From Season 10: Saucy Italian Favorites
Update: June 2012
Since this story was published, we've received complaints about the durability and performance of both the KitchenAid and Kalorik blenders, and no longer recommend these models. A fully updated review of blenders will appear in the September 2012 issue, available August 1.
We’ve long been skeptical of souped-up blenders with dizzyingly high horsepower, a slew of buttons promising minute gradations in speed, and functions for grating cheese, pulverizing nuts into butter, and other specialized tasks. When you come right down to it, a blender has one basic job—to blend food into a uniform consistency, whether it’s crushing ice or producing lump-free purees for smoothies, soups, or hummus. (We leave other ingredient-altering tasks, like grinding, shredding, and chopping, to our food processor.) Past testing has taught us that just two things matter for success at this basic job: the configuration of the blender blades and a V-shaped jar that keeps food close to the blade edges.
Still, with the latest generation of blenders claiming such innovations in blade design as “dual wave action,” “reversible motion,” and serrated edges, we couldn’t help but take notice. Would any of these enhanced models offer blending that was fast and effective enough to make them worth price tags that are often well over $100? To find out, we gathered 10 models, including basic machines as well as those that boasted fancy new features.
We began by testing a function that no food processor can duplicate—crushing ice. There’s no way to sugarcoat the results: Faced with the challenge of pulverizing 15 ice cubes, most blenders failed miserably, breaking down only some of the ice before the blade wedged the remainder against the side of the jar. While some models boasted an “ice crushing” button, unless there was enough power to keep the ice cubes moving, this function worked no better than a pulse button or a simple on/off setting. As for innovative design, the reversible blade model, which whirled first in one direction and then the other, couldn’t free trapped ice to pulverize it. On the other hand, our top performer in this area was the “dual wave” model, which has twin blades set side by side. With the ice bouncing from blade to blade in a game of toss, it was quickly chipped down.
When it comes to turning solids into liquids, blenders have a natural edge over food processors. A tall jar and short, rotating blades allow a blender to swirl food into a vortex, potentially making swift work of purées, soups, and icy cocktails. To test this function, we made smoothies with rock-hard frozen berries and fibrous mango, then poured each one through a sieve to examine texture. While most blenders performed reasonably well in this test (liquid kept the food moving), lots of pulp and frozen-fruit nuggets did turn up in our sieve, and only a few models achieved the perfectly smooth, frothy texture we wanted. We noticed that flutes, or vertical ribs inside the blender jar, helped make the difference. These provide “push back,” preventing food from being plastered to the jar walls by centrifugal force. Yet a little fluting goes a long way—some models had big flutes that bulged inward and got in the way of overall circulation.
Next test: whirling chickpeas, olive oil, and tahini into hummus. Here we confirmed that tapered, V-shaped jars are best at keeping food in contact with the whirling blades. Wide-based jars left food too far from the cutting action, resulting in grainy, greasy hummus. The blender with twin side-by-side blades, which excelled at blending smoothies and crushing ice, actually did poorly in this test. It was just too powerful for more-solid food preparation; even at the lowest setting, we wound up with hummus so frothy it was more smoothie than dip.
From past testing, we knew that manufacturers’ listings of horsepower and wattage have little bearing on performance. (The data measure only the power consumed.) Similarly, when we used a laser tachometer a few years ago to record the revolutions per minute (rpm) of each blender blade, we found that a high rpm had little or no connection to kitchen success. This time, we measured speed and efficiency by putting plain yogurt in each blender and adding drops of yellow and blue food coloring to opposite sides of the jar. To get a good look at the action, we turned each blender on at its lowest speed, set a timer, and watched. While all the blenders took less than 2 minutes to turn the yogurt bright green, two blenders proved their superior efficiency by managing it in under 30 seconds.
All of this testing took place in a corner of the test kitchen, where we had been banished for making a ruckus. The noise piqued our interest in finding the quietest blender. Using a computer program, we compared the sound output of each blender on high speed. The scores varied widely. Not surprisingly, the blender with twin side-by-side blades was the loudest. The quietest blenders turned out to be our overall winners, perhaps a testament to the efficiency of their motors.
We considered other characteristics: material (one thick polycarbonate jar was incredibly tough), weight (too-light models rattled across the countertop), capacity (we prefer larger jars), buttons (we prefer dials, but touch pads are a close second), and cleanup (we like blenders that come apart for easy washing). While these characteristics are important, we valued performance above all—if a blender couldn’t crush and purée, none of the other features mattered.
Wondering what, exactly, about the blade design resulted in such dramatic differences in performance, we detached the blades from each machine (in one case literally sawing off the blades from the base) and examined them closely. Models with blades that merely reached up or down like a pair of matching arms—two up, two straight out—had a much harder time moving and chopping food than blenders with asymmetrical blades in varying positions. Among the better blenders, some blades curved upward, acting as an escalator, lifting and rotating foods into a vortex, while other blades leaned down to skim the floor of the jar. We also noticed that the blades that tapered the most or were serrated performed better overall.
In the end, we recommended only two blenders out of the 10 we tested. Our top performer impressed us with its brute strength and efficiency. Each of its four blades was positioned at a different angle, maximizing its ability to pulverize food. Ice was demolished in just five bursts of power, smoothies were quickly lump-free, and hummus came out perfectly consistent.
For a less expensive alternative, consider our Best Buy. Although noticeably slower than our top performer, this model’s six blades (including two that were serrated) were positioned at different angles, allowing it to excel at crushing ice and making hummus. It was also the quietest blender overall.
Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) 6-inch Straight Boning Knife: Flexible
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus.
|★ ★ ★||★ ★ ★||$19.95|
Wüsthof Classic Boning Knife
Hefty in weight, this knife was a solid performer when removing poultry bones, and the handle was easy to grip, even when covered in chicken fat. Piercing silver skin was a challenge since the tip wasnt sharp enough and the long narrow blade produced slightly jagged cuts.
|★ ★||★ ★ ★||$99.95|
|Recommended with Reservations|
Mundial Boning Knife: Flexible
The sharp tip performed well when removing silver skin, but it was too flexible when maneuvering around poultry joints, leaving testers feeling a lack of control. The heavy handle was slightly unbalanced and became slippery once covered in poultry fat.
|★ ★||★ ★||$19.95|
Shun Gokujo Filet Knife
Designed to replicate a samurai blade, this expensive knife was a disappointment. It struggled to pierce the silver skin, although long cuts were smooth and even. Minimal flexibility and extreme curve got in the way when maneuvering around joints. The smooth handle was hard to grip and slippery.
MAC Boning KnifeChef Series
The large, cumbersome handle reminded testers of an outdoors knife for fishing and hunting. The blade was too wide to maneuver around joints and it struggled to pierce silver skin. Unlike other knives, this boning knife could only slice in one direction, making intricate cuts around joints difficult.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite Flexible Boning Knife
The blade was so flexible it led to erratic cuttings; testers said the knife was hard to control. The blade was not sturdy enough to maneuver around joints and the lightweight handle felt flimsy and unbalanced.