The smoothie is a classic good resolution, right up there with eight glasses of water a day and trying to see things from the other person’s point of view. I’ll swap my croissant for a smoothie. Or my double espresso for a smoothie. Or my full English for a smoothie. Then, so long as I wash my blender straight after so I don’t immediately descend into kitchen entropy, I will be a better person, packed with vitamins and full till lunchtime.
Like all good intentions, this remains more or less preserved in aspic; if you never stick to it, you never need to update it. But nutritionists have fallen out of love with smoothies.
(A note before we continue: the battle over whether sugar or fat is public enemy No 1 still rages, one of those infernally horrible intra-professional catfights that escalate from nought to “I have five medical degrees! You, sir, are in the pocket of Big [insert corporate interest] and will be the cause of many deaths!” in 60 seconds. I picked my side in 2014, with the publication of Robert Lustig’s Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth about Sugar, Obesity and Disease. You may be on the other side, and think fat is the baddie. We need to put our differences aside and just talk about smoothies. Because they are still extremely wholesome, so long as you find some way not to put five bananas in them.)
Unlike juicing, blending fruit keeps most of the roughage. Smoothies still fell out of fashion a bit when it was established that it is better for satiety to simply eat the ingredients. However, while it might come naturally to eat an apple and maybe a banana, you are unlikely to want to sprinkle some kale over either, less likely still to spread them with cashew butter. These are the key elements for nursing smoothies back into favour: vegetation and protein. The Nutribullet website has a ton of recipes, and a fair number of them include protein powder, which I disapprove of. But there are other ways to boost protein, and that’s the fashion: lower sugar, higher protein, while still fitting through a straw and being an appetising colour, which is to say not grey.
There are two main routes to making things less sweet but still palatable: nutty or zingy. Almond milk is mysteriously good. You can use it with a banana base, but it’s so silky in its own right, and has enough heft, that you don’t need to. (It’s good, if only for the soul, and the frail human need for variety, not to make all your smoothies with bananas.) A teaspoon of nut butter – peanut is tastier, cashew less assertive – rounds out the texture and makes it more filling. You’re missing a trick if you don’t add greens, since they pump up the healthiness without hugely changing the taste (if you want to change it, add rocket, but not until you get to zingy). Spinach is the favourite, though that tends to mean baby spinach, for mildness. Kale is particularly good with cherries, whose sweetness is quite fierce and distinctive (unlike strawberries, which have more of a cutesy flavour and taste like a mistake when set against a strong green vegetable). Blueberries are good with celery, like a married couple who seem incredibly different but who have elemental similarities that you only notice once they’re both dead. That isn’t a very nice colour, however, a kind of mauve that elsewhere in life would be discontinued and end up in TK Maxx. Beetroots are good but you have to steam them, which defeats the raw-purity agenda a bit; beetroot greens are surprisingly good with almost everything.
Zing is generated mainly by lime and ginger; the theory, I think, is that they sort of blow your head off and you experience the smoothie more as a sensation than a taste. Apple, cucumber and parsley, ginger and lime is a hand-grenade start to a day.
I retain a lot of affection for avocado in a smoothie, but if you have one ripe enough (it has to be perfect), it’s tempting just to eat it.
The big newcomers to the scene are: cauliflower, which you have to keep to a low proportion otherwise it makes it mealy (the texture; not “like a meal”); coconut water, which again, you have to keep to modest amounts, otherwise everything tastes of coconut (if you wanted it to taste of coconut, I would recommend actual coconut); flax seeds, which are satiating and good for vegans (mainly because of omega-3); ashwagandha – which literally means “smell of a horse” in Sanskrit, but in fact does not smell of a horse – is unobtrusive and apparently has a calming yet exhilarating effect that, I must admit, I did not notice; and custard apples, which genuinely taste of custard.
Never put turmeric in a smoothie, even though people will persistently tell you to. It’s just a fancy way of turning it the colour of turmeric.