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With metal blades and a powerful motor, you'd think a blender could handle just about any food you throw in it. Whipping up smoothies packed with rock-hard frozen fruit and frothy frozen cocktails like our famous whole lime margarita should be a breeze, right? But there are some foods that can put a strain on your appliance, make a huge mess, or turn out utterly inedible.
Of course, the type of blender you have will make a difference when it comes to performance. With a variety of sizes and wattages available, not all blenders are created equally, which means those with lower horsepower will likely have more trouble with our no-no list of blender foods. (If you're in the market for a beast of a blender that's big on horsepower, these are the best.) And no matter what kind of blender you use, be sure to follow these five basic blender tips.
Without further ado, here are the foods you should think twice about plopping into your next blended creation:
"Standard blenders just aren't powerful enough to crush ice cubes into a fine powder or snow. You'll end up with half-blended ice that's still in large chunks, which can ruin the texture of your smoothie or shake," says Anja Wolf, CEO and creative director for kitchen tips website I Love Cookware. Ice can also damage blender blades and "cause the motor to overheat and eventually break down," she says.
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"While frozen and fresh fruit are great additions to your blended concoction, dried fruits are a completely different story," says Aysegul Sanford, recipe developer, food photographer, and founder of Foolproof Living. Dried fruit has a sticky center and thick exterior, which can coat blades and prevent them from functioning well, she says. If you can't live without it in your smoothie, pre-cut it or soak it in water to soften it before adding it to the blender.
"Using hot liquids in a high-speed blender is very unsafe," says Sodexo Live! Executive Chef Gregory Pittman at the Baltimore Convention Center. "The steam buildup from the hot liquids could pop the top of the blender and splatter that hot liquid all over the place or, even worse, on a person's skin." If you absolutely must blend hot liquids, first consult your owner's manual to make sure your blender model can handle hot items. If it can, still take care and don't overfill the pitcher. Instead, blend in batches if needed, and allow for steam to escape by removing the center vent from the lid and draping a kitchen towel over top to prevent splatter, says food writer Stacey Ballis.
Blenders and grinders are different beasts, and coffee beans are an excellent test case to prove it. "Believe it or not, coffee beans are actually one of the hardest things to blend," says Brittany Kline, blogger at The Savvy Kitchen. "They tend to get stuck in the blades and can even damage the motor if you're not careful. So, unless you're using a very powerful blender, it's best to avoid blending coffee beans altogether."
When it comes to making bread, a stand mixer is your best friend. A blender is not. "If you don't want to end up with a damaged blender or a dough that is over-mixed and tough, then seriously don't bother," says Rachel Hemsley, founder and editor of Make Bread At Home. "When dough is blended in a blender, the gluten in the flour can be overworked and become tough. The result is a loaf of bread that is less than ideal—either too dense or crumbly. To have the perfect loaf of bread, it's important to handle the dough gently and not overmix it."
"One food I will never put in my blender again is turmeric root," says Veronica Rouse, MAN, RD, CDE, a registered dietitian and founder of The Heart Dietitian. "Turmeric root is known for its ability to reduce inflammation and oxidation, and therefore the risk of heart disease. However, it has turned my (expensive) plastic Vitamix jug a mustard yellow. I have tried everything to remove this hue from my blender, but nothing seems to work. I guess turmeric is called the golden spice for a reason."
Almonds are a healthy snack, full of protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins B6 and E, says registered dietitian and certified strength and conditioning specialist Reda Elmardi, founder of The Gym Goat. But when blended, almonds can make a mess. "When almonds are blended, they release a sticky substance called mucilage, which can clog up the blade of the blender and make it difficult to blend other foods," Elmardi says. To prevent this from happening, Elmardi recommends stashing almonds in the freezer before blending them. Nuts in general can dull blender blades. Megan Weimer, recipe developer and founder of Meg + Matcha, recommends soaking them overnight before adding to the blender when making nut milk or butter.
Some Frozen Fruits
Blenders are synonymous with fruit smoothies, but some fruits can be tough on the appliance. "I make a lot of smoothies and frozen fruit-blended recipes in our Vitamix," says vegan cookbook author and food blogger Marly McMillen. "I've learned never to put overly frozen fruit in my blender, especially fruit that freezes hard and firm, like whole strawberries. Trying to blend hard frozen fruit can damage your blender, as it can strain your blender's blades. When using frozen fruit, I recommend letting it sit in the blender for up to 10 minutes to allow it to soften before blending," she says.
When making mashed potatoes, throwing your tubers into a blender may seem like a genius shortcut, but a mess and gloopy potatoes are the likely outcome. "Starchy foods like potatoes can release too much starch because of the blender's speed and blades," says Bill Bradley, RD, CEO of mediterraneanliving.com. "They can have a chalky or glue-like texture." So, grab a potato masher and get that arm workout along with silky mashed potatoes.
And lastly, these non-food items should never be added to a blender:
Fingers and Utensils
"Over my career, I have seen multiple cooks using rubber or even stainless steel utensils to clean a blender while it is still connected to power–an ultimate no-no," Chef Pittman says. "Always unplug the blender, remove the vessel from its base, remove the blade (if possible), pour out the contents and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides."