You want to know how to make a smoothie—and not just any smoothie. One that rivals those perfectly creamy ones that your favorite health food store or juice bar charges upwards of $10 a pop for. Well, look no further, because we have everything you need to know about how to make the tastiest smoothie you’ve ever had, and how to adjust the ingredients based on your favorite flavors, textures, nutrition goals—oh, and foods you already have in your kitchen. On top of that, we have the gear guide you’ll need to choose the best smoothie maker or blender to make all your wildest smoothie dreams come true. With a little know-how and the right tools, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make next-level smoothies in your own kitchen.
The Basic Smoothie Recipe
Smoothies are fairly straightforward to make, says Sarah Adler, nutrition coach, founder of Simply Real Health and author of the Simply Real Health Cookbook. The key is getting the proportions for the base right and then choosing your favorite ingredients to add to it. Here’s the perfect recipe for the base of a smoothie, according to Adler:
- ½ to 1 whole banana
- 1 to 2 cups greens (you can substitute fruit)
- ½ to 1 cup water or liquid
- ½ ice
Err on the side of more banana if you like it sweeter and creamier, more greens if you want to boost the health factor, and more liquid if you want to easily sip it through a straw.
In addition the base, you’ll want to add more of your favorite ingredients for flavor, texture, and nutritive benefits. This can include:
- Frozen or fresh fruit: ¼ to ½ cup of your favorite varieties
- Protein and/or healthy fat: 1 scoop of protein powder, 1 tablespoon of nut or seed butter, and/or ¼ avocado
- Crunch or texture: chia seeds or nuts (optional)
- Herbs and spices: 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, or whatever else you like to spice things up with (optional)
- Sweetener: Honey, maple syrup, or agave nectar (optional)
“This is totally up to you!” says Adler. Just remember that more ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean a better smoothie. Choose flavors that will work together—experiment if you don’t already have a preference—and when in doubt, go simple. For example, banana, strawberry, yogurt, almond milk and ice isn’t fussy but sure is tasty.
Once you’ve chosen your smoothie ingredients, don’t just throw them all in the blender and go to it. There’s a bit of an art to what order you add those ingredients in. Getting it right will ensure that all your ice breaks up, your fruit gets pureed and distributed evenly, and you’ll end up with the smooth texture smoothies are known for.
Here are seven simple steps to making a perfect smoothie:
Step 1: Frozen fruit
When we think “smoothie,” many of us think of bananas. That’s because bananas offer sweet (but not too sweet) flavor and when they’re blended, they provide that signature rich, creamy-smooth texture a smoothie is named for. So you can’t go wrong with bananas in your smoothie base.
Adler suggests storing peeled, ripe bananas in quarters in a sealed container in your freezer. That way, you can just pop in however many you need for whatever type of smoothie you’re making. “You never have to worry about bananas getting overly ripe on your counter this way, and it cuts back on waste,” says Adler. “Also, try storing kale that's about to turn this way."
Don’t like bananas? Popular substitutes to achieve the same thick, creamy quality include cooked oats, avocado, yogurt, silken tofu, or just a half to a whole cup of your favorite fruit. Frozen fruits work well here.
Step 2: Fresh fruit & veggies
Of course, you can skip the frozen produce and make a smoothie with that amazing fresh fruit you just picked up at the farmer’s market. You’ll just need to add plenty of ice if you like it chilly, and stick with soft, ripe fruits.
“For best results, don’t use tougher skinned fruit, like pears and apples unless you’re using a powerful blender,” suggests Adler.
Some of her favorite fresh ingredients for smoothie are include fresh spinach and ripe avocado. “Spinach is detoxifying and vitamin packed, but with an actually sweet taste and no bitterness—this is ideal for those that are nervous about anything green in their smoothies.”
And ¼ to ½ of an avocado can turn any smoothie into a decadent meal you can eat with a spoon. The healthy fats found in an avocado will help you stay full for hours.
Step 3: Protein and other powders, sweeteners & more extras
Any optional ingredients come next. This can include:
Nut or seed butter. Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, soy butter, and sunflower seed butter are all delicious additions—and they add protein to help curb your appetite.
Powders. A scoop of protein powder or a nutrition boosting powder can be a great addition to almost any smoothie, and beneficial if you’re looking to add more protein into your diet. Adler cautions though, that many protein powders contain artificial ingredients and recommends instead, sticking with clean and pure powders. “You want your protein powder to have one to three ingredients, max, and no flavors,” she says. “Be careful of soy powders, generic whey brands, and ones with long ingredient lists of things you can't pronounce!”
Sweetener. To sweeten naturally, add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. But be sure to taste your smoothie before you add sugar, as you may not need it if you’ve used sweet, ripe fruit, such as frozen mango, banana, or blueberries.
Texture or crunch. “A sprinkle of cocoa nibs or chia seeds can give your smoothie a fun crunch to it, and added minerals and good healthy fats!” says Adler. “Cashews add the perfect amount of creaminess and satisfying feel, without being overly nutty tasting.”
Seasonings and spices. Some people love to add a sprinkle of cinnamon, ground nutmeg, vanilla bean powder, or turmeric for an extra kick to their smoothie.
Step 4: Liquid ingredients
Next, pour in ¼ to 1 cup liquid—milk and yogurt are probably most popular. You also can’t go wrong with almond milk, coconut milk, coconut water, unsweetened fruit juice, or even a bit of plain water. This will help your smoothie stay thin enough to sip.
Step 5: Blend
Then, blend all your ingredients so far. This will help ensure that the fruit is fully pureed and the flavors are mixed together before your blender does the hard work of crushing the ice.
Step 6: Ice
Add about a half-cup of ice—a tiny bit more or less depending on how cool and frosty you’d like your smoothie to be.
Step 7: Blend again
Blend everything together until smooth. Then pour it into a glass or cup, and your smoothie is ready to drink. Photo: Stephen Devries; Styling: Lindsey Lower
Photo: Stephen Devries; Styling: Lindsey Lower
Incorporating Other Smoothie Ingredients
As you get more skilled at making smoothies, you’ll likely want to make ingredient changes or additions based on the items you have on hand, your dietary restrictions and/or your personal preferences. There’s no wrong answer here. But here a few tips and guidelines that will help you as you experiment:
How to make a smoothie with/without milk or yogurt
If you’re lactose intolerant—or avoiding dairy for other reasons—you can make a delicious smoothie without dairy milk or yogurt.
Coconut milk, almond milk, hemp milk, coconut water, and even regular water can be used in just about any smoothie. There are even plant-based yogurts you can add in for richness. Look for hemp or pea-based protein powders, such as Sun Warrior or Manitoba, suggests Adler.
You can also give Adler’s recipe for a honeydew-mint green smoothie a try—it’s super tasty and made without milk or yogurt.
How to make a smoothie with (or without) ice cream
A smoothie with ice cream? Uh, yes please. Once you scoop ice cream into your blender, it’s technically considered a milkshake, but go ahead and make that switch for an occasional indulgent treat. Ice cream, of course, makes for an exceptionally creamy, sweet, and decadent smoothie experience.
Love the idea but don’t want to do dairy? Try a non-dairy ice cream, such as that varieties made of coconut milk.
“I love ½ cup coconut milk ice cream (or vanilla) blended with 1/4 to 1/2 cup almond, coconut or whole milk,” says Adler. “Then, it’s optional to add 1 to 2 teaspoons of cocoa powder or 1 handful cocoa nibs to make it chocolaty, a teaspoon of peanut butter, or fresh mint—or all of the above.”
How to make a smoothie with frozen fruit
As we mentioned, making a smoothie with frozen fruit is a great way to go. It’s an especially good move at the times of year when your favorite fruits aren’t in season.
And since you want your smoothie to be cold and frosty, there’s no fuss here. Just throw your favorite frozen fruits into your smoothie and blend. You might even find that you need little or no ice because you’re getting the coldness and iciness from your frozen fruit.
“Bananas, mangos and blueberries always come out best frozen!” says Adler. “Strawberries and raspberries tend to be more bitter and have more seeds.” So for those, you might want to go fresh.
How to make a smoothie with fresh fruit
Of course, fresh fruit can be an amazing addition to your favorite smoothies. Just be sure your fruit is soft and free of large seeds before you add it to the blender. Peel your fruit, and chop it into smaller pieces if it’s large or a little on the firm side.
One fresh fruit smoothie recipe you’ll definitely want to try: Adler’s Everyday Green smoothie, made with fresh avocado, banana, blueberries and spinach.
How to make a smoothie with or without ice
If you want to skip the ice—and the resulting brain freeze—you totally can. This is the beauty of making your own smoothie; you can make it however you want. Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Styling: Gerri Williams for James Reps
Photo: Antonis Achilleos; Styling: Gerri Williams for James Reps
“I adore lots of ice in the summertime months which makes it fluffy and cold, and none in the winter, where it's more comforting and dense,” says Adler.
Different Ways to Make a Smoothie
Much like how there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to smoothie ingredients, there isn’t just one tool you can use to make one—or just one way to consume it. Nope, blender and straws are not required.
How to make a smoothie in a blender
Smoothie aficionados will tell you a blender is the way to go for smoothie making. A good quality blender is going to break up your ice, pulverize your fruit, and yield a not-too-thick, not-too-thin smoothie consistency. Plus, a blender is an incredibly useful multipurpose kitchen tool to own for way more than just smoothies.
“A great blender is the one thing I think every healthy kitchen needs,” says Alder. “You can make amazing soups, desserts, smoothies, sauces, and more in it. And clean-up is effortless.”
How to make a smoothie without a blender
If you want to make a smoothie without a blender, there are a couple of other options. “In a pinch, you can make a smoothie a food processor, but be ready for some more clean up.” Your food processor might not be made to lock in liquids, so there could be some leaks. Plus, it’s got several pieces, including a removable blade, which will need individual cleaning.
For making an individual smoothie, you can use an immersion blender—a handheld version of a blender, which can come at a lower price. Simply dip the immersion blender into an unbreakable cup or bowl containing your ingredients and turn it on to mix. A good quality one will break up your ice just as well as a standard blender will. Plus, immersion blenders don’t take up much space and tend to be easy to clean.
How to make a smoothie thicker
A common problem with smoothie making is to have it come out thin and runny—after all, you wanted a smoothie, not juice. This is an easy problem to solve. Simply throw in some of those ingredients well known for thickening smoothies—ice, avocado, protein powder, chia or flax seeds—and re-blend, says Alder.
How to make a smoothie bowl
If you like to eat your smoothie with a spoon instead of a straw, put it in a bowl and keep it thick.
“The key to any smoothie bowl is a little amount of water, and either avocado or a clean protein powder in there to thicken it up,” says Adler. “Ice is great, but keep the water or liquid to ¼ cup at most! You'll need a powerful blender to make this happen. “
Many people add whole berries or cut fruit on top of their smoothie bowls and then sprinkle them with chia seeds or chopped nuts. Adler recommends her recipe for a Green Smoothie Bowl, a hearty smoothie that can stand-in as a meal.
The Best Smoothie Makers & Blenders
The perfect smoothie starts with the right tool. Here’s what to consider when choosing the best smoothie maker or blender for you.
How to choose a smoothie maker and/or blender
When choosing a smoothie maker and/or blender, consider your priorities and budget. If you can splurge for a full-sized blender, that’s the way to go, says Adler. That’s largely because of its ability to do a number of things—not just make great smoothies.
If you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a smoothie maker—and you’re going to be making one smoothie at a time—consider a mini blender or an immersion blender. (Note: a “smoothie maker” is basically a blender designed just for smoothies.) These products don’t have the versatility of a full-sized blender—you’ll be limited in how many things you can make in it. But if all you plan on making with them is smoothies, they certainly will do the job.
Top Smoothie Makers & Blenders
Want to know what the best blender or smoothie maker on the market is? These are the ones at the top of our list—there’s something here for every budget and preference:
Photo courtesy of Vitamix.com
Vitamix 5200 Series Blender ($430.78)
The gold standard in blenders, the Vitamix can do it all—blending your smoothies and other foods to a variety of textures and consistencies. And with its large capacity, it’s easy to whip up several smoothies at a time. “I love and am totally obsessed with my Vitamix—I’ve had it for nine years!” says Adler. The big con is that the price tag is hefty, and if you’re only making smoothies one at a time, it might not be worth the expense for you.
Photo courtesy of Blendtec.com
Blend Tec Total Blender ($358.98)
The Blend Tec—admittedly, another pricey choice—is also a great, high-power blender from a reliable brand. Even tough and coarse foods can be easily pulverized with this professional-grade appliance. Pick up the Blend Tec if you’re an avid cook (and smoothie maker, of course) who prefers top performance and who’ll use it often for a variety of tasks.
For the smoothie lover who wants quality—and takes their drinks to go—there’s the Ninja. This powerful ice crusher was made with smoothies in mind. Whip up big batches in the larger pitcher, or make just one smoothie in the smaller attachment and pour it into the included to-go cup. It’s not as professional-grade as the Vitamix or the Blend Tec, but it’s also available for a fraction of the price.
Magic Bullet Blender, Small ($21.00)
A single-serving blender is a good purchase “if you’re just starting out in smoothie land,” says Adler. The Magic Bullet’s price is right, and it’s super easy to use. There aren’t even buttons to push. Simply add your ingredients to the top, attach it to the base, and twist to blend. You’ll have a smoothie in a matter of seconds. The big “but” here is that you can only really make one drink at a time, due to the small capacity.
Cuisinart Smart Stick ($29.70)
If you want to go with an immersion blender, the Cuisinart Smart Stick is a popular choice—and with good reason. Some handheld blenders add too much air to a smoothie or splash while mixing, but this one’s designed not to. Just dip it into your smoothie and press the button to work its magic. Bonus: It’s easy to clean too. Simply detach the shaft and run it through the dishwasher. A few things to mention, though: The cord isn’t long, so be sure you have a power outlet close to where you’re making your smoothies. Also, you’ll need to use a heavy bowl or beaker to prevent toppling.
Need to stock your kitchen? Check out the Oster Pro. It’s got one base that serves numerous functions. Just switch out the top and you’ve got a blender. Switch again, and you’ve got a food processor. Naturally, You’ve got a smoothie to-go cup too. Users say this blender breaks up greens, ice, and chia seeds as well as some of its pricier competitors. Plus, this can save you from needing to buy a separate food processor.
Now, go forth and blend to your heart’s—and your taste-buds’—content.