A blender is most used for making smoothies, soups and milkshakes, but they can also create delicious meals from scratch – some are capable of grinding pastes like pesto and nut butters while others allow you to emulsify mayonnaise and make aioli. Some blenders can even be used for mixing batters.
There are many types available, so how does a cheap and cheerful $40 benchtop model compare against a high-speed super blender that could set you back a cool $1500? And how do you make sure you're getting the one that best suits your needs?
While it's great to think you'll be using a blender for a myriad of new culinary adventures, if the truth is you're only going to end up using it occasionally for fruit smoothies and shakes, a stick blender will do the job and cost you less.
But if you're blending often and with ingredients like hard fruit, seeds, vegetables and ice, you'll need the grunt only a benchtop blender can offer.
Traditional benchtop blenders are evolving into completely different beasts than they were just a few years ago. The current superfood and juicing crazes mean that manufacturers are giving their blenders more oomph, and making more health claims. You'll see loads of buzzwords like "high velocity", "pulverise" "whole food juice" and "improved mouthfeel".
Our reports cut through all this hype, but there's no denying the difference between a blender that can only crush a few ice cubes, compared with one that'll mill corn kernels. Our reports categorise benchtop blenders into traditional blenders and the 'super blenders' that mill and make nut butters.
Many of the mid-priced blenders, in the $300–500 price bracket, can do more than cheaper blenders and may suit your needs, but you'll need to take a closer look at the available features and differences. If you're thinking only of juicing, you may want to check out our dedicated juicer buying guide.
If you're into heavy-duty blending you can't go past a super blender. They offer more versatility than what you can get from a regular blender and they're extra powerful too, tackling a whole range of tasks.
These high-speed super blenders can be compared to all-in-one machines in that they can do things like:
- mill flour
- chop or crush wet and dry ingredients
- crush large amounts of ice into a snow-like appearance
- create hot soup (above 70°C) in around five minutes from completely raw ingredients, using blade friction alone
- make nut butters
- create spice pastes
- make dough
- turn tough vegetables like kale into a silky-smooth consistency (with the help of a little water)
Some models have heavy duty 'dry' jugs available so you don't have to wreck your regular jug with abrasive and hard foods, or you can buy a separate jug just for dry tasks.
Warm and frothy
The force generated by super blenders means they create more air and heat than a regular blender. In our test, we found super blender green smoothie temperatures rose by as much as 7°C (regular blenders rose up to 2°C). To bring a luke-warm smoothie back down to a thirst-quenching temperature, simply add ice.
It's like a scene from a movie: you're happily blending away when your smoothie explodes all over your kitchen. This has happened in our own kitchen lab – the lid was off a blender and the pulse button was accidentally activated.
An incident like this can easily happen, and unfortunately with the reports of erupting Thermomixes it's important to take extra safety precautions:
- Be mindful of where the controls are positioned and how they work.
- Don't blend hot soup – wait for it to cool first.
- Put the jug on the unit when ready to blend and keep the lid on when removing the jug.
- Turn the appliance off at the power point first.
- Take care when handling removable blades.
- Never go over the maximum blending times.
- Look for a blender with a safety cut out time, lid lock and measuring cap lock.
Manufacturers have also created a category of inexpensive 'single-serve' blenders that let you blend ingredients and drink from the same bottle. These are increasingly popular, and handy for busy people heading for work in the mornings (some fit into your car's drink holder) or teenagers needing an energy boost after school.
The disadvantage of these blenders is that they aren't as powerful as traditional blenders, and typically operate on a pulse function. You can't use one for more than a minute at a time and you need to add liquid to the fruit and vegetables first.
Here are some things to consider if you're going to buy a single-serve blender:
Multiple cups/jugs Handy if you want to prepare a single-serve smoothie each for a few people.
Cleaning If the bottle is narrow you may need to use a bottle brush to thoroughly clean it.
On/off switch Better than a push-and-twist type, which may put more wear and tear on the blender.
Rubber seal One that sits on the outside of the blade assembly instead of under the blade will be easier to remove. The rubber seal should also sit firmly within the blade assembly – seals can become loose over time from removing and cause leaks.
Blade assembly Should have adequate grip as after processing some become tighter and can be difficult to remove. The threading around the blade assembly and the cup/bottle should be smooth and easy to screw on firmly to prevent leaks.
Exit hole Helpful inside the shaft area for draining any spills.
How many servings do you need? Blender jug capacity can vary from a tiny 600mL single-serve blender to a family-friendly 2L. Keep in mind that some jugs can be heavy to lift and move, especially when full. Measurement gradings on the side of the jug can also be a useful cooking tool to indicate how much the blender can cope with.
Jug material and shape
Glass jugs are heavier and prone to breaking if dropped. Plastic jugs are more common than glass but more likely to become stained with certain foods (like tumeric for example).
Jugs can be square or round. Manufacturers design them in a way that lets ingredients be effectively distributed around the blender, but there are other factors like the blades and turning force (torque) that affect performance.
Bench or cupboard?
Some models look good enough to display on your bench, but they can take up a lot of room. If you plan to keep it in your cupboard, check you have the space for it and remember that heavy blenders can be a strain to lift out of awkward places.
Ease of use and cleaning
A model with removable blades can help to make cleaning around the bottom of the jug easier. Jugs with built-in blades are still OK if the jug has a wider base so it's easier to remove any unprocessed chunks sitting underneath them.
CHOICE tip: Put warm water into the jug with a drop of detergent and turn it on for a few seconds.
It's also good idea to get a jug that's dishwasher safe, but check that the jug will fit in your dishwasher.
Lids can be a hassle to clean, especially if seals need to be removed first and if lots of ingredients get splashed into the lid.
General comfort is important, such as whether it's easy to lock the jug in place and scrape ingredients from the sides of the blender.
Blenders need three speed settings to be effective – high, low and pulse.
Many blenders offer a graduated start-up feature that slowly brings the blades to the desired speed, reducing splash-back. Some models even have pre-programmed functions like soup, green smoothie or sorbet.
The pulse setting gives a short burst of power and is useful for small quantities of foods, particularly dry foods, to help distribute the load and encourage an even consistency.
Controls and construction
Controls can be push-button, adjustable dials or touch pads. Touch pads are the easiest to clean but look for controls that are sealed well, so food can't get into any crevices around them. A solid, heavy base with non-slip grip is handy so the blender stays steady on the bench.
A larger chute will allow you to add ingredients while the blender is on, but keep in mind that you might have some splash if you're adding liquid. Some also have push sticks or tampers that let you safely move ingredients around inside the jar while the blender is running. Tampers are handy if you're making nut butters and need to push ingredients down towards the blade, or blending awkwardly-shaped vegetables when making smoothies.
Wattage generally ranges from around 500W to 1200W, but in our testing we've found that this doesn't appear to have an effect on performance.