The Thermomix has a certain mythical aura around it. It’s not widely known or common within Southeast Asia, but most of us who have any interest in cooking or baking would have heard about it. It’s the stuff of rumours and legends: that it’s a secret weapon that many fine-dining chefs (the likes of Heston Blumenthal, Gordon Ramsay and Ferran Adria) swear by, that it’s so popular in Europe people gift these things for weddings, that you can use it to do just about anything, that it’s near indestructible because of its made-in-Europe provenance, and so on. All that of course, only had us raring to put it through the paces.
HOW WE APPROACHED THE REVIEW
There are plenty of sites offering their opinions on the Thermomix. However, what we’ve realised after years of researching and testing appliances (be it business or personal) is that sometimes it’s the little details that matter. This might be one of the longest appliance reviews you’ll read, not least because the Thermomix is so multi-faceted. But we would rather be thorough than not, so that you can decide for yourself if the functionalities and limitations meet your requirements. All the bells and whistles are pointless if they’re not relevant to your life.
For our Thermomix TM5 review set, we grouped the functionalities into major categories and segmented the review accordingly. Each segment presents a list of relevant features and specifications, followed by our experience and feedback. This review is based on a three-week period of testing.
BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE THERMOMIX
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call the Thermomix the grand-daddy of high-tech, multi-function kitchen appliances. The very first model was launched in Germany in 1961, introduced as a handy gadget that could both blend and cook, and quickly gained popularity across France, Spain and Italy.
The Thermomix is not without competitors. Other appliances muscling onto this universal food processor turf include the All-Clad Prep & Cook, Kenwood Cooking Chef, and KitchenAid Cook Processor, but based on our (armchair) research, they don’t encompass as many features as the Thermomix offers. You can use it for everything from milling grains and chopping onions to blending smoothies. You can use it to whisk egg whites and knead dough. You can cook with it and leave the machine to take care of the stirring and mixing. And you can even use it for steaming.
THE DETAILED REVIEW
- The Thermomix comes with a built-in weighing scale – and a rare function – so you can measure ingredients into the Thermomix directly while cooking.
- It can weigh up to 3kg at 5g intervals.
- It’s such a simple feature, but so useful it made me wish many more appliances also came with built-in scales. I find it faster than fussing around with measuring cups and spoons, and I certainly don’t mind having fewer knick-knacks to wash up. Helpfully, ingredient quantities in the accompanying Basic Cook Book were also written in mass than in volume – that’s definitely easier to work with than ambiguous terms like “six medium potatoes”.
- You don’t necessarily have to put ingredients into the mixing jug either. For instance, if the mixing jug is already in use, you can place a bowl or plate over the lid then tap the weighing scale icon to start. This is also useful for when you don’t want to accidentally add too much of a certain ingredient.
- A caveat though: When precision matters, you might want to pause whatever task the machine is running first, as the scale mechanism may be compromised when things are sloshing around at the same time.
- I must admit, I had high hopes that I would finally be able to weigh out 1g specks of salt and the like for fussy baking recipes, so I was teeny bit disappointed that the Thermomix was only accurate up to 5g. For these itsy bitsy amounts, Thermomix suggests sticking to measuring spoons.
We made meringues with the Thermomix to test how well it grinds sugar and whisks egg whites.
Chopping, Grinding, Milling
- Backed by a 500W motor, you can crank up the Thermomix to speed 10 at 0.5 intervals. The lowest is Stir (depicted with a spoon icon), then it works its way up from 0.5 to 1, and so on up to 10.
- There’s a Turbo mode that can push the speed even higher. Turbo is limited to one-second and two-second bursts.
- With those impressive specs, Thermomix claims that you can use it for grating hard cheeses, grinding nuts and spices, milling pulses and grains.
- There’s also a Reverse mode that spins the blades in the reverse direction, along the blunt edge.
- The complimentary cookbook has a handy chart with suggested speeds and duration for chopping, mincing and milling.
- The blade and motor were certainly powerful. At the preliminary demo session, two examples impressed: Rock sugar was pulverised to icing sugar in mere seconds using the turbo function. Frozen slices of banana were transformed into creamy banana ‘ice cream’ – without any additional liquids – in a matter of minutes. When it came to preparing rempah for rendang, I was able to grind the spices together into a fine paste in about 30 seconds.
- It was also pretty fast at chopping aromatics like onions and garlic, or mincing them into a thick paste. I’m not proud of admitting this, but chopping and mincing is my Achilles heel. I dread those tasks so much (and take forever at them) that I think it subconsciously makes me thinking of cooking as weekend projects than daily routine.
- That said, you’ll still need to do some prep work. At the minimum, you’ll need to peel and chop ingredients to large chunks first.
- At very high speeds, the machine might start to shake – probably because there aren’t that many suction pads to stabilise it to the counter. I was concerned that the motor was struggling, but it held the fort really well. I’ve tried other mixers (expensive ones too) that started to emit a bit of a rubber smell when the motor is overworked, but not this one.
- Still, one major caution: You probably don’t want to risk blitzing hot soup at very high speeds. Although the machine clamps down to secure the mixing jug lid, the smaller measuring cup cannot be locked into place. Theoretically, if there’s enough vortex action and steam (or a lot of liquid), the buildup might propel away the measuring cup and fly out. In reality, however, the blade is quite powerful even around speed 4, so you would rarely need to climb close to speed 10 to puree any soups. The wisest option, of course, is to increase the speed gradually.
- Running the Reverse function at medium speeds is also useful for shredding (instead of chopping) meats – like when making pulled pork.
Whisking and Kneading
- A plastic butterfly whisk for whisking sauces and whipping egg whites.
- A separate Dough mode (accessed via the same ‘button’ as Turbo) that intermittently alternates between clockwise and counter-clockwise motions during kneading
- Some time ago, I’ve tested another multi-processor with a similar butterfly whisk. That other machine was disappointing because the whisk didn’t scrape the bowl well enough to incorporate the sugar at the bottom. I’m so pleased that the Thermomix won hands down on this way.
- It had no trouble at all at whisking egg whites to stiff peaks for meringues.
- I made a big batch (read: heavy) of cookie dough and was pleased that the motor hummed along steadily, and that the chocolate chips were mixed in quite evenly. I didn’t even need to scrape down the cookie dough much.
- The great thing about working with written-for-Thermomix recipes for baking is also that it takes away a lot of guesswork for inexperienced bakers like myself. I used to spend a lot of time googling for photo references on what soft (or stiff) egg whites should look like, or how to test if the dough texture is right. In an ideal world, I would keep experimenting and learning along the way, but since that’s not gonna happen anytime soon, I’ll take any help and reliability I can get.
- I also tried using the Dough function to knead fish paste for homemade fish balls. Fish paste is notoriously sticky and difficult to mix evenly so I needed to scrape down the mixing jug more frequently, but I’m pleased that the motor didn’t grunt one bit.
Cooking, Stirring and Time Control
- Temperature control here is very precise from 37°C up to 120°C, at 1°C intervals. (Of course, you can also set it to imperial measurements if you want.) The touchscreen display will show both the current temperature, and the temperature that you’ve set. The maximum on the dial is Varoma – Thermomix’ proprietary term for the steam function.
- The timer ranges from one second up to 99 minutes. For durations under one minute, you can specify it to the second; the intervals progressively go up such that between 20 and 99 minutes, the intervals are spaced a minute apart.
- There is a small simmering basket that can be inserted into the mixing jug. It’s useful for protecting ingredients from the rotating blades when boiling or steaming – because the blades have to be activated for the machine to run. With this setup, you can also use the Thermomix like a mini sous-vide machine by putting ingredients (in a vacuum bag, if necessary) in the simmering basket.
- Steaming and multi-layer cooking are key attractions that Thermomix keeps emphasising. The unit comes with three other Varoma attachments for steaming: A tall perforated dish, a low-slung tray, and a lid. They are supposed to be stacked in that order on top of your mixing jug lid (though the Varoma tray is optional), and paired with the Varoma temperature setting. The proposition from Thermomix is that you can be cooking a full meal simultaneously, perhaps a soup bubbling in the jug while the Varoma layers are used for steaming vegetables and fish.
- I struggled a little at the beginning when I tried to adapt conventional recipes for the Thermomix. It took some trial and error to figure out the corresponding temperature range for terms like “low heat”, “medium heat”. I took to frequently flipping through the Basic Cook Book to find recipes with similar steps and adapt from those temperature recommendations. I do reckon that people who are accustomed to induction hobs will adjust a lot more easily.
- Once I got the hang of it, it proved really useful for recipes that call for low temperatures and careful monitoring. A recipe for gambas al ajillo called for slowly infusing garlic into olive oil over low heat, and the Thermomix was a godsend. After heating up the oil, I could just throw in sliced garlic, set a suitable temperature and duration, and let the machine do its thing for a good 15 minutes while I prepped other things. I would imagine it’ll take a lot of guesswork (and mishaps) out of tasks like tempering chocolate, and cooking custard bases.
- Browning food, much less wok hei, is not going to be possible in the mixing jug. Given the high walls and the narrow opening at the lid (for safety reasons, the machine will not operate if the lid is not secured), there’ll be too much steam build-up for anything to brown. I tried to use the Thermomix to cook a batch of hae bee hiam, thinking that I can outsource the stirring completely. Unfortunately, steam couldn’t escape fast enough to achieve the dry, crisp texture I had in mind, so I ended up switching to a wok.
- That said, I discovered through hae bee hiam experiment that the Thermomix is really useful when working with huge amounts of pungent ingredients like onions and chilli – the advantage of the narrow opening is that you’re not constantly assaulted by eye-watering fumes.
- Stews and curries are perfect for what the Thermomix offers, because you can keep things cooking and slow, and even outsource the stirring – which by the way, turned out way better than I had expected. Because the blades are arranged at different heights, the Thermomix did not merely stir the food that was at the bottom. In fact, it managed to achieve a folding-like action that was quite thorough. While making beef rendang, I’d thrown beef cubes on top of the rempah then let the machine run. I noticed that the beef cubes were all evenly coated with the rempah quite quickly.
- Don’t count on the Thermomix to take the role of a slow cooker though. While it offers fabulous temperature control, the maximum duration you can leave it for is only 99 minutes.
- It also goes without saying that the Thermomix cannot be used as a deep-fryer, simply because you wouldn’t be able to get the temperature high enough.
- I tried out a recipe that offered a multi-layer approach for Hainanese-style chicken rice: Rice goes below, into the simmering basket; marinated chicken goes onto the bottom Varoma dish; and greens on the top-most Varoma tray. This was one of those recipes that most benefited from the Thermomix’ many functions: From chopping and pulsing the chilli sauce to sauteeing the rice with aromatics, to steaming everything in one go. And it worked pretty well – though I wouldn’t be ditching my rice cooker anytime soon.
- To me, multi-layer cooking sounds like a good feature on paper, but it takes a bit of planning ahead. You want to make sure that whatever you’re cooking in the bottom mixing jug takes the same amount of time – or more – as the stuff you’re steaming above. Furthermore, you need the blade to be rotating at least at a medium speed to ensure that sufficient steam is propelled upwards. What this means is, if you’re cooking something like pork ribs soup and want the meant intact, you need to place them in the simmer basket too.
- I’m disappointed that the Varoma accessories were made of plastic, even if Thermomix claims them to be BPA-free, FDA-approved food-grade plastic. Given the price, and the overall excellent built of the Thermomix, fitting out steaming accessories with plastic – instead of say, stainless steel – just seemed puzzling. It’s like going into a fancy cocktail bar only to have your drinks served in disposable plastic cups. The problem with plastic is also that odours cling onto them a lot more tenaciously: My Varoma accessories smelled like chicken rice even up till the next day.