Friday, December 7, 2012

Why did I buy a Vitamix?

Peer pressure is responsible for many great things in this world -- potty training, learning to read, cleaning up toys. But it's also responsible for bad choices people wouldn't make without that extra little nudge. How else can I explain my irrational decision of returning Blendtec and buying a Vitamix? What was wrong with Blendtec? Not much. It wouldn't blend blackberries or fish bones to silky smoothness, other than that it worked like a charm. How often do I need to blend blackberries and fish bones? Almost never. But doubt started creeping into my mind. Could Vitamix do better? After all, all upscale restaurants use Vitamix, not Blendtec. There must be a reason. Wouldn't 4 sharp blades be better than 2 dull ones? 
After a few sleepless nights, I took my beloved Blendtec back to Costco and got myself a Vitamix 5200.

Before I give you a comparison of the two blenders, let me tell you what I did in my previous life. I was a usability engineer. In case you are not familiar with this profession, let me try to sum it up for you. Usability engineers are the people responsible for making sure someone else makes a usable product. The someone else is most often software developers who view usability people as annoying little pests who are reducing their productivity. Usability people fight back with videos of users cursing the interface during usability tests hoping that enough user frustration would finally get developers to listen to their suggestions.  Sometimes developers actually listen.

Imagine the horror of every usability engineer on this planet when a study came out showing that when an interface was given to several usability teams for evaluation, their findings were completely different. That's like saying that if you went to 3 doctors for a check up, one would diagnose you with a cold, another with heart disease, and the third one with cancer. Not good. Managers of every usability department, feverishly got to work explaining the results of this study to their bosses. There were charts, there were graphs, there were sample sizes.  But the truth is it all boiled down to a very simple thing -- what tasks the users were asked to do. If the tasks were different, the problems were also different. This is a very long way of explaining that there is no way to answer a question of which blender is better. It all depends on what the user wants to do. Instead of finding some weird tasks like pureeing fish bones or golf balls, I'd like to compare these two blenders based on the tasks that actually happen in my kitchen.

Creamy soups
Both blenders do equally well in producing a perfectly smooth vegetable soup.  The advantage of Vitamix is its larger size, so there are fewer batches to pour in and out.  Vitamix can do about 6 cups at a time.  Blendtec can do 4.  The advantage of Blendtec is that you don't need to baby-sit it.  Press the "soup" button and let it do its thing.  With Vitamix you have to ramp up slowly and eventually flip it to "high" speed.

Thick purees
For really thick purees with no liquid involved (for example, pureeing braised root vegetables), Vitamix does better because it has a tamper.  Blendtec gets stuck on something that thick.  Of course, those tasks are better suited to a food processor anyway.  But if there is any liquid going into a puree at all, Blendtec is way less hassle.  It works great without a tamper, so there is less to do and less to wash.  Examples of thick purees with a bit of liquid are hummus, bean spread, or soft-serve ice-cream.  With Blendtec, all you have to do is press a button (just make sure the liquid goes in first and that you have at least 1/2 cup of it). With Vitamix you have to stand there for a few minute pushing stuff down with the tamper and then you have more dishes to do.

Neither Blendtec nor Vitamix purees blackberries to my satisfaction.  Vitamix broke them down more, but I can't say the result was better.  The seeds got broken down so much that it was impossible to strain them out, and the mixture had a dusty quality to it.  For a blackberry puree, I'd use low speed and short blending time to keep the seeds as whole as possible and then strain them out.  Of course, a blackberry smoothie is a different story.  It might not be necessary to strain it once blackberries are not the only ingredient.  And who are we kidding -- would any sane person be straining their smoothie?  Unfortunately, I haven't tried a blackberry smoothie in Blendtec, so I can't compare the two blenders.

Small amounts
Blendtec rocks for small amounts.  The blade sits so low in the carafe, it blends as little as 1/2 cup.  Vitamix needs at least a cup.

Both blenders wash up well by putting some warm soapy water into them and giving it a spin.  I did overfill Blendtec once and the soap foam started coming out of the top.  The cover on Blendtec is not as sturdy as on Vitamix.  Once you learn how much soapy water to put into it, it's not a problem.

Blendtec is more compact, has a flat cover that barely takes up any space, and requires no tamper, so it takes up about half the space of Vitamix in my drying rack.  Drying rack space is at a premium in my house, so this is a big deal to me.

Getting stuff out of the blender
Blendtec has straight sides, to it's possible to get every last bit of food out quickly and easily.  The indents in the sides of Vitamix are extremely annoying when dealing with thick purees.  A soup pours right out, but getting a bean spread out of a Vitamix is a pain in the neck.

Blendtec fits under the counter.  Vitamix doesn't.

Now it makes perfect sense to me why restaurants prefer Vitamix.  They want the larger capacity, they never make 1/2 cup of anything, they don't have cabinets hanging above their counters, and they hire dishwashers.  In case you are wondering, I doubt the dishwasher is the one making decisions about $500 pieces of equipment.

Vitamix is great, but I do miss Blendtec.  So remember -- grass is always greener on the other side and blackberries are always smoother in another blender.


Unknown said...

I suspect I'm not as proficient a cook as you, so I doubt I would need either a BlendTec or a VitaMix. That said, I've had the same Hamilton Beach blender for about 10 years, and it works fine. It came with a food processor attachment, but that thing scares me half to death, because I'm afraid it'll take my hand off. So I don't use the food processor attachment. It's not like I really need it. I find the Hamilton Beach is fine for things like smoothies, which is about the only reason I use it. Maybe when I get into more advanced cooking techniques I'll start worrying about food processors and high-tech blenders.

I just want to say that I do enjoy your blog, it's always interesting and thought-provoking!

Adam at Joy of Blending said...

A couple comments from a Vitamix user.
Small amounts: I've found that the Vitamix 5200 container can do a 1/2 cup, though it is true that chunky items can give it trouble with that small volume. When I make Vitamix coleslaw, after chopping the vegetables I make a vinaigrette sauce in the container, which is usually about 1/2 a cup. The first time I made it I put in a whole clove of garlic, and a chunk of it got stuck under the blades. Now I chop up the garlic a bit before tossing it in and it's fine.

Drying: I don't put the pitcher on the drying rack. I keep my Vitamix next to the sink, so after rinsing I just put the pitcher back on the base. Then I proceed with other cleanup, and about a minute later I dump/shake the water drips out of the container/lid and put it back on the base. I've found that it drys pretty quickly with that technique.

Cleaning tamper: Most of the time that I use the tamper to clean it I just rinse it while the Vitamix is running. It's only the really thick oily stuff (e.g. nut butter) where I need to actually wash it with a sponge.

Getting stuff out: For thick blends this can be a bit annoying with the Vitamix. I use the 32oz container for things like hummus and nut butter, and that helps a little bit. I've also started using the Vitamix nylon scraper spatulas, and they're narrow enough to reach between the blades, and flat enough to scrape the sides of the container. So far they've been working great, though I am slightly concerned that over time they will get a bit chewed up by running into the blades.

Also, maybe not what you want to hear, but Vitamix released a new machine this year that fits under most cabinets (still not quite as short as Blendtec) and has a wider container so getting food out is slightly easier. They also now have machines with preset programs. (I'm still happy with my old Vitamix though.)

Florian said...

To help with storage, Vitamix sells 48-oz jars - indeed, few home cooks need the 64-oz monster.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the comparison! We had the same dilemma and went with the Blendtec. There are only two of us, and based on the descriptions of how you use the blender and how we do, it seems that we made the right choice. :-) Very helpful! Thanks!

jdxNom said...

I also went with a Blendtec. I'm extremely happy with it.

It will choke up if there isn't enough water (about 1/2 a cup), but I don't make butters or pastes that often.

Also, for those who are interested, I hear Blendtec sells a special "twister jar" that allows you to blend thick stuff.

Anonymous said...

But what is the price differential? I don't see how you can possibly make an intelligent decision without considering that.

Helen said...

There are different models, but Blendtec is roughly $275 and Vitamix is roughly $375. These are Costco prices. Buying a Vitamix at William and Sonoma will probably be $600+, but why would anyone do that?

I've had my Vitamix for over a year now and love it. I am glad I made the switch.

Jim said...

I can't believe this is happening! Never have I disagreed with Helen on anything..........until now. I like my Blendtec. I'm keeping my Blendtec and if this is the ruination of our relationship, then sadly it must be. I can't believe a Vitamix is tearing us apart! Chef John has a Blendtec.