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I've recently taken to blending smoothies in a 500 Watt blender with pulse, low, and high settings. I get that a higher power setting spins the blades faster but I'm curious how I can best leverage the different speeds. For example, why would I want to use a low speed over a high speed?

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There are many reasons for having a blender with selectable speeds:

  1. Not every time you want to liquify or make a mush of your food; quite the opposite, usually you want to keep a bit of texture into what you are blending.
    Thus, lower speed is better.

  2. Blending heats up your ingredients, either by the friction of the blades and by the heating of the blender engine itself. Now, while it's pretty difficult to ruin oils or many other things with the blender temperature, vegetables and fruits on the other hand are really sensitive.

    So, as a generic rule of thumb, you always want to start with the lowest speed and then raise it up step by step (my blender used to have 5 speed settings, for examples) just as necessary. No point in running the blender at max speed by default.

  3. The blender's engine is built to blend things, and as obvious as it may sounds is maybe less obvious that the engine is not expected to runs free blending the air, because it can quickly burn and ruin itself: it actually needs (and expect) some kind of resistance from the food it's blending.
    So, when you blend big and/or hard things, it's advisable to do some on/first (this is the reason for the pulse mode), then raise the speed, to not overheat the blender and to not give the blades too much energy.

    For example, if you are blending chickpeas, as they are pretty heavy and big. When you immediately go at the highest speed all you will get will be chickpeas being struck by the blades and just bouncing all around. When you lower the speed, the impact between the blades and the chickpeas will be less energetic and the blades will have a chance to at least begin to scratch them ;-)

  • You say start with the lowest speed and then raise it up step by step - if you do it that way, why would you need to blend something on a high speed after blending it on a low speed? Does the high speed impart a different texture to the result? – Turch May 21 at 19:06
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Blender speed selection can be part science and part personal preference. It also depends on the power your unit provides.

Some general guidelines I would recommend adjusting to your liking:

  • Low: Fine Ice*, Ice Cream, Milkshakes, Batters, Chop Vegetables, Puree
  • Medium: Smoothies, Sauces, Dips, Fruit and Vegetable Juice, Nuts, Spreads
  • High: Soups, Spice Crushing, Hot Chocolate/Drinks, Liquification
  • Gradual Increases: Cleaning cycle
  • Low-High Cycles: Smoothies
  • Pulsing: Coarse Ice* Without Liquid, or to Control Processing and Chopping

*Nearly every manufacturer has a different recommendation for ice. Everything including Low, High, Pulsing, to Gradual Increases may work well for your particular model and needs. In addition, many units have specific ice crushing modes. If you want fine ice I would use a Low setting. If you want coarse ice I would use a High setting with Pulsing.

It is quite hard to make specific recommendations because models vary widely in the features they have. For that reason I would highly recommend reading the manual for your model.

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