My knowledge of actual ninjas is limited to obscure pop-culture references, but I generally think of them as being two things: quiet and lethal. The Ninja Ultima BL810 blender is hardly quiet, but as far as the other goes, if "lethal" means "ridiculously effective" in blender-speak, the Ninja is aptly named. It was a consistent top performer and kept pace with its more expensive competitors like the Vitamix 7500 and Blendtec Designer Series WildSide Blender, for half the price.
I own the Ninja Kitchen System 1100, which retails for $159. The 1100 features different accessories than the Ultima. For example, it comes with the standard, 72-ounce pitcher as well as a 40-ounce "processing bowl," which is identical to the main pitcher, only smaller. It also comes with a blade for each, as well as whisk, dough hook, and dough paddle attachments. The 800 only comes with one pitcher, but has a removable quad blade and two single-serving cups that hook directly onto the blender base for easy, quick smoothie making. My 1100 is a great blender and I've never had a problem, but I can admit to having blender envy. Afraid of having a subpar blender, I put the Vitamix on my Christmas list and begged my family to all pull together because it's all I wanted in the entire world. It made me resent my perfectly functional Ninja blender, thinking that while, yes, it could make my delicious smoothies, it could make them better if it were a Vitamix.
When we received these blenders to review, I couldn't help but feel drawn to the Vitamix. We decided that I should test the Ninja because I already had one. I fully expected the Ninja to underwhelm me next to the Vitamix. As testing progressed, however, I grew more and more surprised.
The $259.99 Ninja kept pace with the $529 Vitamix and the $454.95 Blendtec at almost every step. This is not to say that, if you already own a Vitamix or Blendtec, you should regret that decision. Both are excellent appliances that performed consistently well, but they also cost more than my monthly student loan payment.
All things considered, if you don't put your blender through a lot of rigorous tasks, you don't need a blender with this kind of power and will likely be perfectly content with the $39.99 Hamilton Beach Smoothie Smart (Model 56206). If, however, you want a blender that can slice its way through virtually any food as well as replace many small appliances in your home, including a meat grinder and food processor, the Ninja is an excellent value.
Design and features
With 1,500 watts, 2.5 horsepower, and a range of 3,700 to 24,000rpm, the Ninja Ultima is a powerhouse blender. It's loud, so as stated, the Ninja name is more about effectiveness than stealth.
The Ninja measures 18 inches high at its tallest point, with a countertop footprint that's 8 inches wide and 9.5 inches deep, comparable to the KitchenAid 5-Speed Diamond Blender. My one complaint about the exterior is that the blender looks a lot larger than it is. While it is similarly sized to the KitchenAid and the other large blenders, it looks so much bulkier, perhaps because of its angular shape or tinted blender jug.
I appreciate the 72-ounce blender jar and how much capacity the machine has. To make this large pitcher even more functional, Ninja has a removable quad blade that reaches up the height of the blender. I love the quad blade, but I love even more that it's removable. This means that for large quantities of food, the additional blades make short work of the blending process, but for smaller tasks, the bottom blades are more than sufficient.
This brings me to my favorite aspect of the Ninja line of products, as I have experienced it both with this blender and my Ninja Kitchen System 1100 at home. Ninja likes to give you options. With the Ultima BL810, the Ninja gives you two 16-ounce, single-serving-size cups that hook directly onto the blender base via a blade lid. Once your smoothie or shake is blended, you trade this blade lid for a traditional to-go cup lid. I see a lot of potential for this feature. The Ninja made a smoothie in the to-go cup in five pulses. You could load the cup with your smoothie ingredients the night before, attach it to the blender base, and have breakfast and be out the door in seconds.
In addition to options, the Ninja offers ease of use. It doesn't have presets like the Blendtec or Breville Hemisphere Control Blender do, but what it lacks in presets, it makes up for in overall options. Like the Vitamix, the Ninja features a power dial and a switch which if flipped up blends consistently and, if pressed down, pulses. This gives you total control over its power and function.
The Ninja Ultima is really easy to use, but it requires you to be a little more hands-on than other, comparably sized blenders. For example, you must lock the pitcher in place with a clockwise turn. Also, the blender won't start unless the lid is on the pitcher and secured by locking the handle downward. This may be a nuisance for some, but given the power and number of blades inside the Ninja, I appreciate it as a safety precaution.
The control panel feels responsive, and Ninja includes a guide for matching the power settings to a specific task, and whether or not to use the removable blade. This guide helpfully nudges you toward getting the most out of the Ninja's customization features and its various blend settings.
As with all blenders, cleaning is a great concern; how easy a blender is to clean may factor heavily into how much you actually use it. For example, my previous blender had a lot of parts that all required separate hand-washing, such as the pitcher, blade attachment, rubber seal, and lid components. Because it was such a hassle, I rarely used it.
Blenders are better now. Most, including the Ninja, feature attached blades and instruct you to fill the pitcher halfway with warm water and a few drops of dish soap and then to run the blender on a lower speed for 10 or so seconds to clean it. Rinsing and air-drying is the most time-consuming part of this very, very simple method. This is also true for the single-serve cups, making them even more convenient. The Ninja's pitcher and cups are also top-rack dishwasher-safe. The lids and removable blade will need to be hand-washed. Given this, I would stick to the first method.
The Ninja is a formidable machine and, naturally, merits caution when you interact with its blades. Taking out the quad blade to clean it might be intimidating for some people, but of course if the blade were fixed, hand cleaning would be terrifying. Exercise caution around the blades and the Ninja should cause you no more safety concerns than any other high-power blender.
While I'm really excited about the Ninja's features and options, what I care most about is its performance. It did not disappoint. As I said, the Ninja performed on par with the Vitamix and Blendtec, but also with the less expensive, $199.99 Breville. Performance is what truly drew me away from desperately saving pennies for a Vitamix and convinced me that my Ninja blender is as good, especially for the price.
We devised a series of blending tests, some of which simulated real usage scenarios and some that 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 8-ounce block of sharp cheddar cheese.
Blender smoothie consistency
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
http://reviews.cnet.com/blenders-juicers/vitamix-7500/4505-17881_7-35828623.htmlhttp://reviews.cnet.com/blenders-juicers/vitamix-7500/4505-17881_7-35828623.htmlBlendtec Designer Series WildSide Blender
Ninja Ultimate Blender
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.