Kitchen gadgets: The Blendtec blends an iPhone, but carrots?

Why you don't need the most powerful home blender on the market.

By Farhad Manjoo

Published December 19, 2007 3:00PM (EST)

You likely need no introduction to the Blendtec Total Blender. Just a little less popular than the "Numa Numa" kid or "Dick in a Box," this kitchen gadget has become an online star thanks to "Will it blend?" a "viral" marketing campaign in which Blendtec's founder, Tom Dickson, attempts to liquefy all sorts of items to prove his blender's might.

He always succeeds. Watch him blend golf balls, glow sticks, marbles, Chuck Norris, imitation diamonds, and many others -- everything is obliterated, including, most famously, the iPhone, whose destruction you can witness above.

As part of kitchen gadgets week at Machinist, I've been reviewing zany food-related contraptions that seem to possess the capacity to improve life in immeasurable ways (I've already covered the Aerogarden indoor herb grower and the Back to Basics Egg &Muffin toaster).

Improving life immeasurably is the Blendtec's main sell. With a 1,500-watt motor, the machine is one of the most powerful home blenders you can buy (mainstream blenders typically offer about 600 to 700).

The power affords amazing utility, says Blendtec. The Total Blender can replace a juicer, a food processor, a coffee grinder, and of course a standard countertop blender. The thing is so powerful you can even "cook" in it, the company says -- fill it with cold ingredients, run the "soup" cycle three times, and your liquids will emerge hot, energized by the torque of the motor.

But such power will cost you. The Total Blender, which is available in either black or white, runs for $399. A sleeker model, the Blendtec Connoisseur, aimed at people building custom kitchens, sells at $799 (the blender's base can be sunk into the countertop).

About a month ago Blendtec sent me a Total Blender to review. My quest: To see whether a $400 blender was good for more than juicing one's testosterone. That is, was it necessary?

Like everyone else with a kitchen, I've got a standard blender, one that probably wouldn't do too well with an iPhone but that does a heckuva job on cooked carrots I want to puree for soup. I use it about once a week or so, mainly for the carrots or other purees or to pulse sauces. Rarely does my blender get a real workout. Once in a long while I'll make a smoothie, but I prefer the delights blended up by that famous chain store to anything I can make at home.

So what would I do with a Total Blender? Right, the same thing you'd do. Blend anything in sight.

Well, not anything: In his videos, Tom Dickson advises us not to try his tricks at home, and so I avoided electronic gadgets, toys, precious metals, and combustibles, and instead focused on food. As part of various recipes or on their own, cooked or raw or frozen, I tried carrots, squash, almonds, hazelnuts, coffee beans, apples, tomato sauce, ice, chocolate, and loads else.

And sure, for many jobs, the Total Blender proved very handy. Blendtec's not lying, this blender packs a punch. On full, the machine leaves nothing in its path; all emerges smooth liquid. When this is your aim -- as in a smoothie or a soup -- there is likely no better machine.

Besides power, the Total Blender feature a range of preprogrammed cycles meant for different kinds of foods. These modes -- one button for whole juice, say, another for smoothies -- cause the machine to speed up and slow down according to a timer, automatically mixing the food for the best blend (reducing the liklihood that you've got to stop the machine to scrape down the sides), and stop by itself when it's done.

Despite its intelligence and power, there are some foods the Total Blender -- or any other blender -- simply cannot liquefy. One of these, I found, is raw carrots. Fill the machine with carrots, press Whole Juice, and you don't get juice. You get shredded carrots (as well as a whole lot of noise; this machine should come with a set of earplugs).

In the pretty recipe book that comes along with the blender, the company advises adding water or another liquid to foods that don't liquefy. I added orange juice to the carrots to make an orange-carrot blend, usually one of my favorite juices -- but this concoction tasted off, sickly thick with pulverized bits of carrot pulp, more a paste than a juice. (A juicer, by contrast, extracts liquid from the fruit, making for thinner, tastier liquid.)

The machine is not too great as a grinder, either, if your aim is anything other than powder. I filled the machine with thick slabs of baking chocolate and let it rip. What I got after about 20 seconds was a wide range of different-sized bits of chocolate -- a mass of fine powder, a mass of millimeter-sized shreds, a few half-inch bits, and a couple badly beaten inch-wide blocks.

The same occurred with coffee beans, with bad results for your drink (good coffee, aficionados will tell you, depends on grind consistency -- that's why coffee snobs prefer burr grinders).

Amazon's reviews suggest that the Total Blender's owners consider the machine indispensable.

But after using it, I've got to imagine that such people constitute a narrow group. If you're into raw foods, love all kinds of liquefied vegetables, or need a machine to hide healthy vegetables in your children's meals, you couldn't do better than Blendtec's wares. Also, if you make mixed drinks or have another use for extremely finely crushed ice, this is your ticket. A Blendtec rep promised me that the Total Blender would turn ice into something like snow. So that was the first thing I tried, and he was right. The crushed ice was so light and fluffy I packed it into a snowball.

But I don't need to make snowballs at home, and I'll hazard you don't either.

True, the smoothies I made in my $70 Oster blender felt a bit less smooth on my tongue than the ones I made in the Total Blender. It's possible, too, that the Oster will wear out much faster than the Blendtec.

But I can buy five Oster blenders for the price of the Blendtec. Or I could buy a hundred or so delicious store-bought smoothies. Either option would be wiser.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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