Justifying the space in a kitchen for a blender and food processor can be tricky. Fortunately, the Compact Kitchen System has both areas covered, acting as a smoothie machine and a general kitchen helper in one.
As well as the Auto-iQ "intelligent" blending function that features on the standard Nutri Ninja machine, it also has a Smooth Boost button, for creamier results, and pre-programmed speeds and settings to help it make dough, cake batters, pastry, purees, dips and sauces.
A panel of clearly labelled buttons on the front of the Compact Kitchen System leaves you in no doubt that this machine is all about function. It’s finished in no-nonsense black and silver, but fortunately, its diminutive size helps to offset the overall heavy-duty effect.
Design hasn’t been completely overlooked, however, since there are some helpful features. Handles at the base of the machine remove the temptation to pick it up incorrectly.
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As well as two cups for smoothies and the Pro Extractor blade unit for blitzing them, it has a processor bowl with two attachments. There's a chopping blade with four knives protruding from it – so sharp they sliced a cloth when it was gently hand-washed – and a dough blade for kneading and mixing. Neither lock into the bowl, which is something to be aware of when pouring out the contents.
Each button on the front of the base unit corresponds to a particular function or programme (all of which can be paused). There’s Start/Stop, a manual setting that runs at high speed for 60 seconds and will stop any programme, Pulse, Smooth Boost, and a setting for creamier results (which is the default for the Auto-iQ Extract and Blend programmes).
You'll also find Low for 30 seconds of slow mixing, Auto-iQ Extract for blending leafy or hard fruits and vegetables, Auto-iQ Blend for softer foods and milkshakes, and Auto-iQ Chop, a programme of pulses and pauses for ingredient prep and ground meat.
While there are recipes provided with the machine, they’re mostly focused on making smoothies and drinks, with only a handful provided for the food processor element.
We started by making a Power Ball smoothie using the Auto-iQ Blend programme with Smooth Boost activated. This combined banana, coconut milk, cocoa powder and blueberries – a fruit that’s often difficult to completely blend in smoothies.
After the programmed blending time had elapsed, the smoothie was of a noticeably creamy, consistent texture. There were only a few particles of blueberry skin remaining, which was impressive. It’s quite noisy during operation, however, so some recipes may be better prepared the night before.
Next, we tried a recipe with more fibrous ingredients: Ginger Pear Defense. This included pear, fresh ginger, honey, lemon juice and water. Using the Auto-iQ Extract programme, it blended and paused for around 45 seconds to leave a frothy liquid with a relatively smooth consistency. The pear – which can often be gritty – was thoroughly blended, but there was some fine sediment in the drink. Left for a few minutes, this separated out.
Swapping the cups for the food processor bowl and dough blade, we attempted pizza dough. Unfortunately, this recipe wasn't suitable for the capacity of the bowl – the flour required for it alone filled the bowl past the maximum mark.
Once the required liquid was added and the lid put on, this caused the contents to overflow onto the worktop. Using the Low setting for 30 seconds the machine struggled, even when some of the contents had been removed. The dough wasn’t properly mixed and required a second mix using Low, plus some kneading by hand afterwards. The dough rose well, but once baked the pizza base was heavy and thick.
We finished by using the chopping blade to dice leeks using Auto-iQ Chop. This programme worked incredibly well, delivering evenly chopped vegetables in a matter of seconds.
All the parts could be popped into the dishwasher, making clean-up straightforward. However, washing the chopping blade by hand is hazardous since it's very sharp and awkward to wash safely. A dedicated cleaning brush would have been useful.
While it will never completely fill the gap of a full-sized blender, the Compact Kitchen System is a workable compromise. It brings a lot to the table – but there are shortcomings in terms of capacity and capability, and it’s a shame that adjustment is required for a basic recipe, such as pizza dough.
That said, the Nutri Ninja BL490UK is ideal for small amounts of food processing or quick tasks, plus its size means you’re more likely to have it out on the worktop all the time – a real advantage for anyone with limited cupboard space.
Good for smoothie fans who want a little extra, or capable cooks needing a small, powerful processor.