KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender Review review: The KitchenAid 5-Speed is a diamond in the rough

Performance

Features and design are important elements of any appliance, but if the performance is lacking, those bells and whistles don't matter. As I said, while I didn't expect that the KitchenAid would wow me, I didn't think it would be a bottom performer either. Compared to the $400 blenders, such as the Blendtec Designer Series Wildside Blender, based on price alone, the $149 KitchenAid seems rather humble and I expected it to underperform those models. I was incredibly wrong.

We devised a series of blending tests, some of which simulate real usage scenarios and some which assessed the functional limits of each blender. Preliminary tests included crushing ice as well as making smoothies, pesto, and pancake batter. More rigorous tests were, in many cases, more revealing and involved milling whole almonds into almond flour, turning that almond flour into almond butter, making whipped cream, and determining whether or not a blender could grate/shred/blend an entire eight-ounce block of sharp cheddar cheese.

The KitchenAid blender doesn't offer mutliple ice-crush options like the Breville and it won't make snow, but the ice crush preset works really well and quickly. It's not fancy but, then again, you're crushing ice. It doesn't need to be fancy, it just needs to work.

The KitchenAid powered through smoothies also. You have a lot of options and which preset you use will depend a lot on what's in your smoothies. If you blend kale, beets, or other fibrous, tough foods into smoothies, you will need to select puree or liquify, at least at first. For softer foods like bananas or fresh strawberries and yogurt, mix or puree will suffice. While you might miss the ease and convenience of a smoothie preset button, such as those on the Hamilton Beach and Breville, the KitchenAid offers you a lot of control over how your smoothie is made.

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Blenders are assisted in tough tasks by the addition of liquid. This is why most manufacturers recommend adding a few tablespoons of water to the pitcher when you want to crush ice. We wanted to test each blender's ability to process leafy greens or foods with different shapes, sizes, and consistencies without the assistance of a lot of liquid. Pesto seemed a perfect solution as it fit all of the above criteria. Our recipe included spinach, garlic cloves, parmesan cheese, walnuts, and olive oil. The KitchenAid performed well, producing chunky, yet uniform, pesto in 15 pulses and I didn't scrape the pitcher once in between. Three more pulses resulted in pesto as smooth as the product of the Vitamix.

After the first blending, a some of the pancake mix stuck to the sides. Scraping and re-mixing completely remedied the situation. Katie Pilkington/CNET

We wondered if the shape of the pitcher or location and height of the blades would leave dry ingredients wedged in corners, against the pitcher, or under the blades. We also wondered if the blenders could mix a powdered ingredient with a liquid into a smooth batter. Pancake mix felt like not only a good way to provide a practical answer to the second question, but also to provide a visual answer for the first. The KitchenAid performed above expectations. We decided to use the stir preset (or similar option for other models) for 20 seconds and then assess. I found pancake mix clinging to the sides of the pitcher. I scraped the pitcher and stirred for an additional five seconds. The batter was perfect. Because I had to scrape the pitcher, it wasn't a top performer in this test but given its price, I don't mind doing a little work.

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We knew that many blenders, especially the 1,000-plus watt models, could handle rugged, high-power blending. How would they do with more delicate food items, however? Whipping cream seemed like a good finesse test, providing an elegant way to show whether or not a blender could perform tasks that don't require full strength. You can under-whip cream and you can over-whip cream. All of the blenders made acceptable whipped cream in less than a minute. Some were better than others, but the KitchenAid made excellent, fluffy whipped cream. This isn't a common blender use, but I appreciate knowing that I could make great whipped cream with an appliance that is always out on my counter, saving me from finding the hand-mixer and whisk attachments which are almost never in the same place.

Katie Pilkington/CNET

From here, our tests got more rigorous, especially for smaller blenders. Because the Ninja and Blendtec both claimed to be able to make almond butter, we wanted to test the claim. This meant testing all of the blenders. We devised two tests out of one: first, to see if the blenders could process two cups of raw almonds into an even almond flour, and second, to process that almond mix (no oil added) into almond butter, as one of our recipes suggested.

I had no expectations that any of the lower-watt blenders would perform well, if at all, in either of these tests. The Breville and KitchenAid, however, flew through this test. In 20 pulses, the Kitchen Aid made perfect almond flour. The Cuisinart PowerEdge 1000 Watt Blender was unable to make almond flour, let alone almond butter, and the Hamilton Beach was able to go halfway, making great almond flour but unable to complete the next step.

Katie Pilkington/CNET

Processing almond butter took longer, naturally, as the almond's oils need to release and emulsify. Our recipe suggested that in a food processor, this process can take ten minutes. That time frame became our benchmark: if the blender could make almond butter and it could do it in less than ten minutes, we'd call it a success. The KitchenAid, impressively, required only five minutes. I had to scrape the pitcher often to keep the mixture moving, so it's not a hands-off task, but the KitchenAid's almond butter rivaled the product made in the high-watt blenders.

Our final test was the torture test. We like to devise a test for each appliance category that pushes the machines to the limit to see how well they perform. For vacuums, we scatter nuts, washers, and bobby pins to see if the machine can pick them up or, at the very least, run over them without breaking. For blenders, we placed an eight-ounce block of cold, sharp cheddar cheese into the pitcher and turned the blender on high to see whether it could grate or pulverize the cheese.

The KitchenAid was the top performer. Within seconds, it shredded the cheese into fine pieces that, while not necessarily attractive, were uniform and usable. This distinguished the KitchenAid because even though it lacked the power of the larger blenders, it outperformed them. I attributed this success to the shape of the pitcher. Because there was nowhere for the cheese to get stuck due to the pitcher's narrow shapes, it was forced in constant contact with the blades, which made short work of it. Most of the blenders could handle the cheese, but they would either heat up and therefore melt the cheese, or overprocess, resulting in something we described as "cheese snow." It's as gross-looking as it is gross-sounding. There was, however, no melting or distortion with the KitchenAid.

Katie Pilkington/CNET

Care and Maintenance

The KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender comes with a category-standard, one-year warranty. Replacement parts are harder to come by, which is disappointing, but not abnormal. The KitchenAid Web site offers a page for service scheduling, should the need arise.

Conclusion

If you only need a blender to make milkshakes, smoothies, or other frozen beverages, save your money and buy the Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart (Model 56206) for $39. It will perform all of those tasks without trouble and leave you with extra money in your wallet. If, however, you're looking for a blender that can break the block (of cheese that is) without breaking your bank, the $149 KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond blender is an excellent choice and will power through smoothies, mixes, and almonds alike.

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