Ninja Nutri Ninja BL450 review: This mini ninja has power if not flexibility
Because of its size, I questioned the power of the Nutri Ninja. Fortunately, this single-serve blender more than put my concerns to rest and nailed all of our realistic usage tests. For $90, it makes smoothies as well as some $400 and $500 models. What's more, it completes these tasks quickly and with style. The single-serving containers easily transform from blending jars to travel-ready cups.
However, Hamilton Beach has also released plenty of models that can do simple things like smoothies, and they typically retail for $40. Newer versions of this discount brand, like the Stay or Go model even include similar to go cups. Sure, the Nutri Ninja looks better and blends quicker, but other high-end blenders multitask to justify the cost increase. Without a larger container, Nutri Ninja couldn't effectively perform food processing tasks.
With 900 watts at the Nutri Ninja's disposal, a bigger jar with measurement lines might have rounded out the product and made it a steal. As it stands, all you're getting for the extra $50 over a Hamilton Beach model is speed and style. That's not enough for me to universally recommend this product, but if all you're looking for is an easy-to-use, single-serve smoothie maker, the Nutri Ninja is certainly worthy of your consideration.
Design and usability
Ninja has produced several high end blenders, including one of our office favorites, the Ninja Ultima . The Ultima retails for only $260 and can match the $400 to $500 models across the board. For the Nutri Ninja, it has streamlined the design to a quick-and-easy single-serve model, dialing the power back from 1,500 watts with the Ultima to 900, and in doing so, getting the price down to an MSRP of $90.
You can purchase the Nutri Ninja at all major retailers throughout the US and Canada. It's referred to both as the Nutri Ninja and the Nutri Ninja Pro, though there's no difference between the models. Though the suggested retail is $90, many places are currently selling it for $100. It is not currently available overseas.
The Nutri Ninja looks similar to the much-hyped NutriBullet, and indeed, since the box runs through a comparison of the former to the latter, it was obviously designed to compete and win over some of the health-conscious smoothie makers interested in the "nutrient extraction" of these machines. Nutri Ninja even boasts a patented "Pro Extractor Blade" for cutting through skins, seeds, and stems so you can access all of the health benefits offered by various kinds of food.
If you have another high quality blender and are wondering if you're missing out on some secret extra process employed by the Nutri Ninja or NutriBullet, rest assured, you're not. "Nutrient extraction" simply means it's good at chopping up fruits and veggies, that's it. Compared to store-bought fruit juice loaded with sugar and artificial flavoring, it will be more healthful.
If your blender is old enough that making smoothies involves picking out chunks of seeds and pulp when you're done, sure, advantage to the new guys. That said, most modern blenders can make smoothies with ease. In fact, every blender we've tested at CNET aced this basic test, including the $40 Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart Blender.
The advantage of the Nutri Ninja is the amount of power it packs into a small and relatively cheap machine. 900 watts is a solid increase over the 700 offered by Hamilton Beach and the 600 of Nutribullet. It spins its blades at 21,000rpm. Again, this is impressive since the NutriBullet can only reach 10,000rpm. There are plenty of 1,000- or 1,500-watt blenders, including others by Ninja, but those typically sell for more than twice as much.
The Nutri Ninja also boasts a significant cool factor. It's sleek and simple. In the box, you'll find the motorized base, the blade attachment, a 24-ounce cup, an 18-ounce cup, and two custom-fit lids. The instruction manual is simple and helpful, and they've even thrown in a recipe book to help you get started if you purchase this blender with healthful eating in mind.
To use it, load your ingredients into either cup, seal it shut with the bladed lid, flip it over and put it on the base, turn it to lock it in place, then push down in pulses until your ingredients reach the desired consistency. When your smoothie is ready, unlock the cup from the base by turning it in the opposite direction, remove it and flip it, then unscrew the blades. You can run out with that cup in hand, grabbing a sipping lid and turning it into a to-go container as needed.
It's easy, effective, and fun to transform your blending container into your drinking cup. The Nutri Ninja has enough power to prepare your food quickly, and I liked that through pulsing I have direct control over the thickness of the mixture. If you need something finer, you can hold the container down on the base and it will stay on, but the manual recommends pulses.
You can place the cups and lids in the dishwasher for cleaning, including the blade attachment, then simply wipe off the base when it needs it with a damp cloth. Normally, no food will contact the base outside of spills, so a quick occasional wipe-down will do. Alternatively, you can fill up either jar with warm water and a little dish soap and pulse it a few times. Rinse everything off and you'll be good to blend again unless you were just mixing something particularly sticky.
The pieces fit together well and offer a solid grip despite not having handles. Altogether, I was able to make a smoothie from scratch and clean up for the next round within a couple of minutes.
That's not to say the design is without flaws. Both jars are intentionally narrow to allow them to fit in cup holders as needed. When blending, that occasionally would cause tightly packed foods to jam in the middle and fail to reach the blades. Putting the biggest foods on the bottom helps, but because you'll flip the container 180 degrees from filling it to blending with it, just be sure to plan ahead and keep in mind what the actual bottom will be.
Flipping to blend also works against this Ninja with any syrups or sticky liquids you include in your recipe. When I prepared a pesto with olive oil, it naturally flowed to the bottom as I put the ingredients into the container. I attached the blade and flipped it to place it on the base for blending, and some oil remained stuck to the top.
A few blenders have small openings you can use to scrape the sides while your mixing jar is in place. The Nutri Ninja's simplicity works against it here; there was no way I could help it out other than giving it a shake, which didn't solve any of the serious jams. Without openings, it's also more difficult to tell if your drink is done, especially if it's coating the walls of the container after a couple of pulses, and you can't push that residue down without taking it off the base and removing the blades.
If you blend something thick, including something as basic as ice, having to pull off the blade attachment to access your food can prove problematic as it'll gather around the blades near the opening and force you to tug the lid to remove it. Once you get the blades off, be careful not the leave them lying around. The fact that they're a separate, small attachment worried me. I would have appreciated a safe way to store them without reattaching them to a cup. If you make two smoothies, they'll be sitting out, exposed somewhere until you're done drinking out of those containers.
The little annoyances and missteps of the Nutri Ninja added up for me as I tested it. I still like the design and find it easy to use, but the limitations prevent it from being an all-purpose blender I could recommend to anyone.
Mostly, it's the lack of features that hold the Nutri Ninja back from greatness. For multipurpose blending, the Nutri Ninja just doesn't have enough room or options to help you get the job done. Yes, 900 watts is enough for most tasks, but it's missing the equipment necessary for serious cooking. This lack of options is really what you're sacrificing for the cheaper price.
The base doesn't have a single button, a bold choice for a blender and again, one that works fine for smoothies and light tasks. However, without a button, there's no way to keep the blender running without pushing down on the jar. There are no presets to use for different speeds or pulsing settings. Press down and it will blend. That's it.
An on-off button and a bigger jar with measurement lines would have been simple but highly meaningful additions. The Ninja Ultima has this and includes the handy to-go cups. They are an extra, not the star, and the Ultima works better as an all-purpose machine because of it. Sure, it costs much more, but the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Blender retails for $40, includes two cups for on-the-run blending, and has a 32-ounce jar with a wider circumference to allow more food to reach its blades.
The Stay or Go has less power to offer, but did the smoothies, pesto, and coffee grinding just as well, albeit a bit slower. On top of that, the Stay or Go includes an on/off switch, so the extra time required won't be quite as tedious as you can leave it blending while you multitask.
The Nutri Ninja is a simple machine, and $90 isn't bad for a one-trick wonder, but it falls a few features short of being a great deal.
We use a variety of foods when testing blenders to examine how well it does with general day-to-day tasks, and then to find its functional limits. For the basics, we make a smoothie and examine its consistency and we crush ice. We mix pancake batter to see if the blender directs food to the blades well, or if it loses chunks along the edges and in corners. We even make whipped cream to see if it can handle more delicate tasks. Finally, we make a spinach pesto to test the hardier end of a normal blender's functional limits.
For the stress tests, we see if the blender can successfully grind a full 8-ounce block of cheese. Then, we put in 2 cups of raw almonds and push the machine to make them into almond flour, followed by almond butter.
I had high hopes for the smoothie test ,and the Nutri Ninja didn't disappoint. Within 10-15 pulses, it turned whole frozen strawberries with a little bit of orange juice into a silky-smooth drink without any clumps to be found. I took the test further and mixed strawberries, bananas, yogurt, and a little agave nectar. Again, it handled the task easily and produced a great consistency. Both smoothies were able to flow through a sieve with almost no residue left behind.
The ice test was less successful, a disappointing result, given that the Nutri Ninja claims to be able to crush ice on the box. The engine and blades are certainly powerful enough, but this was one of the first tests that showed the container's difficulty cycling large particles. Two cups of ice filled the 24-ounce jar to just below the fill line. After a few pulses, it had pulverized almost everything into the fine snow I wanted, but the top layer of untouched cubes couldn't reach the blades due to the slush beneath it. I tried shaking it up followed by several more pulses, but the Nutri Ninja couldn't quite get there.
The troubleshooting guide indicates this happens when you blend too much. I reduced the amount to 1 cup of ice, and sure enough, I had fine, slushy snow in under 10 pulses. That doesn't nullify the previous result, though. Two cups was still under the max fill line indicated on the jar, so at the very least, that line overestimates its own cycling capability when it comes to hardier work.
A mixture of ice and water, even all the way up to the fill line, was easy work for the blender. In general, the more liquid I used, the easier time it had working its way through a full container. It can do some dry blending, but you'll need to be very conservative with how much you blend at a time.
I tested this dry blending capacity with small amounts of coffee beans and whole peppercorns. Each time, it produced finely ground results.
For the pancake batter tests, we simply use a store-bought instant mix and add water. Here's where flipping from prepping to blending became a problem. Chunks of mixture stuck to the top and sides during my first 20 pulses. Removing the lid and stirring helped, as did shaking it up for round 2. I would have liked to be able to scrape the sides and lid with the container in place, but it still gave me a uniform batter with only a little extra effort.
Scraping the sides would have been a great help with whipped cream. The Nutri Ninja did pass this dexterity test. Within 15-20 pulses, it turned heavy cream, vanilla, and sugar into a frothy dessert topping capable of holding a peak. I even stopped after 10 pulses on one test. It looked done, and again, there's really no way to check on something like this without taking it off of the blades and base. This last version was close, but unfortunately a little runny.
That isn't a failure of the capability, since a little longer time blending was certainly reasonable, more a note of how tedious it can be to make sure the job is done when you have to take it off the base, flip the jar, and remove the blades every time. Again, that flip meant I had a layer of vanilla extract stuck to the top of the jar as I mixed. Shaking didn't help, and since stirring involves a different orientation, that wasn't an option.
The final -- albeit more strenuous -- normal usage test proved the power of the Nutri Ninja while again revealing its difficulties. Our pesto recipe calls for spinach, garlic, Parmesan cheese, walnuts, and a little olive oil. For the first test, I packed the spinach into the cup first, followed by all of the smaller ingredients. I wasn't thinking ahead, and the spinach remained stuck on top when I inverted the jar for blending. After 30 pulses, I actually had to pull everything out and reorder it. Then, it worked just fine.
On pesto test No. 2, I wised up and put the spinach in last so it could hit the blades first. This time, the Nutri Ninja held its own. For the high-end machines, we use 12 pulses as a benchmark. The Nutri Ninja couldn't quite get it done by then. After 15, it had a consistent but chunky result. I held it down for a few seconds more and it gave me a great, smooth sauce. I didn't have to stir it or shake it at all throughout the process. It handled the task. The extra time was quite reasonable given its smaller size.
If you're willing to make allowances for the design, and put up with the occasional annoyances caused by the limitations, the Nutri Ninja has more than enough raw capability to handle normal usage. On stress tests, that power finally came up short.
We tried to blend an entire 8-ounce block of cheddar. Believe it or not, really powerful blenders can pulverize even something that massive in a matter of seconds. The Nutri Ninja couldn't. The blades made short work of the lower third, but the rest of it couldn't maneuver. Similar to the ice test, the circumference of the jar provided a hindrance. I shook it, pulsed some more. Shook it again, held it down to keep the blades running, and shook some more. Finally, the blades finished the job.
Unfortunately, when we checked on the result, we didn't find a nice, shredded cheese. Instead, we had a gelatinous, melted, and gross mess. The blades spun hot as it worked through the block and it ended up tasting metallic enough that I regretted the decision to try it. Most blenders struggle with this test, so it was hard to call this a total failure. It did eventually get to the whole block. It just had trouble working through it.
The notorious almond test gave the Ninja its only true failure. It even succeeded at the first part, turning 2 cups of almonds into almond flour. After 17 pulses, I could still see plenty of chunks, but 27 finished the job.
For the almond butter part, previous tests involved leaving the blender running and seeing if it could turn the flour into butter with no additives within 10 minutes. With the Nutri Ninja, after 90 seconds of holding it down -- since you can't leave it on in any other way -- it started smoking and sizzling, so I stopped. This is a rare, extreme use, so I wouldn't call the result a safety issue, but don't try that test at home.
Overall, I was impressed with the power of the Nutri Ninja. 900 watts packs a punch even in a diminutive frame, and only came up short on the most arduous of tasks. Beyond the simple smoothies, you'll have to help it out more than I'd like, but especially for a single-serve blender, those blades make short work of almost anything they can reach.
The Nutri Ninja walks a fine line. It mirrors the style of the NutriBullet, offers power to bring it closer to high-end models like the Ninja Ultima , and streamlines the design to keep it budget-friendly like the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go. Its highly touted "nutrient extraction" won't magically make you healthy, but like a good blender, it will finely chop those fruits and veggies into a drinkable mix.
Thus, it's a jack of all trades and a master of one. It does that one so well, in fact, and plenty of others well enough with some assistance, that it is indeed worthy of consideration. Just make sure you don't overlook the competent Hamilton Beach model if you're on a budget. The Nutri Ninja falls short of perfection due to lacking features and occasional usage annoyances, but it's a very competent single-serve blender.