How we tested
Five years ago we set out to find a reasonably priced blender that could stand up to the constant, heavy-duty use that many of us demand of this appliance. Of course we wanted it to be able to carry out routine tasks such as pureeing soups and sauces to a smooth consistency, but we also wanted it to reliably handle jobs such as blitzing ice into snow for frozen cocktails or pulverizing fibrous ingredients into smoothies—not just occasionally but daily. We’ve seen such regular, strenuous use cause many blender malfunctions over the years, from cracked jars to burnt-out motors, so once we found a midpriced winner, we didn’t stop there. We subjected it to a long-term durability test, making more than 400 smoothies in a single copy of our favorite, The Hemisphere Control from Breville ($199.95), using a challenging combo of raw kale and frozen fruit. The Breville passed this test with flying colors. Furthermore, the six copies we purchased to use in the test kitchen have held up well over the years.
As satisfied as we are with this machine, it’s our job to periodically scour the marketplace to make sure nothing new has come along that might topple the current champ. With that in mind, we went shopping for midpriced blenders, capping the price at $300.00. We passed over models costing less than $100.00, since we’ve learned that these don’t blend as well or last as long with regular use, so you actually end up spending more money over time on replacements. We found six contenders to pit against the Breville and put them through a range of tests: pureeing kale, orange juice, and frozen pineapple into smoothies; crushing ice; emulsifying eggs and oil into mayonnaise; and grinding almonds into almond butter. Though we normally reserve this last task for a food processor, the almond butter test would highlight a machine’s ability to take on thick, viscous mixtures. We also evaluated each blender on how easy it was to operate, fill, pour from, and clean. In addition, we assessed how noisy these appliances were and examined each for wear and tear.
Given that in our last testing five out of 10 models performed so miserably that we couldn’t recommend them at all, we weren’t surprised to find stark differences among the models in the new lineup. Four utterly failed at emulsifying the mayonnaise, and only one was successful in turning almonds into a completely smooth butter. Others managed to make a passably smooth almond butter, but most also required us to repeatedly stop and start the machine for scrape-downs (the best required only three scrape-downs).
Our smoothie evaluation was particularly telling. For this test, we first weighed out precise amounts of kale, frozen pineapple, and orange juice and blended the three for exactly 60 seconds in each machine. Next, we painted a stripe of each smoothie side by side on a piece of white paper to examine their textures. Though all the blenders were able to get the ingredients to a drinkable consistency, we could see very clearly that some produced a homogeneous, consistently bright green mixture while others left dark green flecks of kale speckled throughout their smoothies. Some smoothies were also overly aerated, which detracts from the dense, creamy texture we want in a smoothie. What made the difference?
To answer that question, we began by looking at each blender’s blades. We noticed right away that they were all markedly different. Some were serrated, others straight. Some had four prongs, others six. And the prongs pointed in all different directions: up, to the sides, down, and at all angles. But when we matched each blade to the smoothie it made, our results were inconclusive—no single blade design produced the finest blend. One four-pronged, mostly horizontal design and a six-pronged, mostly vertical design both made completely homogeneous smoothies, while a different four-pronged blade turned out the smoothie with the largest pieces of kale. Another six-pronged model also did a poor job at smoothie blending. At a dead end on the blade theory, we turned to the component that makes the blades spin: the motor.
Manufacturers quantify motor power in watts. Our seven blenders ranged in power from 550 to 1,600 watts. We expected more power to correlate directly to a fine-textured smoothie, but we discovered that while power matters, it alone doesn’t guarantee success. It was also important for a blender to have a good range of speeds. A slower low speed, between 1,000 and 4,000 rotations per minute (rpm), was one key for allowing ingredients to thoroughly combine without excessive splattering, especially when working with small amounts of food, as with our mayonnaise recipe. A slower low speed also helped ensure that the blender wasn’t overworked, making the motor less prone to burning out and temporarily stopping. The low speed of one high-wattage blender that offered two speeds clocked in at a whopping 14,190 rpm. It splattered mayonnaise ingredients so chaotically in the blender jar that the sauce never emulsified, and we had to scrape down the sides of the jar 15 times before our chopped almond mixture maintained enough movement to transform into almond butter.
Though we couldn’t measure the rpm of the blenders’ high speeds for safety reasons, our testing results made it clear that having a fast enough high speed correlated with smooth, fine-textured results.
Our top blender was moderately powerful, with a 750-watt motor and a starting speed of 3,812 rpm. While it didn’t blend things quite as finely as some of the more powerful blenders, it worked efficiently, requiring only a few scrape-downs of the jar. It was adept at making smaller-volume recipes such as mayonnaise, and all the food it produced was sufficiently smooth. That said, the starting speed of our second-place model clocked in at 11,000 rpm, but the blender still performed admirably. Clearly another factor was at play.
The design of the jar also proved to be an important feature. When blender blades spin, they move the blender contents into a vortex, which looks like a small tornado. In a good blender, food in the vortex is drawn down into the spinning blades, pushed back up the vortex, and then pulled back down, making contact with the blades at a high rate of speed. Jars with rounded interiors and smooth, seamless bottoms didn’t trap food like those with crevices did and created the best vortices.
The diameter of the jar was key, too. Wider jars were easier to scrape out, but ingredients were more likely to spatter up against the walls at the outset of blending and thus not thoroughly combine without lots of scrape-downs. They also tended to incorporate too much air because the ingredients had more room to bash about. Jars that measured about 4.5 inches across at the middle, like those of our top and second-place blenders, were narrow enough to keep the food contained and required much less stopping and starting to scrape down the sides.
When we tallied the scores, we weren’t surprised to find that our previous winner, Breville’s The Hemisphere Control, once again bested all competitors. It wasn’t as high-powered as some of the other models in the lineup, but thanks to a rounded, narrow jar; a powerful-enough motor; and five well-calibrated speed buttons offering a good range of speed between the low and high settings, it worked efficiently without requiring us to frequently stop and scrape down the jar. It produced nicely blended smoothies, creamy dips, perfect mayo, and snowy crushed ice, and it even did well in our almond butter abuse test. And at $199.95, its moderate price is one we can get behind.
We tested seven blenders, priced from $159.99 to $285.00, rating them on their ability to perform various tasks. We also evaluated each blender on how easy it was to operate and clean. We measured the diameter of each jar at the midpoint. We used a tachometer to measure how fast each blender’s blades turned on the lowest setting and a decibel meter to measure how loud each was. Prices listed were paid online. The blenders appear in order of preference.
SMOOTHIES: We made kale, pineapple, and orange juice smoothies in each model. The best made completely smooth smoothies while incorporating minimal air.
CRUSHED ICE: The best models quickly turned ice into fluffy white snow with minimal scraping.
MAYONNAISE: We evaluated each model’s ability to blend small amounts of eggs and oil into mayonnaise, measuring the efficiency of its lowest speed and the functionality and usefulness of the hole in the top of its lid, through which we poured the oil while the blender was running; the best models produced a smooth and creamy sauce on the first try.
ALMOND BUTTER: Models that were able to produce smooth butter from whole almonds with minimal scraping or overheating rated highest.
EASE OF USE: We rated each blender on how logical and intuitive its controls were, as well as how maneuverable the jar and the blender itself were. We also evaluated how easy it was to clean.
NOISE: We noted how loud the blenders were throughout testing and measured their noise levels with a decibel meter, noting a range of roughly 80 decibels (comparable to the dial tone of a telephone) to 103 decibels (comparable to a lawn mower). Those that stayed under 100 decibels rated highest.