When you first buy a Vitamix 5200, the so-called Ferrari of blenders, two thoughts are likely to pass through your mind. The first is “Did I really just spend more than $400 on a blender?” And the second is “This machine is going to change my life.”
At least those are the thoughts I had after I bought my Vitamix at a nutrition-related conference several weeks ago. I hadn’t planned to make this purchase; I’d merely followed some colleagues to the Vitamix demonstration stand, where a fast-talking young man with a headset and an impressive dexterity with Dixie cups was offering samples to an enthusiastic crowd. I watched as he liquefied a pineapple. I witnessed him puree an entire clove of garlic, unpeeled. I tried a sample of a green smoothie, then a tortilla soup, then a blended cappuccino. Before I knew what had happened, I’d taken out my credit card. The damage? $429.89—and that was with a discount.
As I crossed the exhibition hall, the Vitamix’s enormous box knocking against my shins, I began to question what I’d just done.
That’s when I heard a voice call out to me.
“You won’t regret a penny!” the voice cried in a thick Jamaican accent. “You won’t regret one cent!”
I turned to find an older woman waggling a finger at me, a huge smile on her face. This woman had no connection to the Vitamix booth; she just felt so passionately about her own machine that, upon viewing mine, she couldn’t help but shout.
“I love my Vit-a-mix,” she continued, enunciating each syllable, before launching into a highly complimentary review of the company’s return and repair policy. “I love it so much, I would recommend it to the dead!”
It was a strong, if odd, endorsement. And as I walked away, her words ringing in my ears, my anxiety over its price quickly morphed into something else: excitement.
* * *
The Vitamix is technically a blender. But calling it that seems like an insult: In quality and workmanship, the two just do not compare.
I can say this because in 2012, Cook’s Illustrated did compare them, in a feature titled “Blenders”—an America’s Test Kitchen smackdown among nine machines, including the Vitamix, the KitchenAid 5-Speed Blender, and the stealthy-sounding Ninja Professional. The testers put the blenders through round after round of milkshakes. They crushed ice. They blended margaritas. To separate the weak from the strong, they also made a month’s worth of daily smoothies with what they deemed the ultimate vegetable challenge: raw kale. It was a task that “proved the downfall of a number of machines.”
Cook’s Illustrated explains that there are several factors that contribute to a blender’s effectiveness. One, unsurprisingly, is motor strength; at 1,380 watts (about 2 horsepower), the Vitamix 5200 had more than twice the strength of its main challenger in the Cook’s Illustrated roundup. Another is the shape of the jar: The Vitamix’s curved bottom helps create a vortex that pulls food more efficiently through the blades. And the last factor is the blades themselves: The closer they come to the edge of the jar and the better staggered their angles, the more effective they are at catching bits of food in their orbit. (It also doesn’t hurt that the 5200’s blades can rotate at up to 240 mph.)
With these three factors working in its favor, the Vitamix 5200 excelled at all of the kitchen testers’ tasks. Cook’s Illustrated concluded that the 5200, the “darling of restaurant chefs,” is a “test kitchen stalwart [that] proved that there’s virtually nothing it can’t handle.” While “its performance comes at a steep price,” the article continued, “its exceptional durability (not to mention seven-year warranty) makes it cheaper in the long run than a less expensive blender that needs continual replacing.”
I was so inspired by Cook’s Illustrated’s praise—not to mention the 301-page recipe binder that came in the Vitamix box—that I decided to create my own version of the kale challenge. If the Vitamix really were a life-changing kitchen appliance, then how would my own life change if I spent the next five days eating only food I’d prepared in it? Would I finish the experiment as a raw foodist? Or would I stay up nights dreaming of steak? To find out, I stocked my freezer with frozen fruits and vegetables, and bought some smoothie basics: yogurt, bananas, and milk. The plan wasn’t just to Vitamix. I wanted to Vitamax.
As this experiment might already make obvious, the Vitamix was a novelty to me; I’d first heard of the brand only last Thanksgiving, when a family friend told me she was designing a special place just for it in her kitchen renovation. (“You’re designing your kitchen around a blender?” I’d asked. “It’s not just a blender,” she shot back.) Since then I’d stumbled upon a Vitamix demonstration in Whole Foods and had overheard people praising its powers at my gym. The buzz made me think the company must be relatively new.
But I’ve since learned that the Vitamix company actually has been around since 1921, when a man named William Grover “Papa” Barnard began a career as a traveling salesman for modern kitchen appliances. Barnard was introduced to his first blender in 1937 and—according to company lore—“immediately saw the value of blending to quickly and easily prepare healthy foods that taste delicious.” A relative christened Barnard’s blender line “Vitamix,” based on vita, the Latin word for “life,” and the family presumably never used their teeth again.
Barnard brought his blender to a mass audience in 1949 when he created one of America’s first television infomercials, an odd, 25-minute demonstration that includes recipes for bread crumbs, potato pancakes, laxative spinach drinks, and a smoothie containing both raw eggs and their shells (“We’ll drink it just like malted milk!” Papa exclaims). In 1969 the company launched the forefather of my 5200: the Vitamix 3600, which was souped up with enough strength to turn ice into slush, knead dough, and grind grains. The company—which is still family-owned today—continued tweaking its machinery to improve its strength and durability, and recently launched the 7500, a slightly quieter and sleeker version of the 5200 that has a list price of $529.