Pros: Leak proof containers; multiple tools, spiral blades
Cons: Cumbersome to use, lid seals stick to containers, requires more liquid than usual
Reviewed by Brook Elliott
Have you seen those infomercials for the Ninja 1100 blender system?
I saw them for the first time about a year ago. Maybe it was because I was thinking about a new blender anyway? Or maybe because it was the middle of the night, when your brain doesn’t process fully? Or maybe, because I was working, and the TV was on just for background noise, I wasn’t really paying attention? Whatever the reason, I was pretty impressed by the commercial, and ordered one the next day.
Opening the box, when it arrived, was pretty impressive, too. There didn’t seem to be any end to the parts and accessories. Every Ninja 1100 (the 1100, by the way, refers to the operating wattage) comes with two containers; a 40-ounce “bowl,” and a 72-ounce “pitcher. Each container has its own set of tools. The pitcher has a six-blade assembly and a whipping attachment, while the bowl has a four-blade assembly, dough blade, and dough paddle.
I was pleased with what the unit looked like. The Ninja 1100 is a graceful, stylish machine that would fit in any modern kitchen. It is well built, as well as stylish, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t last for many years.
Unlike most blenders, whose hopper bottoms and blades detach, the Ninja’s are build more like a food processor. Each container has a sealed, built-in gear shaft, which passes up through the bottom, and the accessories slip onto it. This makes them virtually leak proof.
The motor base operates with four buttons: an on/off switch, three speed controls, and a pulse button. Each of the speed controls is a two-way button. Press it to start; press it again to stop. The base, itself, locks into a dough station to stabilize it when making doughs and thick batters.
Euro-Pro, which manufacturers the Ninja, calls it a kitchen system. That’s a pretty good description, because it’s more a hybrid that combines features of blenders and food processors, than just being a blender per se.
As with most modern small appliances, there are safety interlocks. If the containers are not installed properly on the base, the unit will not operate. Similarly, the lids---which include corner pour spouts, but not central openings, must be locked in place, or the motor doesn’t run.
So, picture this. In order to operate the Ninja, you first install the appropriate hopper so it sits cattycorner to the base, then twist it 45 degrees to lock it down. Fill the hopper. Then install the lid---which must be precisely lined up, using arrows on lid and hopper, then locked by pushing down on a handle. If additional ingredients need to be added, you have to stop the machine, unlock and remove the lid, add the ingredients, refit the lid, and turn the machine back on
If you’re a professional you may as well just stop reading here. All of that is even slower and more awkward then it sounds. The Ninja, because it is cumbersome to use, and because you cannot easily add ingredients while it is running, is totally unsuited to a commercial environment. Kind of ironic, therefore, that the maker calls it a “Pro System.”
So, for starters, the Ninja is strictly a home-use machine. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But even in a home environment, its various features make it awkward to use. And, in some ways, it behaves less efficiently than a less powerful unit.
Take the blade assemblies, for instance. Rather than being a set of blades mounted at the bottom of the container, the Ninja blades, in effect, spiral up a central shaft. The pitcher has a six-blade configuration (three sets of two off-set blades), while the bowl uses four. In theory this should be an improvement. Here’s why:
With a standard blade configuration, a blender sets up a vortex that sucks ingredients down into the blades. By its very nature, therefore, blenders require significant amounts of liquid to do their job. Much more so, than, say, food processors. The more liquid the easier it is for the blender to work.
The multiple blades of the Ninja, theoretically, should reduce or even eliminate that problem. While they still work by creating a vortex, the ingredients do not have to be pulled down as far before encountering a blade. The offset blades, acting like a boat prop, should be more efficient in creating the vortex to begin with. And, by having them in series, the effect should be a rapidly formed, highly efficient, vortex, requiring less liquid.
As so often is the case, however, theory and reality differ. What I found is that the configuration of the blades and their speed (even on the lowest setting) are such that solids get lifted upwards, rather than being readily sucked down, and it takes longer for the vortex to form and start working. This actually means the Ninja works best when there is more liquid rather than less. In short, they work great if you’re making soup, not so well if you’re doing a puree.
The blades also tend to throw ingredients to the sides, where they build up. This, obviously, requires scraping down more often, as I found while making a bean puree. But the locking lids make doing that a slow, cumbersome process.
Speaking of the locking lids: they have polymer seals around their circumference which, under static load, bleed some sort of plasticizer. This makes them stick, almost as if they were glued to the hoppers, if the lids are stored in place for any length of time.
It’s very important, too, that you learn what each of the tools does or doesn’t do. Indeed, if you’re used to a standard blender, you’ll likely come a cropper until you learn the nuances.
The first task I tried, for instance, was to make Eric Ripart’s Truffled Aioli, something we’re rather fond of. This entails blending eggs, lemon juice, and garlic, then drizzling oils into it. Simple enough.
Using the blade assembly, I put the eggs, lemon juice, and garlic in the container, locked the lid, rotated the hopper, and turned on the motor. And watched as the blades spun around, doing nothing. Turns out, the lowest blade sits too high for the quantity of ingredients I was using. Doesn’t matter which container, because I had the same problem with both.
“Hmmmm?” I thought. “A blender that won’t make mayonnaise? What good is that?”
As it turns out, the Ninja will make mayo. And does a fine job of it (even though mayonnaise is not listed on the Speed Settings & Uses chart that comes with the unit). But you have to use the so-called whipping attachment. That, itself, only works with the large pitcher. Once the mayo is ready, it has to be scooped out with a long-handled spatula; another unnecessary awkwardness. If you could use the smaller bowl things would be easier. But, for no reason I can see, it doesn’t come with a whip.
Oil and other liquids can be added to an operating machine through the pour spouts. But, because of their size and location, even that is a cumbersome process. When the hopper is properly installed, the pour spouts are on the far side of the machine, pointing away from you. Small solids could be added to the pitcher, but not the bowl, because it has a build-in plastic screen that prevents doing that. And if you have to first chop ingredients to fit, you’re doing the job you bought the blender for in the first place.
Where the Ninja really shines is those times when you can add all the ingredients at once, include a high moisture content, and desire a frothy finish.
In other words, it’s the world’s most expensive smoothie maker.