What Makes a Smoothie a Smoothie?
One of my favorite stories on the Onion describes the FDA relaxing on the definition of a smoothie. “For the first time in more than 50 years of strict oversight, the federal government will now recognize any drink that is not uniformly smooth, but includes pieces of fruit less than 0.72 centimeters in diameter, as a smoothie,” said fictitious FDA spokesperson Linda Furman. As a breakfast journalist who is pitched at least 15 different smoothie-like beverages on the regular, I think about this story a lot. Finally, I realized I needed to find out what other people consider a smoothie.
Jenna MIlls, a Registered Dietitian, is currently a Nutrition Scientist at RXBAR. Naturally, Mills’s explanation of a smoothie was a very sensible and accessible collection of blended, nutritionally dense ingredients that will keep her satiated the whole morning, like nut butter and Greek yogurt. Additionally, she’ll add flaxseeds (ground, for easier digestion). Mills was clear to note it’s best to avoid ingredients that quietly pack a lot of sugar, which isn’t great for the body first thing in the morning. “Cacao nibs are a great way to add texture and chocolate flavor without any sugar,” she noted.
I continued on with my smoothie journey by consulting the wellness community, as one could argue they’re probably the largest proponents of smoothies in 2018. Marcus Antebi is the founder of Juice Press, a popular smoothie and juice franchise. Antebi is, as you could probably guess, a big proponent of smoothies. “I typically start my morning with a green smoothie or bowl that is made of spinach, kale, almond milk, banana, date, pomegranate powder, and vanilla, with a granola or goji berry topping,” he told me in an email. Like Mills’s explanation, that all sounds like pretty standard fodder for a smoothie. But then he went on. “In the afternoon, I often choose smoothies with plant-based protein and energizing maca root. Antebi described a daily dose of his company’s blue majik-based smoothie (the adaptogen is purported to contain “antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties designed to heal, energize, and detoxify,”). Said Antebi, “if I miss a day of this routine I turn into werewolf.”
When I spoke with blogger Lee Tilghman, also known as @leefromamerica earlier this year about smoothie trends on Instagram, she explained that instead of using frozen bananas to thicken her smoothies, she opts for frozen steamed vegetables like zucchini, sweet potato, and cauliflower. More recently, Tilghman has started added frozen bone broth to her smoothies, another trend I’ve noticed begin to pop up (let us all remember Brodo’s “brothie.”) Bone broth add protein and fat without added sugar, but I can’t deny it’s just a little weird.
Speaking of weird, let’s talk about the queen of white wellness, Gwyneth Paltrow. According to Paltrow’s lifestyle and ecommerce website, Goop, Paltrow’s morning “smoothie” (scare quotes in place by Goop) contains a host of powders (this recipe calls for vanilla mushroom protein powder) and adaptogens like maca, ashwagandha, he shou wu, and cordyceps, many of which are made by another power player in this industry, Moon Juice’s Amanda Chantal Bacon. According to Goop, “Gwyneth drinks one of these every morning, whether or not she’s detoxing.”
For another perspective on what makes a smoothie, I decided to explore the smoothie habits of some folks who are a bit more interested in food that you can chew. David Carter, a former NFL defensive lineman who’s also known as “the 300 pound vegan,” started following the plant-based diet to soothe his dairy-induced tendonitis. Instead of fueling protein shakes with powders, Carter told GQ that he fortified his 20-ounce smoothies—which he was sucking down 4 times a day to keep his weight up—with cannellini beans and sunflower seeds for protein, fat, and calories.
Like Mills and Carter, most of the other people I spoke with keep smoothies simple, with frozen fruit and sometimes greens. “My smoothies all have the same base: a fresh banana, a large handful of baby spinach and just enough water to blend,” Vallery Lomas, blogger and winner of the Great American Baking Show told me in an email. “Once it's blended, I add enough frozen fruit to give me the thick texture I like—I like to eat my smoothies with a spoon!”
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli mentioned an intriguing addition to her smoothies: whole, skin-on almonds, which she told me “add richness and give body to the smoothie in a clean, satisfying way. I also like to add the tiniest drop of almond extract along with the almonds to give it that little extra something.”
“The more smoothies get to be like dessert, the less interested I am,“ Pete Wells, restaurant critic for the New York Times told me over the phone. Wells mentioned that he thinks the best version of the general idea of a smoothie is the mango lassi, a cold yogurt and mango drink. “I just don’t end up drinking my fruit very often, except in cocktail form,” said Wells. “But I guess I like the mango because it’s a little more on the savory side, and you can use good sour yogurt and salt it up a bit.” Ultimately, Wells mentioned he simply doesn’t get why some people would choose to drink their meals. “It seems so strange to me, like I understand what soups are, and I understand milkshakes,” he noted. But aside from people not having time to sit still to eat, when it comes to smoothies Wells said, “I don’t really understand it."