Mix Masters: Best Buys in Blenders, Food Processors & Stand Mixers

You’ll find more choices than ever before when it comes to countertop blenders that have preprogrammed settings and those that are high-powered. Further, a few models have emerged that combine the functions of blenders, food processors or stand mixers.

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Whether you draw inspiration from an Iron Chef or simply want to carve away a few minutes for yourself in our rush-rush world, you have more choices of appliances that blend, mix, chop and process food than you did even 2 years ago—and more of which also combine tasks. The new choices include models from two well-known brands that are new to the blender market and from a longtime English brand that introduced itself to the U.S. market through an innovative stand mixer.

Calphalon, which is well-known for cookware, introduced an immersion blender in 2011 and a countertop blender in August 2012. Dash, which produces yogurt makers and juicers, brought out a countertop blender in November 2012. Finally, Kenwood arrived in the United States in October 2012 with a stand mixer that also can cook food.

Among blender manufacturers new and old, we noticed a trend toward more power. A desire to appeal to the healthy-eating crowd has prompted that move, manufacturers say. Manufacturers agree that these more-powerful blenders process hard-to-blend ingredients, such as kale and spinach, more easily to support, say, your daily smoothie fix. We found that to be the case, particularly when it comes to creating a smooth blend.

Noticeably fewer low-power (400 watts or less) blender models exist than were on the market 2 years ago, while the number of models that provide 600 watts of power has risen. The number of models that have at least 1,000 watts of power is higher, too. Eleven brands now have blenders that have at least 1,000 watts of power, encompassing at least 33 models, compared with eight brands and 18 models 2 years ago. The prices for 1,000-watt models, however, still start at about $400, with the exception of Ninja’s $100 model.

Experts caution that high wattage or horsepower doesn’t always translate to stellar performance. “Horsepower is not always a good indicator of how well the product will work,” says Marianne Grisdale of TEAMS Design, which is an industrial-design consultancy. Higher wattage means that the blades spin faster, but Grisdale says a lot of a blender’s performance depends on the torque, the jar shape and the blade design. Our evaluations found that a high-power motor, if all other factors are similar, produces quicker and smoother blending.

AUTOMATED AGE. Beyond power, we noticed an increase in the number of blenders that have preprogrammed settings. These settings activate a preprogrammed cycle—similar to that of a dishwasher—that varies the speed during operation and then stops when it’s finished.

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Three manufacturers—Dash, Hamilton Beach and Vitamix—added blender models in 2012 that have this functionality, bringing the total to five manufacturers that have such models. (Preprogrammed settings don’t apply to food processors or stand mixers, because typically you’ll want to monitor more closely your recipes’ progress.)

What’s even better news is that prices have come down for blenders that have preprogrammed settings. Countertop blenders that have smoothie or crushed-ice settings start at about $40. Two years ago, you’d have paid at least $95 for such a model. The Dash Chef Series Premium Digital Blender ($400), which was introduced in November 2012, has the most preprogrammed settings, six, of any blender. Five of those settings create frozen desserts, crush ice, make soup, make smoothies and puree food. The sixth setting, rinse, allows you to clean the jar.

Are more preprogrammed settings worth shelling out the extra bucks? “For some people, if they’re in the kitchen with a lot of interruptions, it’s a lifesaver, because it allows you to multitask,” says Nekayah Snider of retailer The Cook’s Warehouse. In other words, the value of preprogrammed settings lies in how you use your blender: They’re great for busy mornings when you want to do something else while you make your smoothie, or, say, for people who make lots of frozen drinks at parties while they mingle.

DOING MORE. The trend of manufacturers introducing machines that blur the line between blenders, food processors, stand mixers or even cooking appliances continues to expand, albeit slowly. Two manufacturers introduced three models in the past 2 years that combine functions, compared with a single model 2 years ago.

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We noted in 2010 that Cuisinart used a nonstick heating plate to saute ingredients or boil liquids right in a blender jar. Now, a machine by Kenwood takes that to the next level. Kenwood’s Cooking Chef Kitchen Machine resembles a stand mixer, but it has an induction heating element that cooks food in the bowl as it’s stirred by a paddle. Kenwood says the appliance can cook anything from custard to risotto to soup. At press time, we haven’t performed a hands-on evaluation, but others found that it works as advertised. The machine includes a blender and a food processor that attach to power hubs at the top of the machine. For all of that versatility, you’ll shell out $2,000.

Meanwhile, Ninja added two machines that combine the functions of a countertop blender and a food processor. Ninja launched the Kitchen System Pulse ($170) in October 2011. This model is designed to blend, juice, knead dough, mix and process. In September 2012, the company rolled out its 1200W Kitchen System ($200), which includes a full-size blender jar, a food processor that also kneads dough, and single-serve blending cups—all of which fit on the same base.

Experts whom we interviewed are skeptical that multifunction kitchen appliances are as effective as are their single-function counterparts. Lisa Casey Weiss, who is a spokesperson for International Housewares Association, says she sees the benefit in terms of money and the countertop space that’s saved through multifunction appliances. However, she adds, “There is some kind of trade-off in the quality and function that [consumers] might not get had they purchased two separate appliances.”

We agree. We found that multifunction appliances don’t work as well as single-function appliances do, because different tasks require different motor speeds. Consequently, for example, a motor that works well at slow speeds, such as for food processing, might produce, say, lumpy soup in your blender, which requires higher speeds. In other words, a single-function appliance more likely will keep your food preparation sailing along smoothly.

Jessica Goldbogen Harlan has covered housewares for 18 years. She has written for Consumers Digest, HFN and About.com. 

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