Ninja Ultima Blender BL810 review:

The Ninja's value slices through the competition

The Ninja doesn't have an ice crush preset like the Breville, but it will make short work of cubed ice. Depending on the power level you select, you can crush ice into larger chunks or into a fine, snowlike consistency. The quad blade makes this process especially easy and hassle-free.

Not surprisingly, the Ninja powered through smoothies. The company has a few recommendations for how to do this best. For processing tough ingredients like ice or frozen fruit, you will need to use the quad blade. Once all of this is pureed, removing the quad blade and using the bottom blades alone will result in a perfect smoothie. To wash, replace the quad blade and process with warm water and soap. I used the full-size pitcher to make a smoothie with spinach, beets, frozen berries, chia seeds, and honey. As you can see, the Ninja processed those ingredients into a velvety smoothie that was not only delicious, but easy to drink. Who said health can't be colorful?

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We know that liquid helps blenders perform tough tasks. Smoothies are simple operations because of the high volume of liquid involved. But what happens when you don't have much liquid? We tested each blender's ability to process foods of different shapes, sizes, and consistencies without that fluid assistance. Pesto seemed like an elegant way to answer the question because it would be illustrative (and delicious). Our recipe included spinach, whole garlic cloves, Parmesan cheese, walnuts, and a small amount of olive oil. While liquid was involved, it was a small amount and was far outmeasured by the dry ingredients. The Ninja powered through both single and double batches of pesto in 15 pulses, demonstrating that volume, whether great or small, doesn't cause it any trouble.

Many of the blenders had differently shaped jugs or pitchers. For example, the KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender, Vitamix, and Blendtec feature square or, at least, nearly square pitchers with flat bottoms. The Cuisinart PowerEdge 1000 Watt Blender and Breville's pitchers are rounded on the bottom. The Hamilton Beach is also rounded, but still a bit angular, and was the only one made of glass. We used pancake batter as one test of the impact of these different pitcher shapes and blade configurations, the goal being to see which blenders left dry ingredients wedged in corners, against the pitcher sides, or under the blades. The Ninja performed well and quickly, leaving only a small amount of dry mix stuck to the sides after 15 seconds of blending. Once I had scraped it and mixed for another 5 seconds, I found perfect pancake batter that poured easily out of the Ninja's pitcher. I also had to scrape the pitchers of the Breville and KitchenAid during this test. Given that I had to scrape both the rounded Breville and the square-bottomed KitchenAid, I'm not convinced that pitcher shape matters much where dry ingredients are concerned. Scraping the pitcher during some tasks seems to be necessary, regardless of design.

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By this point, we knew that the Ninja could handle rugged tests that required high power. We also tested whether it could handle more delicate foods. Whipping cream is a finesse test, as it is easy to overwhip or underwhip. We needed the blenders to turn heavy whipping cream, plus a touch of powdered sugar and vanilla extract, into fluffy, servable whipped cream. Some blenders did better than others, though all succeeded. The worst models made a looser whipped cream while the best produced what are called "stiff peaks," which means that if you stick a spatula into the whipped cream and remove it, the whipped cream that formed a peak on the top will hold its shape. The Ninja made excellent whipped cream. It was fluffy and uniform and comparable in appearance and consistency with the Breville and Vitamix's whipped cream.

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From here, you could say that our tests got more rigorous. The Ninja and Blendtec are both supposed to be able to make almond butter. Testing this claim meant testing all of the blenders. To get more bang for our buck, we made two tests out of one. First, we tested if the blenders could process 2 cups of raw almonds into an even almond flour. Then, we tried to process that almond mix, no oil added, into almond butter, as one of our recipes suggested.

Katie Pilkington/CNET

The results varied. The Cuisinart was unable to make almond flour, let alone almond butter. The Hamilton Beach got through the first step without trouble, but wasn't able to turn the flour into butter. The rest succeeded. The Ninja made perfect almond flour in 10 pulses with the power dial on eight. This was consistent with the other high-power blenders, like the Blendtec, which made almond flour in less than 20 pulses.

It took longer to make almond butter, which we expected. Our recipe stated that the process could take up to 10 minutes in a food processor. This became our standard: if a blender made almond butter in less than 10 minutes, we would consider it a success. The Ninja made perfect, store-bought-quality almond butter in 6 minutes. I had to scrape the pitcher from time to time, but I was still impressed with the Ninja's performance in this test. The Vitamix and Blendtec yielded similar results, both in terms of the time it took and the almond butter produced. Given that the Ninja costs half the price as both of these machines, I felt it validating to know that it could keep up.

This brings us to our final test: the torture test. We like to devise a test for each appliance category that lets us assess each machine's performance when it's pushed to its limits. For vacuum cleaners, 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 8-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.

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The Ninja didn't excel in this test, but it didn't fail, either. Its removable quad blade pulverized the outside of the cheese block, but then wedged it into a corner. I remedied this by repositioning the cheese block once, after which the Ninja easily grated through the rest. The product wasn't attractive, nor was it as usable as the Breville's or KitchenAid's grated cheese. The Ninja, like the Vitamix and Blendtec, made a type of "cheese snow" that was about as appetizing as it sounds, which is to say not at all. Unlike the other high-power blenders, however, the Ninja didn't begin to melt the cheese in the bottom of the pitcher, meaning that it doesn't create the heat that those other blenders do.

All in all, I was extremely happy with the Ninja Ultima's performance, especially relative to the much more expensive Vitamix and Blendtec blenders.

Care and maintenance
The Ninja Ultima comes with a two-year warranty. The Breville, priced less than the Ninja, only offers a one-year warranty. This is less than the seven years of coverage you get with the Vitamix and Blentec. I don't mind this, given that they both cost twice as much and then some. Ninja's Web site offers a comprehensive parts replacement section, which also gives you the option to purchase additional parts, like another single-serving cup.

The Ninja Ultima BL810 performs incredibly well, keeping up with $400-plus models like the Vitamix and Blendtec. It gives you a lot of blending options not offered by other models and it not only performs well but is easy to use. That said, it might be too much blender for your needs. If you only make smoothies or milkshakes or similar low-intensity items, you don't need to spend more than $40. In that case, the Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart is an easy recommendation.

If, on the other hand, you're looking for a blender that can successfully take the place of many other small appliances in your home, including but not limited to a meat grinder, food processor, hand mixer, and grain mill, the Ninja is an excellent option. It offers value with a $259.99 sticker price and will meet all of your blender needs with efficiency and ease.

What you'll pay

    Visit manufacturer site for details.

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