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Fat Guy

The high-power blender topic

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Last November I got a Vita-Mix. I'd been making smoothies almost every day in a Waring bar blender, slowly learning that while it's possible to make a smoothie in a Waring bar blender it's a categorically different process from making one in a high-power blender. I don't blame people who don't accept this truth. It took me years to overcome the denial. But the reality is that there are two very different categories of blenders out there in the world: the high-power units that cost several hundred dollars, and the rest.

I talked about this so much toward the end of last year that my wife and son finally bought me a Vita-Mix as a present. Specifically, the Vita-Mix 5200 they were selling at Costco for $395. There are a few different Vita-Mix and Vita-Prep (the commercial label) models out there but having played with most of the ones in the lines that are cosmetically similar I can say that, while there are minor differences of interest to the connoisseur, a Vita-Mix is a Vita-Mix.

Now, before I go on, please realize that anything negative I have to say about the Vita-Mix must be viewed in light of its indisputably profound awesomeness when compared to normal blenders. If you put frozen raspberries in a smoothie in a regular blender you can blend it for an hour and you'll still have unpleasant raspberry seeds in your final product. Do it in a Vita-Mix and in 30 seconds you have a totally smooth beverage. Ditto for whole flax seeds or anything of that nature. The Vita-Mix is powerful enough to make thick frozen desserts of the sorbet variety. And if we are to believe the various nutritional claims out there, because a high-power blender breaks down food so effectively at the cellular level it makes a host of nutrients "bio-available" that would normally just pass through the body.

That being said, for what you pay the Vita-Mix is basically a piece of junk. It took me about six months to destroy one. When I first got it, I told a chef friend and he said "They're great but we break about two a year at the restaurant." The main problem, as far as I can tell, is that there's too much plastic, rubber and other inferior materials used in the construction of the Vita-Mix. In particular, the coupling between the motor base and the pitcher, which drives the blade, is weak. It doesn't seem weak if you just use a new Vita-Mix a few times -- at that point it feels incredibly sturdy. But if you really wail on the thing for a few months that coupling breaks down.

It's bizarre that a $400 blender doesn't have all its critical parts made of high-grade steel, but I guess the retail price tag doesn't reflect the actual production cost. Not only is there the retail markup, but also there has got to be a huge marketing budget. The cost of sending armies of demonstrators out to every Costco and country fair has got to be prohibitive. They also make it in America, which can't be cheap, though the motor is imported from Europe (which probably isn't cheap either).

Luckily, the thing has a 7-year warranty for home use, so you can just send it to Vita-Mix and they'll fix it. And Costco will give you your money back pretty much forever. We decided to take it back to Costco for a refund. You can't really do an exchange because the only time it's possible to buy a Vita-Mix at Costco is when there's a Vita-Mix roadshow event in progress at that particular warehouse. So I figured we'd be without a blender for a while, which was really going to put a crimp in my healthy lifestyle.

The high-power blender gods were smiling on me, however. It turns out that, at the Costco in Union, NJ, where we returned the Vita-Mix, there was a Blendtec demo in progress. I had been curious about the Blendtec for some time. As part of my early smoothie education I made a bunch of visits to Jamba Juice (thanks to a gift card from Cousin Jane), and one of the things I noticed was that they use Blendtec blenders there. The guy at the smoothie place on East 96th Street near the subway also uses a Blendtec. So does Starbucks. Indeed, I have yet to notice a smoothie place using anything other than the Blendtec, though I'm sure such places exist because there's also a Vita-Mix series, "Touch & Go," that apparently performs like the Blendtec.

One big reason for the popularity of the Blendtec in commercial settings is that it's self-sufficient. If you go to Jamba Juice you'll notice that the person builds the smoothie in the blender pitcher, places it on the blender base, pushes a button and walks away. The blender starts off slow and, over the course of about 45 seconds, goes through a programmed sequence of speeds designed to draw the ingredients down through the blades and then process the heck out of them. This allows them to make several smoothies at a time and to work on building the next one while the blender is running.

A standard Vita-Mix, by contrast, tends to require more participation. The Vita-Mix is pretty dependent on its "tamper," a black plastic pusher used to force heavy items down into the blades. You don't need it for thinner mixtures but if you're using a lot of heavy stuff and ice and such then you need to stand there and press with the tamper while the machine is running (the pitcher lid and tamper are designed in such a way that you don't have to worry about pushing the tamper far enough to hit the actual blades, though I know one guy who did it). And the Vita-Mix has manual controls, so if you want to speed it up and slow it down you have to stand there and do that.

After watching the demo twice, we left Costco with a shiny new red Blendtec Total Blender. It was $15 cheaper than the Vita-Mix, so we also bought two watermelons.

It's going to take me a few months with the Blendtec to see how it compares, durability-wise, to the Vita-Mix. I've only used it a couple of times so far. Preliminary results have been good.

In the meantime, my friend Sean now has a Waring Xtreme. This is the other and newest contender in the high-power blender arena. Sean and I spend a lot of kitchen time together, so I'll be experimenting with his blender over time. My preliminary reaction to the Waring Xtreme is that it's still a beta product but we'll see if it grows on me.

A couple of related topics:

Vita-Mix topic.

Smoothie topic.

Blendtec topic.

More to come, of course.

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I've been considering getting a Vita-mix, because I do a lot of blending - soups; dips; and I've wanted to have a steady source of fresh sesame paste for a while. I don't tend to want to blend ice or smoothies, much, however. The cheapest I've seen them in China is on taobao.com, where people are re-selling them from the US, in a rare turn-around of trade, from about 3300 yuan or about $485 -outside my budget right now.

Blendtec doesn't seem to be available internationally except by special order. It also seems to have plastic housing - are you worried you may have the same durability issues, or is the construction sturdier?

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If anything, the Vita-Mix looks sturdier than the Blendtec. It's bigger and heavier, it has large knobs and switches. The Blendtec has much more of the appearance of a consumer product, with a digital readout and membrane buttons. Also, the coupling between the base and the blender is smaller. That being said, visual examination can only tell so much. For example, despite its smaller size the Blendtec has a substantially more powerful motor.

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P.S. I think with the Vita-Mix the main stress on the unit is from all the tamping, which isn't a factor with the Blendtec. So it may be that the Blendtec can be less sturdy yet last longer. I don't know.

P.P.S. The high-power blenders do a great job on sesame seeds. In fact, in the Vita-Mix hummus recipe, you just put the sesame seeds in whole and it becomes tahini during the blending process.

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In fact, in the Vita-Mix hummus recipe, you just put the sesame seeds in whole and it becomes tahini during the blending process.

Nice. That's what I'm talking about! But I can't quite justify the price tag for that ability alone.

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The price is ridiculous. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be an alternative to the $400 price point. Nobody is making a no-frills, no-marketing-costs, $200 blender that has a motor on par with one of the high-power units.

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I think there might be legitimate reasons for a rubber coupling on a blender, like reducing potential for injuries or designing the coupling to fail before the motor does or before the blades or the pitcher are damaged in case something gets stuck. My Waring Commercial (the restaurant line, as opposed to "Professional," which seems to be the consumer line) bar blender has a rubber coupling, and there are instructions on a sticker taped to the power cord explaining how to replace it as part of normal user maintenance.

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When you say the "coupling" I assume you're speaking of the drive socket assembly (looks like this)?

The drive socket assembly is designed to break under extreme stress. My VitaPrep3 came with several of them. My understanding is that they make those things the way they do because they're cheap (around 10 bucks), easily replaceable and protect the more important parts of the machine under heavy use. The idea is that the motor is protected in two ways from the abuse of putting too heavy a load on it: 1. thermal shutdown if the blender is run too hot for too long; 2. if the blades are jammed during use, the drive socket assembly gives way. Needless to say, the cumulative effect of pushing the machine just beyond its limits (you must have been doing some heavy tamping!) can cause the drive socket assembly to wear out even if the machine doesn't jam. I believe that it's things that put sudden extreme loads on the blade (e.g., forceful tamping) that stress the drive socket assembly (rather than, say, making a lot of thick peanut butter, which might cause a thermal shutdown) because these are a form of jamming.

For smoothies I would agree that the Blendtec is probably tops. Whether it's overall as useful is harder to say. I don't see how it would be possible to get a super-smooth, thick puree of a handful blanched herbs without a tamper or additional liquid. Of course, since the ability to tamp down these ingredients is exactly what was putting the stress on your VitaMix's drive socket assembly, it's difficult to make a direct durability comparison.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I agree it's going to be hard to compare. The only thing I can say preliminarily is that if Blendtec's container, blade and programming combine to make it possible to perform the critical tasks without a tamper -- as Blendtec claims can be done -- then it has a real leg up over Vita-Mix. Whereas, if that claim is untrue, I'll be spending a lot of time shutting off the unit and sticking a spoon in to mix things around, in which case a few months from now I'll get another Vita-Mix.

If Vita-Mix turns out to be the best available option, so be it, but I think it's a highly flawed machine. Vita-Mix is guilty of going too far in the direction of plastic. The casing is plastic, the pitcher is plastic, the controls are plastic, the drive socket is rubber. The Vita-Mix website's forum is full of posts from people complaining about these parts, and I do think ultimately they're all replaceable -- but I don't want to have to replace them. To get my Vita-Mix back to fighting condition I'd have needed to lay out $40-$60 for parts, to get a new drive socket, wrench, part or all of the blade assembly... I'm not totally sure but to me that sort of disposability is not okay in a $400 product. It's the same way I feel about the crummy resin handles on Le Creuset pots. Yes, they can be replaced. But the ones on Staub pots are metal and never need to be replaced.

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Have you ever considered a Thermomix? Think food processor, blender, thermal cooking device in one.

No I don't have one, but it's definitely on the wish list.

Mind you it's a whole different ball game on price. But to clear the cupboards of a few gadgets at once...


Edited by nickrey (log)

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If Vita-Mix turns out to be the best available option, so be it, but I think it's a highly flawed machine. Vita-Mix is guilty of going too far in the direction of plastic. The casing is plastic, the pitcher is plastic, the controls are plastic, the drive socket is rubber.

What should they make these things out of? Metal? Pyrex? Does the Blendtec have a glass pitcher? Metal casing? Metal controls? Does any ~$400 blender have these things?

For whatever it's worth, my experience is that "soft touch" controls and thin metal casings (as on my KA food processor) are less sturdy than the casing and controls on the VP.

The Vita-Mix website's forum is full of posts from people complaining about these parts, and I do think ultimately they're all replaceable -- but I don't want to have to replace them. To get my Vita-Mix back to fighting condition I'd have needed to lay out $40-$60 for parts, to get a new drive socket, wrench, part or all of the blade assembly... I'm not totally sure but to me that sort of disposability is not okay in a $400 product.

That seems to be overstating things a bit. A two-second internet search reveals that one can buy a VitaMix/Prep drive socket assembly kit, complete with the hex key if you don't already have one, and two replacement drive socket assemblies for around 20 bucks. Or is there something else that your VitaMix would have needed changed out? Why would you need to replace all or part of the blade assembly?

I do wonder about the extent to which some of these things may be made a bit more cheaply for the VitaMix compared to the VitaPrep. Yes, the controls and case on the VitaPrep are made of some kind of plastic material. But whatever it is, it's high-impact stuff and I can tell you from personal experience that it's able to withstand being dropped on the floor from counter height without breaking. And I believe the Prep pitchers aren't the same as the Mix ones. They VitaPrep does have the same safety-feature drive socket assembly -- but personally I'd rather blow out the drive socket assembly and have to spend 10 minutes putting in one of my spares than seize up the motor.

That said, unless something more catastrophic happened and something else broke, it sounds like you just jammed the drive socket assembly into failure just like it is designed to do. What were you doing when it broke? Or was there some gradual loss of function?

From what I've read, if smoothies are your main use, the Blendtec is definitely the way to go.

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if smoothies are your main use, the Blendtec is definitely the way to go

Well, that raises interesting question. I've been (very patiently (six years now)) waiting for my l'equip to die (not a high power, but significantly better than any other blender that isn't high power that I've ever used), when it dies I have it in my mind to get one of these ultra-blenders. So, FatGuy just about sold me on the BlendTec with the feature that you can attach the pitcher and walk away.

But, wait. If the BlendTec is the obvious choice for smoothies, what are the use cases where the VP/VM excels?

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I can't report first-hand because I've only used the Blendtec about four times. I've done a lot of reading on this but what I've read has so far been so unreliable that I hesitate to cite it as authority. But, as a very basic reference, the online consensus seems to be that the Vita-Mix is better for sorbets, herb purees, and other things where the tamper helps, and that the Blendtec is better for smoothies (because of the auto cycles) and nut butters (because the motor is stronger). Whether any of that is true I can't say.

Sam, the ruptured coupling was the last straw. I'd already cracked the container base (I wouldn't have repaired that), scuffed one blade pretty badly, caused some damage to the nut (retainer nut), and wore down the gear teeth on the pitcher. I think my repairs would have been at least a coupling (drive socket) and retainer nut, which I think requires purchase of a special wrench. So that all should run about $40 or more. I imagine I could have had it all done under warranty, though I'm not sure it would have been worth shipping the unit and losing use of the blender for so long. My concern, though, was that if I was going to have this happen at regular intervals over time -- no less needing to replace a $150 container, $90 blade assembly, etc., on occasion, which seemed to be the direction in which I was headed with my unit. That's on top of the inconvenience of frequent motor shut-downs, which are especially annoying when you've got $5 worth of frozen fruit half processed and you lose use of the blender.

I'm assuming that before plastic was an option, Vita-Mix units were made out of metal and had either metal or glass pitchers. That would be my preference. The Blendtec, unfortunately, also relies heavily on plastic, though the pitcher material seems tougher than the Vita-Mix material. We'll see how it holds up over time. So far it has lasted a day.

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I've never used a Vita-Mix before but I once worked in a busy kitchen that had a BlendTec. That thing was used and abused everyday. We made all salad dressings in it (just put in all the ingredients, hit go and in 45 seconds a beautiful emulsion), pureed hot and cold soups, and smoothed out fruit sauces. The variable speed action works great at getting everything down to the blades.

When making the salad dressings I would buzz up once, adjust the seasoning, then buzz it again. Those dressings were always used up before they broke.

FatGuy, I think you are going to love that machine.

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Sam, the ruptured coupling was the last straw. I'd already cracked the container base (I wouldn't have repaired that), scuffed one blade pretty badly, caused some damage to the nut (retainer nut), and wore down the gear teeth on the pitcher. I think my repairs would have been at least a coupling (drive socket) and retainer nut, which I think requires purchase of a special wrench. So that all should run about $40 or more. I imagine I could have had it all done under warranty, though I'm not sure it would have been worth shipping the unit and losing use of the blender for so long. My concern, though, was that if I was going to have this happen at regular intervals over time -- no less needing to replace a $150 container, $90 blade assembly, etc., on occasion, which seemed to be the direction in which I was headed with my unit. That's on top of the inconvenience of frequent motor shut-downs, which are especially annoying when you've got $5 worth of frozen fruit half processed and you lose use of the blender.

I am trying to get a better picture of the damages and how they occurred. How did you crack the container base, scuff the blade, damage the nut and wear down the gear teeth on the pitcher?

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I think it was all cumulative damage. A small crack showed up toward the base of the pitcher one day, and it got bigger over time. The gear teeth and nut got damaged, most likely, one of the times the pitcher got pushed up off the base during operation -- an event that also makes a horrible noise. I don't know how the blade got damaged, but probably one frozen banana too many, pushed down too hard with the tamper. I pushed the Vita-Mix to its limit, and beyond, over a period of months. I never dropped it or put golf balls in it or anything like that. I just worked it to death.

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Have you ever considered a Thermomix?

I'd love to have one, and it does seem like an incredibly durable item, but it's well over US$1,000 for one of those and my guess is it's not a particularly efficient smoothie maker anyway.

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Yes, I have to avoid pushing my container off the base, too, but have not had any problem with it. You may have been over-tamping or may not have enough liquid in the smoothie ingredients. I tamp a little in one corner and see if its starts pulling; if not I tamp in corners alternately. It is also possible you pushed the tamper in too deeply and hit the blade with it. Frozen bananas should not be a problem.

The container for my Vita-Prep3 is of a sturdier plastic; the one for the Vita-Mix is made of a material that will not leach potentially harmful chemicals and it's possible it is more brittle, but I can't speak to that. The two containers are not interchangeable.

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I don't think I ever hit the blades with the tamper, because to its dying day the tamper was pristine. I do think I "over-tamped" on many an occasion, and I'm sure if I pussy-footed around the Vita-Mix I could have extended its life indefinitely. But on the instructional DVD it specifically says don't be afraid to push down hard, and at the price point it shouldn't be a machine that needs to be treated gingerly -- yet it is.

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I have not thought of it as pussy-footing with the tamping. My understanding was to tamp just until it starts pulling the ingredients through the vortex. It never takes much tamping. But we have different machines, so the Vita-Prep may well be not only more powerful, but also more durable than the Vita-Mix 5200. I would be interested to know if others here have had problems with either machine.

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I've been wanting a Blendtec since I saw the videos but there's nothing in my repertoire to justify the price tag. What can you do with these high-powered blenders that you can't do with regular blenders besides smoothies?

Home cook here, not interested in instantly emulsifying a gallon of salad dressing or whatever.

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My primary uses are smoothies and frozen desserts. I have a fruit smoothie almost every morning, to which I add whole flax seeds. Several nights a week for dessert I make a variant of frozen yogurt: frozen fruit plus plain yogurt plus fake sugar and a little water. A regular blender can't do either of these things well. It just doesn't have the power. I also occasionally do things like hummus and white-bean puree, which a high-power blender does better than the food processor but a regular blender does poorly.

I was making smoothies for a while before I got the Vita-Mix, and it was possible to make them in a regular blender using pre-ground flax and a lot of love and strategy. But the Vita-Mix made smoothies with a superior texture. The Blendtec does an even better job, I think, assuming your standard for excellent smoothie texture is the slushy-textured smoothie you get at Jamba Juice. And once I had the Vita-Mix, I started making smoothies more often and I added frozen desserts and other stuff to the repertoire. Once you see how effective the machine is, you find uses for it. I've done a couple of frozen desserts with the Blendtec now and it has performed surprisingly well without the need for a tamper. I haven't done any other food in it yet, but plan to make white-bean puree as soon as I get a chance.

Each unit comes with a recipe book and instructional DVD. The Vita-Mix literature is much better. I sort of wish I had kept the Vita-Mix book for use with the Blendtec, because the Blendtec recipes are embarrassingly bad. Blendtec's recipes are mostly patronizing, semi-home-made garbage using ingredients like Tang, instant vanilla pudding, non-dairy creamer and onion-soup mix. Luckily you can get most of the information online, not that you really need it. I'd love to see some harder science, since effective use of a blender is more about the balance of liquid, solid and temperature than about a recipe.


Edited by Fat Guy (log)

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I have yet to buy a high end blender but I can say with certainly that I've spent about as much as a VitaMix on cheap blenders over the years.

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I'm surprised your vita-mix broke. I've had mine for half a year doing at least a smoothie a day and it's running rock solid...then again, I make my smoothie the night before so it's thawed out a little in the morning.

While researching them I read the cook's illustrated review, they favored the vita-mix for it's superior ice crushing abilities (or turning it into snow, rather). The pre-programmed cycles in the blendtec piqued my interested, but after using the vita-mix I've learned that no two smoothies are the same, so I probably wouldn't use those anyway.

Anyway, just after a week of using the vita-mix I felt the price was justified. I make all sorts of things in it now, and whenever cooking something always ask myself "how can the vita-mix make this job easier?"

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I replaced my old seventies era Vitamix with a newer one a year or so back. I looked at the Blendtec, but the programs turned me off. With the Vitamix, you're the master of your own destiny. Plus I had a predisposition to Vitamix after decades of good service from their machine. At least at the time, the Vitamix also had more than double the warranty of the Blendtec.

If I were to do it again, I'd have to give the Blendtec with the 3 quart jug a more serious look. It would be nice to be able to fit the machine under the cabinets without separating the container and the base. The in-counter Blendtec is about as sexy as a blender can be too. :wub:

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