How to Make a Smoothie

Written primarily for employees, but may be useful to others. For non-employees reading this, skip to Ideal Smoothie section.

Definition of Smoothie (ours)
A blender blended drink.

Comment: Meaning, a smoothie doesn’t necessarily have to contain ice (and be served cold) and can contain any ingredient that can be blended.  That includes bacon (bacon ice cream!), chicken liver, halibut, and gold. We’re using this definition because there are instances when a customer doesn’t want, for instance, ice.  And we’ve added bacon to a smoothie. The possibilities are endless.  Be prepared to work outside of the standard, and to let the customer know when they’ve ordered a drink that’s not standard.

The Standard Alive Juice Bar Smoothie
A Vitamix blended drink consisting of ice, ingredients, and liquid.  The purpose of the ice is to make the drink taste better and last longer (prevent spoilage); ingredients for nutrition; liquid for nutrition and to make blending of ice and ingredients possible.

Comment: It won’t occur to some customers that liquid is necessary component of a smoothie.  Be prepared to explain why liquid is necessary.

Ideal Smoothie
Think about what you want from a smoothie.  Should it look pleasing to the eye?  What range of colors are acceptable?  What range of temperatures are acceptable?  How thick should it be?  How smoothie the texture?   Once you’ve imagined your ideal smoothie(s), reverse engineer.  Marco Pierre White explains this process:

Cook’s brain.  It’s that ability to visualize the food on the plate, as a picture in the mind, and then work backwards.  There’s no reason why domestic cooks can’ do the same thing.  Cooking is easy: you’ve just got to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Apply the cook’s brain and visualize that fried egg on the plate.  Do you want it to be burned around the edges? Do you want to see craters on the egg white? Should the yolk look as if you’d need a hammer to break into it? The answer to all these questions should be no. Yet the majority of people still crack an egg and drop it into searingly hot oil and continue to cook it on high heat.  You need to insert earplugs to reduce the horrific volume of the sizzle.  And the result, once served up in a pool of oil, is an inedible destruction of that greatest ingredient — the egg. Maybe that’s how you like it, in which case carry on serving your disgusting food.

If you want a disgusting smoothie, randomly cobble together ingredients.

The Wrong Way
And that’s now many make their smoothies.  “Gotta have some kale and spinach,” she reminds herself. “I’ve been craving strawberries, so I’ll add some of those. Cranberries to help with urinary tract infection.  Yum, blueberries and raspberries. Yogurt and orange juice.” Then wonders why smoothie tastes too tart, is unappealing in color, and is too runny in texture.

A good smoothie isn’t a collection of one’s preferred ingredients.  A good smoothie is balanced in texture and flavor, and appealing in color.  If it’s shit brown, you fucked up (unless customer insists on having it this way).  While some customers don’t mind shit brown drinks, they’re still carrying them in public view, unintentionally branding our products as looking like shit.  Which for some, is the same as tasting like shit.  Looks matter, it changes perception, alters experience.  A well plated dish will taste better than its sloppy plated version. Think about the importance of plating the next time you eat at a Japanese restaurant.

Some are more comfortable with nasty looking drinks because they associate nasty with healthy.  If they insist, fine (we usually try to get them to add beets to their drink so it turns purple).  Keep in mind we’re in the business of getting people to STOP thinking of healthy food as nasty food.  We’re in business to convince people that healthy food is the tastiest food.  And those who don’t agree have fucked up palates that need to be fixed.

Alive Juice Bar Way
There’s the wrong way, the right way, and then the Alive Juice Bar way.  We teach employees to look at an ingredient not as a “pineapple” or “mango” or “carrot juice,” as quantities to be added to a smoothie.  The essence of a *piece* of pineapple (each piece of unique) is its texture and flavor.  So there’s no point in asking how many pieces of this and that to add.  Some pieces contain more flavor than do others. And since we prep everything in-house, by hand, the size of each piece ranges.  So employees are trained to recognize and work with volume instead of quantity.

Flavor Project: imagine your ideal flavor.  In front of you are three pieces of pineapple.  One of the pieces is bright yellow.  Another piece is a muted yellow. Final piece is faintly yellow.  Which one do you pick? Think about the flavor of each piece.

The bright yellow is sweetest.  The faintly yellow is least sweet.  So when you make a smoothie with pineapples, you adjust VOLUME (not quantity) of pineapple based on its flavor (as represented by its color).  Estimate flavor (eg. sweetness, tartness) using color as clue.

Texture Project: Lineup of avocado, banana, and baked yam.  Take bite of each.  Order from most fibrous to least. Pick:

a) Avocado, banana, yam
b) Avocado, yam, banana
c) Banana, avocado, yam

If you picked B, you’re correct. The amount of fiber you put into a drink will determine its texture.  If you like it runny, put less fiber.  If you like it thick, add more fiber.  You should’ve noticed that the more fibrous the ingredient, the harder it is to swallow.  Use water to aid with swallowing.  Meaning, if you replace a banana with an avocado (assuming same serving size), you’ll have to adjust liquid to fiber ratio.  You’ll have to add a lot more liquid. If not enough liquid is added, the drink will be too think to drink.  Maintain the balance. And train your eyes to estimate fiber.

Color Project: Making a smoothie is similar (not same) to mixing colors in art class.  Assume one cup for each of the following ingredients: Kale + strawberries = x; Beets + Pineapple = y; Kale + Pineapple = z

Answers: x = brown; y = red; z = green

Imagine the range of ideal colors. If your drink is outside the range, you can bet the flavor is also off.  Redo.

In short, to build a good smoothie, focus on building the correct balance of FLAVOR, TEXTURE, and COLOR.

The Cooking Instinct
It’s not that hard to do once you unlearn everything taught in school and regain trust in your instinct, instinct that many of us have been taught to repress. If you can’t work without a recipe, then you’ve repressed your primal self and need help. Seriously.  More on this in forthcoming post: How to Cook Without Recipes.


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