is a dial that allows you to make smooth adjustments to the blender speed on the fly. This is not only useful when you want to break down larger pieces into smaller pieces before cranking it up to full-on liquify, but also makes it possible to control for chunkier textures if desired. Then, if you really want a smooth liquid, you can switch it over to high speed which is even faster than the highest adjustment on the speed dial. Second, the VitaPrep comes with a special rubber top with a large hole in the middle into which is inserted a large plunger tool. This tool is not only useful for shoving food items down into the blades at lower speeds (especially useful when making fresh green herb purees with ice cubes), but at the highest speeds you can position the plunger in the blending canister to influence the vortex and insure rapid turnover of the material in the canister. This makes for more efficient blending and also for a more uniform puree.

--

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But making soup with one seems to be more of a parlor trick. You can do it, but why not do the heating on the range top or in the microwave?

From what I remember of the demo I saw, it wasn't just used for heating the soup, but you put all the ingredients in, blended it and heated it at the same time.

It's much more efficient than cooking all the ingredients, then transferring them to the blender, then putting them back in the pot to heat again (if necessary).

I may not have been clear. He was blending and then running the Vita-Mix full-tilt for 4 - 5 minutes until the heat from the motor warmed the soup. While there would be times this would be useful, I have to wonder what running it hard and long enough to heat the container and the soup is doing to the motor. While I was not referring to cooking the ingredients first, there certainly would be many times I would want to saute or otherwise cook ingredients before adding them to a soup.

My take on the difference between the 2 hp VitaMix unit and the 3 hp VitaPro 3 1005 unit is that the former can heat soup, while the latter runs cool so it can't heat soup, but will make a finer puree. I think I may be tilting toward the latter, but have not yet decided.

About adding vegetables--should you cook them first? Or cook some but not others?

While you could cook the veggies first for a particular effect, the vendor used raw vegetables for the smoothies.

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blended salads, now that sounds tasty! I'm not much for sweet things, but in that category I could see a lot of produce that I'd normally not get around to cooking (thus toss) being whipped up into something nice and tasty! I'll have to head over to google and take a peek. Not concerned with one being healthier than the other, as long as it tastes good :-)

And I have to do some research on good blenders it seems.

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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We debated about the VitaMix vs the BlendTec and ended up going with the BlendTec. As far as blending goes, I am sure they both do a great job. VitaMix takes a more "manual" approach having you adjust speeds in mid blend (usally starting out slow then speeding up). BlendTec builds those programs in so you just push a button. Both approaches have their merits and both appeal to me. What it came down to was that the BlendTec was not as tall and it could fit under our cabinet overhang, while the VitaMix could not. Also the VitaMix relies a lot on their "pusher" which is one extra thing to clean.

We love the BlendTec. We use it to make smoothies, soft-serve desserts (I made a really nice mango soft serve the other night), soups and waffle/pancake batter. I have also used it to puree some stew veggies to use as a gravy thickener.

It will heat soups but as they say in the manual, it's not a very efficient thing to do. I just use boiling water from my electric kettle.

I love it for waffle batter - put in all the ingredients, press the batter button and then let the batter rest for 5 minutes. I can pour the batter right from the blender container.

Mark

My eG Food Blog

www.markiscooking.com

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I may not have been clear. He was blending and then running the Vita-Mix full-tilt for 4 - 5 minutes until the heat from the motor warmed the soup. While there would be times this would be useful, I have to wonder what running it hard and long enough to heat the container and the soup is doing to the motor. While I was not referring to cooking the ingredients first, there certainly would be many times I would want to saute or otherwise cook ingredients before adding them to a soup.

My take on the difference between the 2 hp VitaMix unit and the 3 hp VitaPro 3 1005 unit is that the former can heat soup, while the latter runs cool so it can't heat soup, but will make a finer puree. I think I may be tilting toward the latter, but have not yet decided.

At the Costco demos, they do hot soup w/ the 2hp 5200 model. I believe the heat doesn't come from the motor because the motor doesn't get more than warm. I think the heat is generated by friction - not an efficient way to heat your soup.

I can't imagine needing more than 2hp for home use - kinda like buying a car - do I want my Honda with 300hp instead of 200hp?

Here's the warranty on the Vita-Prep:

  • MOTOR BASE
  • Vita-Mix® warrants that:
  • * if the motor base fails within thirty (30) days from the date of purchase, Vita Mix will replace the motor base without charge.
  • * if the motor base fails after thirty (30) days but within one year from the date of purchase, due to a defect in materials or workmanship, Vita-Mix® will assume the cost of all parts and labor necessary to repair the motor base.
  • * if the motor base fails after one year but within three (3) years from the date of purchase due to a defect in materials or workmanship, Vita-Mix® will assume the cost of the parts deemed necessary to repair the base.
  • CONTAINER, LID, BLADE ASSEMBLY, DRIVE SOCKET AND SOUND ENCLOSURE (if included)
  • The container, lid, blade assembly, drive socket and where included a Vita-Mix® manufactured sound enclosure, are warranted against defects in material and workmanship for one year from the date of purchase.

Here's the warranty on the 2hp 5200:

This Warranty is extended by Vitamix to the owner of this machine for personal household use only. This Warranty does not apply to products used for commercial, rental or re-sale purposes. Should ownership of the machine change during the 7-year period, please update the owner information at www.vitamix.com/warranty.

# Scope of Warranty.

Vitamix warrants to owners that if this machine fails within 7 years from the date of purchase due to a defect in material or workmanship or wear and tear from ordinary household use, Vitamix will within 30 days of receipt of the returned product, assume the cost of the parts and labor deemed necessary by Vitamix to repair the failed machine. If the failed machine cannot be repaired, Vitamix will either (A) replace the machine or (B) refund the full purchase price, at Vitamix’s sole discretion, unless prior written notice of customer’s preference is received.

I'm not a fan of bananas in my smoothies - I use OJ or yogurt, plus frozen mangos or strawbs, plus 3-mix berries (all frozen from Costco).

Monterey Bay area

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