The Thermomix is a $1,500, do-it-all kitchen appliance that’s hugely popular abroad and is just now making its US debut. After spending nearly 30 hours testing it against two competitors and other appliances, and interviewing both a home cook and a professional chef who use the Thermomix regularly, we think some people will love it, but most can skip it.
Essentially, the Thermomix is a blender that also cooks and stirs your food at adjustable temperatures and speeds. It also comes with a built-in scale, a steamer attachment, and a touchscreen that will walk you through recipes for everything from chicken cacciatore to cookie dough. After baking banana bread, making risotto, and cooking about a week’s worth of other meals, we think it’s a sturdy, well-designed, one-of-a-kind machine that outperforms lower-priced imitators. Ultimately, because of the price, we can’t recommend it for most people.
I’m the lead kitchen editor at The Sweethome, and have also written guides to bread machines, waffle makers, cake pans, and more. For this guide, I spent several days reading up on the Thermomix and its competitors, looking at reviews from The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Food & Wine, Wired, The Globe and Mail, and more. I also combed through posts on Forum Thermomix and recipes on Thermomix blogs like ThermoBliss, ThermoFun, and others. I also spoke to two regular Thermomix users: One is a retired home cook living in the UK, the other is chef Wylie Dufresne, of Du’s Donuts in Brooklyn and the famed modernist restaurant wd~50 (now closed).
The $1,500 Thermomix TM5, made by the German company Vorwerk, already has a cultlike following in Europe and Australia for its ability to—supposedly—do it all. It’s an oversize, high-powered blender with a heating element in the bottom and a laundry list of promised capabilities, including the ability to almost automatically cook its way through nearly 600 (and counting) step-by-step recipes available for download to the TM5’s touchscreen interface. It can chop an onion and then sauté it, cook a soup and then puree it, knead bread dough, whip cream, blend smoothies, make risotto, and, according to its devoted fans, generally make cooking faster and easier.
The Thermomix (alternatively called a Bimby in Italy and Portugal) began to rise in popularity overseas shortly after Vorwerk introduced the previous model, the TM31, in 2004. It has since inspired countless cookbooks, blogs, forums, and Facebook groups, not to mention similar appliances. It’s also popular among chefs and found in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants like Noma, the Fat Duck, and the French Laundry. Since Vorwerk debuted the TM5 in 2014, the company has sold just over 3 million machines worldwide.
Vorwerk began rolling out the TM5 in California in 2016, and according to a July story on Quartz, the company hopes to do $9 million in sales in 2017, then double that the following year. It uses a direct sales model similar to Avon or Cutco. That means that if you want to buy a Thermomix, you have to arrange for a demonstration. There are now consultants out selling machines to people in San Francisco, LA, New York City, DC, Chicago, Dallas, and Miami. Plus, for the first time anywhere, Vorwerk has started allowing people to book live video demonstrations, so that anyone across the country can buy a Thermomix even without the in-person demo.
Abroad, there are many Thermomix competitors available, sometimes categorized as “all-in-one kitchen appliances.” A few have also made their way to the United States, including the Kenwood Cooking Chef and the All-Clad Prep & Cook (overseas, the same machine is sold by Tefal as the Cuisine Companion). But their capabilities vary, and Thermomix is the brand to beat.
After starting with a demonstration by one of Thermomix’s consultants (as all potential buyers must), we were eager to see if it really was as quick and easy to use as our experienced salesperson made it look. And amazingly, it was. We spent several days putting our Thermomix to the test against two other machines, the All-Clad Prep & Cook and the Kenwood Cooking Chef, on everything from carrot soup to banana bread to chicken cacciatore, and found it was the only one without a steep learning curve. It still has some shortcomings when it comes to cooking—among other things, it doesn’t actually chop, only pulverize, and it can’t achieve much caramelization (i.e. flavor) when sautéing—but it’s extremely well-designed for usability and efficiency, and also quite powerful and durable.
The built-in scale and digital recipes on the Thermomix TM5 are easy to use, and they make the cooking process feel approachable. The recipes (which come loaded on so-called Recipe Chips, or can be downloaded from Thermomix’s recipe site, Cookidoo, via the Wi-Fi–connected Cook Key) walk you through cooking a meal step by step, queuing up the scale when you need to measure ingredients and setting the timer, blade speed, and cooking temperature for you. You don’t have to do much besides hit Next. Even baking recipes, which require precision and care, seem foolproof. We think less confident cooks, especially, will like how clear and simple the whole process is.
Busy home cooks will also appreciate how little effort it can take to cook a meal, and the strong motor really does make quick work of “chopping” (pulverizing) vegetables and grinding or pureeing anything. Plus, cleanup is significantly faster because you do everything in the same bowl, which you can throw in the dishwasher (blades still attached) or almost as quickly wash by hand.
Overall, the Thermomix TM5 is far and away the best of its category for its ease of use, powerful motor, simple design, and wealth of available recipes. The two clunky competitors we tested had less power and involved more interchangeable parts, plus had nothing like the TM5’s built-in scale or recipe touchscreen. Out of the three, the Thermomix is the only one that actually does what it promises to do and mostly does it well.
Our biggest issue with the Thermomix is that it is really expensive. Consider what other kitchen equipment you could buy with $1,500 (or less). A Cuisinart food processor, a Kitchenaid stand mixer, a Vitamix blender, and an Instant Pot (all top-of-the-line kitchen appliances) cost just over $1,000 total at their current prices. You could even buy one of our favorite ranges and still have enough money to spare for both a stand mixer and a food processor, or for a Vitamix and an Instant Pot.
Plus, some of what you gain in efficiency with the Thermomix you lose in quality. For one thing, the powerful blender blades don’t give you much control over how things are chopped: a second or two at high speed turns vegetables into rough, uneven chunks, and a couple of seconds more chews them to a pulp. You also can’t brown your ingredients much. Between the constant stirring and the deep, steam-trapping bowl, the Thermomix isn’t conducive to caramelization. And with many recipes, we missed the extra flavor that comes with browning foods in a pan.
The step-by-step recipes, easy as they are to follow, are also limited to what Thermomix provides. The ones we tried seemed well-tested and reliable, but largely geared toward only the broadest tastes (think lots of chicken breast and ground beef). For now there are very few Recipe Chips available in English, and only 581 recipes (as of this writing) on the Cookidoo site (though new recipes are added at a rate of 30 to 40 a month). Plus, a Cookidoo subscription runs just shy of $40 a year (your first six months are free), while most Recipe Chips (which hold 100 to 200 recipes each) cost $40 or $50.
If money is truly no object and you want the foolproof, confidence-inspiring guidance that the Thermomix TM5 provides, you might love owning this machine. We see it as comparable in many ways to a meal kit delivery service like Blue Apron: It handles the parts of cooking that many people find most challenging. So if you like the idea of meal kits (or even subscribe to one) and don’t mind a similarly limited roster of recipes, you may enjoy the TM5.
We know that plenty of people do love their Thermomix. It’s especially popular among homemakers looking to make dinner quickly for their family and among health-conscious people who want an easier way to cook from scratch (avoiding fat, sugar, allergens, or additives). The Thermomix owner we spoke to said that, even though she enjoys cooking without it, she bought a TM31 because she wanted to “make complicated things more easily,” but “didn’t want too many appliances cluttering my countertop.” She uses it at least three or four times a week for things like soup, pizza dough, baked goods, and simply chopping vegetables. She likes it because it saves time and does some things (like cookies) better than she could on her own.
As we mentioned earlier, the Thermomix is also popular in restaurant kitchens. Chefs like Wylie Dufresne, who started using the Thermomix 10 years ago at his innovative Manhattan restaurant wd~50, employ one mostly for sauces, emulsions, and custards. Because the Thermomix stirs while heating to a specific temperature, it allows a chef to be more hands off without worrying that their crème anglaise will curdle, or that their hollandaise will break. Dufresne told us that at wd~50, “we used it to make various desserts, and deep-fried hollandaise, deep-fried mayo—some of the big things that we did at wd~50 back then.”
If you feel like you fall into one of the categories above and might really like a Thermomix, but are still on the fence, it doesn’t hurt to arrange for a demonstration. You can book a demo with a consultant through Thermomix’s website. It will ask for your zipcode, and depending on where you live, you’ll either be able to schedule a consultation in your home or set up a live, one-on-one virtual demo. Consultants are paid on commission, so you should take their enthusiasm with a grain of salt, but they won’t push you to buy and should be able to give you a solid idea of how the Thermomix works, plus answer any lingering questions.
The Thermomix is a generalist, not a specialist, so while it can do the job of other appliances, the machines you may already own can often do the job better.
Thermomix vs. Vitamix
The Thermomix is a powerful blender, so we decided to test it head-to-head against a Vitamix 5200 (our blender upgrade pick). We pureed hot carrot ginger soup and whizzed up kale berry smoothies in each, and the Vitamix worked faster and blended smoother in both cases. On the other hand, chef Wylie Dufresne said he likes the Thermomix better for some things because of its large, wide bowl, which is easier to reach into and to clean. He also says it’s endured years of use in his restaurant kitchens, which makes it more durable than most blenders.
Thermomix vs. a food processor
Neither a Thermomix nor a food processor is going to chop vegetables as nicely as you can by hand. You’ll either get large, rough chunks or a fine, chewed up mince. But a food processor, at least, also comes with slicing and grating attachments, for a variety of shapes and textures. The Thermomix, however, is more efficient at mincing and grinding small quantities of things, since the narrow, sloped base of the bowl keeps ingredients closer to the blade.
Thermomix vs. stand mixer
We made Thermomix’s recipes for banana bread and chocolate chip cookies, and both baked up surprisingly beautifully. But for baking recipes not designed for the Thermomix, a stand mixer offers more control and versatility. The bowl of our favorite KitchenAid stand mixer has double the capacity of the Thermomix, and the paddle attachment is better at incorporating ingredients gently but thoroughly, reaching all sides of the bowl. In thick doughs or on slow speeds, the small blades of the Thermomix will spin uselessly while the majority of the mixture rests on top.
Thermomix vs. Instant Pot
The Thermomix will probably draw most comparisons to the Instant Pot, another hugely popular kitchen multitasker. But aside from costing only a tenth as much, the Instant Pot also has a different set of capabilities. Its flat bottom does a decent job of searing and can accommodate large pieces of meat like a whole brisket. The Thermomix does neither, thanks to its steep bowl and constantly spinning blades. The slow cooker setting on the Instant Pot also means you can throw in some ingredients in the morning and come home to a stew that night. The timer on the Thermomix maxes out at 99 minutes. And, of course, the Instant Pot is mainly an electric pressure cooker, which allows you to cook dried beans in half an hour or less, or make a whole chicken in 45 minutes. While the Thermomix may streamline your prep time, it doesn’t speed up actual cooking times.
We tested the Thermomix against its two main competitors in the United States., the Kenwood Cooking Chef and the All-Clad Prep & Cook. Each costs at least $1,000, and each claims to be able to do it all (cook, stir, chop, puree, and so on), so we had to cook a lot of different things to truly put them through their paces. In all, we made: smoothies, risotto, carrot ginger soup, beef chili, banana bread, two kinds of chocolate chip cookies, chicken cacciatore with orzo, peach crisp, white rice, caramelized onions, stewed pork tacos with tomatillo salsa, and crème caramel. We used a mix of our own recipes and ones from Thermomix, since in terms of popularity and recipe range, the Thermomix is the machine to beat.
Though each machine claims to do the same thing, they are all fundamentally different in design. While the Thermomix resembles a large blender, the All-Clad Prep & Cook is more like a food processor, with a wider, flatter base. As such, it’s less efficient at pureeing and mincing. While the blenderlike bowl of the Thermomix creates enough torque to suck ingredients in toward the small, stacked blades, the All-Clad just flings ingredients out to the sides of the bowl. The five interchangeable blades on the All-Clad also don’t add any versatility over the Thermomix’s one (plus whisk attachment), but they do add extra cooking steps and clutter.
The Kenwood Cooking Chef, meanwhile, is essentially a stand mixer with a heated bowl and a ridiculous number of attachments. One of the big selling points of the Thermomix is that it does everything in the same bowl, and that is just not the case with the Kenwood. If you want to chop, you have to attach a food processor to the top of the machine, and if you want to blend you have to attach a blender. Both are, unsurprisingly, less powerful than their stand-alone counterparts, and since they don’t save you any dishes or steps, there’s no point using them.
All in all, we can see how some people will really like using the Thermomix TM5, and we can’t say the same for its competitors. Besides other shortcomings, neither competitor has a built-in scale, nor anything like a touchscreen control panel and digital recipes, both of which made the Thermomix much easier to use.
The Thermomix is fun to use, but we don’t think most people should spend $1,500 on it. There are other, much less expensive appliances out there that can improve your speed and efficiency in the kitchen, and plenty of recipes on the Internet for relatively hands-off dinners that don’t require any special tools.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Leave the cat alone.