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When it comes to dieting, one of my favourite strategies for managing caloric intake is replacing one everyday meal with a smoothie. If done correctly, it’s also a handy way to get caught up on your recommended vegetable and fibre intake for the day.
The trick to making smoothies work as a meal replacement is they have to be able to leave you feeling full for a good while. One of the best ways to do this is to make sure your smoothie is thick in consistency. Thicker smoothies “stick to your ribs” as they say, and leave you with that satiated feeling. And this in turn means you’re less likely to be a naughty snacker.
You can make thick smoothies by adding more frozen fruit and vegetable ingredients, and less liquids. Also cut back on using ice, as it only makes for a more watery smoothie when it melts. Finally, consider additives such as xanthan gum or carrageenan, which are excellent thickening and emulsifying agents.
So which fruit and vegetable ingredients work best? And are there other healthy, natural ingredients that are just as capable at making a thick smoothie? Let’s take a closer look. While we’re at it, we’ll also cover why using the right blender is just as important in getting that perfect consistency.
How to make a thick smoothie with frozen fruit?
Before we dive into how you can use frozen fruits to add volume to your smoothie cocktail, a quick word of caution. As delicious as fruits can be, they can quickly become a sugary landmine, especially when loaded up and blended down. If you’re trying to reduce your carb intake, or just prefer smoothies that aren’t overly sweet, skip this section. We have some great thickener alternatives further down that are healthy and delicious to boot.
Most fruits have a high water content. When frozen, that water crystallizes and gives the fruit its additional structure and rigidity. That’s why frozen fruits work particularly well at thickening up smoothies. Blending them gives smoothies that refreshing icy thick texture.
The key to making a thick fruit smoothie is using a lot of frozen fruit relative to liquid. One clever method is to fill the blender cup to the top of your serving line with your frozen fruit, and then pour in just enough liquid to fill in the cracks.
The great thing about the above method is it will yield smoothies that are super thick, regardless of the blending pitcher used. And if the blades are spinning but nothing is blending, that means your smoothie is too thick for your blender. If this happens, carefully splash in a bit more liquid (orange juice, coconut water, nut milk, etc.) until it gets going again.
What frozen fruits work best?
The truth is, nearly any fruit that’s frozen is a good smoothie thickening agent. However if you’re a texture person like me, using too many berries is a no-go. For instance, blueberries, while great for you, also tend to add a grainy crunchiness that is a bit much if more than a handful at a time is used.
When it comes to creating a creamy thick smoothie, there is one frozen fruit that reigns supreme, and that is the banana. Many frozen fruits can thicken a smoothie, but bananas especially give them that velvety, creaminess that you would otherwise have to use dairy to replicate.
While you can blend them unchilled, we found that freezing your sliced bananas ahead of time will give smoothies even greater volume. As far as the best way to freeze them, we recommend using this method.
Other fruits that work really well are frozen mangoes and pineapples. The two ingredients pair nicely together, as their sweetness and acidity are complementary flavours. However, these tropical fruits are quite high in sugars, so make these smoothies as a treat, not as a staple.
How to thicken a smoothie without using bananas?
We’ve just heaped a pile of praise on bananas and how awesome they are at creating a creamy texture. But what if you don’t have any handy, or worse, are allergic to them? Not a problem! Thankfully, there are several excellent substitutions for you to consider.
The reason bananas are so commonly found in smoothie recipes is because of the creaminess that they add to the blend. That same added volume can be found in sources of dairy. Yogurt is a healthy alternative that provides a wonderful silky texture. For extra thickness, use Greek yoghurt.
However, if you’d rather avoid animal milk products, you’re in luck. In the next section we cover non-dairy alternatives to banana that will thicken up that smoothie.
How to make a thick smoothie without using yogurt?
Whatever the underlying reason, you’ve decided you don’t want to use yogurt to add volume to your smoothie. As we touched on earlier, frozen fruits such as mangoes are an excellent alternative for you to consider. However those delicious tropical fruits also pack a fair amount of sugar. Thankfully, there are other options.
Along with bananas, avocados are an excellent alternative to yogurt when it comes to adding creaminess to smoothies. The great thing about avocados is they are neutral in flavour. This means they can be used in nearly any recipe to add volume, without altering the desired flavour. Plus they’re an excellent source of good fats.
Another great thickener is coconut milk (not to be confused with coconut water). As it gets aerated and whipped up in the blender, coconut milk takes on a thicker, creamier consistency. Unlike avocados however, coconut milk does have a distinctive flavour, so it won’t be as universally friendly to smoothie recipes.
Interested in a comprehensive list of non-dairy alternatives as well as some delicious smoothie recipes that put them to use? We’ve got you covered. Be sure to check out our Smoothie Recipes Without Milk article.
What is the best blender for thick smoothies?
Before we get into some other ingredients that can be used to thicken smoothies, let’s talk about blenders.
When it comes to blending, there are two key factors that will determine how thick and creamy a smoothie you can make. The first is how powerful your blender is. And the second is whether or not your blender has a tamping feature.
Feature to look for: Power
To put it simply, the more powerful your blender, the creamier your end result. That is because beefier motors are better able to thicken and emulsify your ingredients. Additionally, more power means the blades are able to make quick work of blending. The reduced runtime also minimizes heating of the spinning blades, which would otherwise warm up your smoothie ingredients.
Feature to look for: A Tamper
The second, and perhaps more important feature, is whether your blender also comes equipped with a tamper. A tamper is a plunger that allows you to push down (or tamp) your ingredients into the spinning blades of your blender. Tamping is especially handy because it eliminates the air pocket that is sometimes created when blending thicker ingredients. That air pocket phenomenon is known as cavitation, and higher-end blenders go to great lengths to minimize its occurrence.
It’s easy to get carried away and break the bank with an overly expensive blender these days. When it comes to striking a good balance between capability and affordability, the Ninja Mega Kitchen System is worth a closer look. In fact, in a recent review roundup of the best Ninja blenders out there, it handily took the top spot. You can read that review here.
Other ingredients to thicken smoothies
In addition to frozen fruits and yogurt, there are plenty of other ingredients that can be used to thicken a smoothie without adding unnecessary calories. For ease of reference, we’ve divided them into two broad categories: natural ingredients and additives.
- Frozen Vegetables – Frozen cauliflower and frozen butternut squash are two of our personal favourites. Not only do they add a nice fullness to smoothies, they’re also surprisingly neutral in flavour.
- Silken Tofu – Silken tofu is undrained and unpressed tofu, and is an excellent source of calcium and magnesium. Due to its custard-like consistency it is an excellent binding agent to thicken up your smoothies.
- Sweet Potato – A savoury alternative to bananas when it comes to adding a creamy texture. You can cut them into chucks, and boil them ahead of time. However our favourite method is to pan roast them in the oven, as it lends a nice smoky richness to savoury smoothies.
- Oats/Flax/Chia – In addition to being great thickening agents, these ingredients are excellent sources of fibre, and in the case of flaxseed, a great source of omega fatty acids.
- Xanthan or Guar Gum – A little bit goes a long way with Xanthan or Guar, which can both be used interchangeably in your smoothie. They are thickening agents that are also commonly used in sauces and baking. For a 500ml sized smoothie, start with no more than 1/16th of a teaspoon. You can always increase the dosage in future blends, but if you start too strong you could end up with a smoothie blend that has a snot-like consistency!
- Carrageenan – Carrageenan is naturally derived from seaweed, and also makes for a great thickening option. You’ll be interested to know it’s also found in other food items, such as your chocolate milk, where it keeps the cocoa powder evenly blended.