Juicing at Home

As promised, here’s a follow-up to last week’s “Blending vs. Juicing” article by Jane Lear.

Jane Says:  All Juicers Aren’t Created Equal

Juicers are selling like hot cakes as more and more Americans have started drinking their fruits and vegetables in the hopes of losing weight, eating more healthfully, and/or detoxing.  Just last week, in fact, Debra Mednick, executive director and home-industry analyst at the market-research firm NPD Group, wrote on the company’s blog that juice extractor sales have more than doubled in the past two years.  “But there’s more to the trend than just juicing,” she elaborated.  “High-performance blenders effortlessly chop and pulverize just about anything … while still retaining all of the whole food benefits.  This changes the game for how consumers ‘eat’ their meals.”  Someone who would have been gratified by this juice-blend trend was Jack LaLanne, the father of the modern physical fitness movement.  He opened his first gym and juice bar in 1936.

A top-of-the-line juicer (more correctly called a juice extractor) or blender can easily set you back $400 or more, and it hogs valuable real estate—both on the kitchen counter and, when you think about it, in the refrigerator.  After all, because it takes a number of servings of whole vegetables or fruits to yield one serving of juice, you’ll be buying organic produce and lots of it, which is also far from cheap.

I’m not saying liquefying your food isn’t worth it—for the full scoop, check out last week’s column—but if you don’t have the time to shop for produce, wash and prep it, and clean the machine after each use, perhaps patronize your favorite juice bar (and support the local economy) instead.

You still want one.  I can tell.

Okay, then, below is a general rundown of the different types of juicers you’ll find on the market.  No matter what kind you buy, look for features that will make it a pleasure to use.  These include a long cord, for counter-top flexibility; a large feeder chute to accommodate big or multiple pieces of fruit and vegetables; a clear juice container so you can see how much you’re making; and dishwasher-safe, easily removable parts.

High-speed juicers (aka fast or centrifugal juicers)

These juicers shred produce with a sharp blade, then separate the pulp through high-speed spinning to yield thin, pulpless juice.  They tend to handle carrots, beets, and apples better than leafy greens or wheatgrass.  High-speed juicers include LaLanne’s Power Juicer and the Breville Juice Fountain series, popularized by the documentary Fat Sick & Nearly Dead.  What’s not to love about fast juicers?  The blades and spinning mean the foods you’re juicing come in contact with more air during the process; that oxidization causes nutrients to break down quickly, so you should drink a serving as soon as you make it.  The machines also generate about two degrees Fahrenheit of heat—a tiny amount, but many juice proponents believe that also destroys nutrients.  Hey, did I mention Jack LaLanne lived to the age of 97?

Slow juicers (aka masticating or single-gear juicers)

These juicers use an auger to crush the juice out of foods, including leafy greens.  They leave more pulp (i.e., fiber) in the juice than a high-speed juicer does; consequently, there is less waste (and thicker juice).  They can also be used for making baby food, nut butters, or even ice cream.  Because there are no blades or spinning, a slow juicer is quieter than a high-speed type; for the same reason, less heat and oxidization are created.  Popular brands include Omega, Hurom, and Champion.  In general, slow juicers are more expensive than fast juicers.  They also have smaller feeder chutes, so there’s more prepping of ingredients involved.

Triturating juicers (aka twin-gear juicers)

These top-of-the-line juicers are for the seriously dedicated enthusiast.  They turn at a slower speed than a masticating juicer, and by pressing foods between two interlocking gears, they extract a larger volume of nutrient-rich juice from leafy greens and other vegetables, fruits, herbs, wheatgrass, and novel ingredients (to most of us, anyway) like pine needles.  Green Star, Samson, and Angel are three brands to look for.  The major drawback here is price:  The Super Angel retails for about $1,500, and Green Stars start at about $630.  Give me a gym membership, any day.

“Whole foods” juicers (aka high-performance blenders)

These blenders liquefy whole fruits and vegetables while still retaining the fiber.  Juicing advocates say the machines produce smoothies, not juices, but the semantics don’t seem to bother the cult followers of Vitamix (starting at $600) and the less-expensive Ninja and NutriBullet (made by Magic Bullet).

Tips on Juicing and Blending

• Always start with well-washed fresh produce (preferably organic) and a clean juicer.

• To keep the natural sugar content low, a combination should be mostly vegetables.

• Include a veggie with a high water content, such as a cucumber or large stalk of celery, to balance out denser leafy greens such as kale, chard, or spinach.

• Add an apple, pear, carrot, or beet for sweetness and a more rounded, complex flavor.  A tart green apple like a Granny Smith will cut the sweetness of carrot or beet juice.

• For brightness, add ginger, lemon, lime, and/or a favorite herb.

• When blending, you’ll need to add ice cubes or a liquid such as coconut water, juice, or almond milk.  You can also add ingredients like flax or chia seeds.

• Although I question many of the health benefits touted in The Juicing Bible (2nd ed.), by Pat Crocker, the book contains 350 recipes for juices, smoothies, and more.