I’m a big fan of smoothies. Both kinds – fruit smoothies and so-called “green” smoothies that contain leafy greens like spinach and kale. After realizing that I was spending quite a bit of money at Jamba Juice, I decided to learn how to make smoothies at home.

When I got started, I looked around for information on how to make a good smoothie. Unfortunately, information seems pretty hard to come by – I was able to find a bunch of recipes here and there, but I didn’t find a guide that explained the basics of smoothie creation.

After months of home experimentation, here’s what I’ve learned. If you follow these simple steps, you can get started on trying out your own creations.

  1. First and foremost, you need a decent blender. And by “decent” I don’t mean “expensive” – there are many sub-$50 blenders out there that work just fine for smoothie creation. I use an Oster that I picked up at Target for $40. I would caution against getting the cheapest blender you can find, though- the lowest-end blenders often have smaller blades, and clog when blending frozen fruit. I found this out for myself when I started down the path of smoothie chefdom. When I began, I was using a $17 Hamilton Walmart cheapie blender with a plastic jar. While it mostly worked, I did have problems with clogging and would have to stop every so often to manually stir the fruit around in the jar. A good rule of thumb, I think, is to look for a glass-jar blender in the $40 range.Don’t be fooled by the plethora of so-called “Smoothie makers” on the market. These are often just cheap blenders with a spigot built in to the jar, allowing the manufacturer to charge a lot of extra money for a blender that would otherwise sell for $15. You don’t need a spigot. You may not even want a spigot – they’re messy, and they often break. Save yourself the hassle and just go with a regular blender.
  2. Using frozen fruit eliminates the need for ice. I’ve never really liked the smoothies that result from using ice cubes. They feel “gritty” on my tongue, and they always seem to taste a little like ice, no matter how well blended. Instead, I prefer to use frozen fruit, thus eliminating the need for ice cubes. Of course, if you want to make fresh-fruit smoothies, you’ll need to include ice cubes. 1/2 cup of ice usually does the trick.
  3. Use an inexpensive juice as your “base” juice. Juice can be expensive. And while I love specialty craft blended juices as much as the next guy, the fact is that you’re going to lose a lot of the taste when blending it together with a few fruits and other juices. For that reason, I just don’t see the benefit of using a $10/gallon juice in a smoothie. Instead, I like to use apple juice, which you can find on sale for as low as $1.50/64-oz container. It blends well with nearly everything, and the taste is not overpowering.
  4. Soy milk adds protein. Smoothies are, for the most part, pure sugar. I like to counteract that by making sure that 1/2 of my liquid is Soy Milk, which adds a little bit of protein to the mix. You could probably use regular milk for this, though I have never tried. (Lactose intolerant. :)
  5. Use a 1:1 fruit to liquid ratio. I like to use a roughly 1:1 fruit-to-liquid ratio. So my typical smoothie is 1 cup apple juice, 1 cup soy milk, and 2 cups fruit. This produces a nice consistency, not too thick and not too runny. You can adjust this up or down depending on your personal preference.
  6. Yogurt makes for a smoother smoothie. Adding just a few tablespoons of yogurt to your smoothie will produce a much smoother and silkier consistence. Seriously. Just a few tablespoons make all the difference. I use plain yogurt, which you can get a giant honkin container of at Costco for just $4. Of course, you may prefer to use fruity Yoplait or something like that. And I do that sometimes as well – often times, the grocery store will price plain yogurt higher than fruit yogurt. Either works fine.
  7. Avoid store-bought “smoothie mix” and instead buy your fruit separately. Most stores sell bags of fruit called “smoothie blend” or “smoothie mix.” This fruit is usually priced much higher than if you’d buy the fruit separately. On top of that, these blends are often heavy on the cheaper fruits and low on the more expensive fruits. Use the mixes as a guide in telling you which fruits go well together, but buy them separately.
  8. When selecting fruit, use at least 1 cup of inexpensive, fiber-filled “base” fruit. Berries are expensive. And to my palate, a smoothie with one cup of berries doesn’t taste much different than a smoothie with 2 cups of berries. That’s why I like to make sure that 1/2 of my smoothie fruit is either mango or peaches, which are two of the less expensive frozen fruits. These fruits are high in fiber and mix well with others. And, like apple juice, neither has an overpowering taste.
  9. Flax seeds add fiber and health benefits, but grind them first. Adding a couple tablespoons of flax seed to your smoothie adds a ton of health benefits. According to Wikipedia,

    Flax seeds contain high levels of lignans and Omega-3 fatty acids. Lignans may benefit the heart, possess anti-cancer properties and studies performed on mice found reduced growth in specific types of tumors. Flax seed may also lower cholesterol levels, especially in women. Initial studies suggest that flaxseed taken in the diet may benefit individuals with certain types of breast and prostate cancers.

    One caveat, though – if you choose to add flax seeds, grind them in the blender before adding anything else. I’ve read that the human body isn’t great at digesting flax, and you maximize their benefit by first grinding the seeds.

  10. Do-it-yourself “boosts” with protein powder. Being a physically active vegetarian, I like to keep tabs on my protein intake. I find that adding a scoop of whey protein powder helps me meet my daily protein goal. A caution, though – protein powder is usually flavored, and this flavor is strong enough to overtake the entire smoothie. I haven’t yet found a powder that blends nicely into the background. If I find one, I’ll update this article. (And if you know of one, please let me know.)
  11. Loading the blender – add the liquid first. OK, now that you’ve read the above, you’re ready to get-a-blendin’. Add the liquid to your blender first, then add the fruit. I have to admit, this is counter-intuitive to me; to me, it seems that you should add the big stuff first, because that’s the stuff you want blended. Nope. Most blender manufacturers recommend adding the liquid first, and after much experimentation, I’ve found that this works best. (Of course, if you’re adding flax seeds, grind them first, then add the liquid, then add your fruit.)

I hope these tips help you down the path to Smoothie Chefdom. If you come up with any great recipes, please share them in the comments here, or in the Eddie on Everything forums.