Last Updated 24/09/2016
Thermomix – couple of thousand dollar black hole or most versatile appliance in the world? Now that I have experience as a house husband I’ve been hitting up the Thermomix a fair bit to help me with performing my household duties. So I can see for myself where my money went and I can write this review on my experience. Not quite as macho as my usual fishing and camping hobbies. I do wonder whether that qualifies me to call this article “A Man’s Perspective” or whether it should be “A bit of a Pansy’s Perspective”. I went with man.
We have the old TM31 Thermomix. That is what this review is based on. Even if you’re interested in the new model, I’d recommend reading this review since practically everything in it is applicable to the new TM5 Thermomix. For a review on the new one, click here.
I’ve used the Thermomix to make banana smoothies, blend stuff, chop garlic and onions, make chilli paste, cook rice, grind peanuts into peanut paste, weigh ingredients, steam vegetables, cook eggs, boil water, cook pasta, make curries, heat milk for coffee and knead dough. So I have a bit of experience under my belt but it may not be comprehensive. The Thermomix can do quite a few things. So what do I reckon? Am I still bitter about the wife spending so much money on a fancy blender? Can I forgive her for buying an appliance worth more than my first car? Also it’s worth more than my second and third car. Read on for my Thermomix review.
What Is A Thermomix?
A Thermomix is a fancy blender with many features. It’s marketed as “the world’s smartest kitchen” and “portable kitchen station.” It has a heating element in the bottom of it so it can cook and in built weighing scales so it can weigh ingredients. It’s available only through direct marketing.
Is Thermomix A Pyramid Scheme?
I added this section to explain the relationship between direct marketing and pyramid schemes. It’s not really specific to the Thermomix so skip to the next section if you’re not interested.
Pyramid schemes are illegal. Thermomix is a legal business. So, according to the law, Thermomix is not a pyramid scheme. However someone’s opinion does not need to be consistent with the law.
Pyramid schemes involve promising returns to participants for enrolling into the scheme without any real product or service to sell. The income generated is through enrollment fees rather than from the sale of a product or service. So, as an example, you’d pay $300 to enter the scheme. You’d receive nothing for your investment apart from the opportunity to enroll others into the scheme and receive a portion of their $300 enrollment fee.
A pyramid scheme business can sell a token product to circumvent the “no product or service to sell” criteria and avoid being labelled a pyramid scheme. So, following with the example above, you’d pay $300 for a paperclip, and you’d try to sell more paperclips for $300 each. No longer is it a pyramid scheme. It’s a paperclip business. But clearly nearly all of the money is the enrollment fee to fund the pyramid scheme. So in this case it would still be classified as a pyramid scheme despite having a real product to sell. What if it was a whole box of paperclips? What if it was a whole carton of paperclips? What if it was $299 worth of paperclips? You can see that the definition of pyramid scheme becomes blurry. It becomes a matter of whether the product or service being offered is sold at it’s true market value or whether the product or service is overpriced to fund the income distribution of the pyramid scheme. Under this definition any direct marketing arrangement can be a pyramid scheme. Actually, every direct marketing arrangement is a pyramid scheme in my opinion. Some portion of the price of the product or service is used to fund the pyramid hierarchy. How overpriced the product or service is and to what extent it funds the pyramid hierarchy dictates how much of a pyramid scheme the business is. Rather than deriving a complicated pyramid scheme rating system to evaluate whether a business is a pyramid scheme or not, I just refer to all direct marketing businesses as pyramid schemes. It makes it simple and I like the negative connotation it conveys about the business (I don’t like direct marketing). Also it annoys direct market salespeople and sparks some fun controversy related to this article. It’s just my opinion. Some people might not like direct marketing being associated with pyramid schemes. Some people might even like direct marketing.
Any product sold through a pyramid scheme type arrangement I am immediately skeptical of. I instantly dislike it. Some things that go through my mind include:
– Why can’t your product be on a store shelf where it has to compete with similar items? Isn’t it competitive? Is it over priced?
– Wouldn’t you make more money if it’s available on a store shelf due to greater exposure and sales? Or is it not competitive enough to make you money in that way?
– Why do you force me to make an emotional decision by offering discounts for “buy it now” during the home demo rather than allowing me to consider alternatives? Again, is it not competitive with alternatives?
– I do not want to pay for half a day’s worth of direct marketing plus the pyramid hierarchy profit plus the local distributor’s profit plus the manufacturer’s profit when I buy an appliance. When I buy anything, I want to maximize the percentage of the money that I am handing over that actually goes into the thing that I am buying. I want to minimize the percentage of money that goes into profit margins. Why should I pay for huge margins? I want more product and less margins, not the other way around. A product sold in a pyramid scheme is inherently going to have higher margins. They shift less volume. There’s a good chance that such a product is going to be poorer value when compared to something you can get off the shelf. You will struggle to find a pyramid scheme product that is cheaper than an off the shelf equivalent. I have never found one.
The above points are about the product itself and the pricing. Another thing I don’t like about pyramid schemes is that they prey on vulnerable people, using emotive, personally targeted techniques to convince someone to buy something they didn’t really want or to pay too much for it. For example the Thermomix seller will tell mothers they can prepare healthier meals for their kids, making the mother feel like they are not doing the best for her children. Throw in a free gift and some pressure to buy it now to get a special deal, and you’ve put the mother in a vulnerable position. I’m not convinced that it’s an ethical system. This sort of marketing strategy is not specific to Thermomix. I do not want to single out Thermomix. Whether it’s vacuum cleaners or cleaning products or beauty products or anything else, similar marketing techniques are used in other pyramid schemes to take advantage of people.
Another negative aspect of pyramid schemes is that social occasions become business opportunities. Instead of socialising with people to enjoy their company, the pyramid schemer sees every individual in their social circle as a potential client / victim. Family, friends, friends of friends – they’re all on the list. Actually people in the biz use the word “prospects”. Prospects you know personally are collectively referred to as the “warm market” whilst strangers are the “cold market”. Social gatherings are soured by the pyramid schemer constantly trying to recruit and sell to. Relationships are strained and sometimes ruined.
There’s many more negative aspects of pyramid schemes – the similarities to religious extremism / cults. Convincing members that the product really is the best thing in the world and that friends and family must buy it to take advantages of the benefits. The fact that the vast majority of people who attempt pyramid schemes end up making little or no money and instead just send their own money up the chain. The false hope that it gives people with stories of financial independence and early retirement. The fact that they rely on testimonials from cult members rather than data such as average earnings per member. The lack of data on failure rate and number of members who call it quits after no success. The way that they continue to encourage and sap money out of members who are eventually destined to fail.
So straight away Thermomix got me off on the wrong foot since, for me, it’s a pyramid scheme. The issues I have with pyramid schemes are not specific to Thermomix, it’s just an automatic perception I have about any direct marketing product or business.
The Thermomix is hugely expensive. Not slightly expensive. Massively expensive. We’re talking orders of magnitude more expensive than alternative products. Compared to a cheap blender, it’s say 40 times the price. It’s not fair to compare it to a cheap blender though. It’s not comparing apples with apples. The Thermomix does a lot more than a blender and the build quality is better than a blender. I’d easily expect it to be say 5 times more expensive. But 40 times?
The Thermomix is good but will it outlive 40 blenders? Even if a blender only lasts a year, that’s 40 years that the Thermomix has to last just to break even. Doubtful, but again it’s not fair to compare to a blender. Actually a Thermomix is so astronomically expensive that if you take into account the time value of money it will never save you money even if it lasts forever, when compared to a cheap blender that only lasts one year. Interest will cover the cost of a new blender every year with some money left over to grow your cash savings.
The Thermomix is probably 10 times more expensive than the combined price of a blender, steamer, kitchen scales and electric hotplate. So you need to pay an order of magnitude more to get an all in one product. Usually all in one products are cheaper than the combined price of dedicated products. Parts and costs are shared. Mind you the Thermomix is better quality than cheap appliances. I suppose the difference would be much less when comparing to the combined price of good quality European brand name blender, kitchen scales, steamer and electric hotplate.
Usually with pyramid schemes you get good service. There’s a lot of fat in the margins to cover for it. In the case for the Thermomix, it’s very good service. Good demonstrations, good training and first class aftersales support. Call them up with a problem and they’re onto it straight away. If you have a concern, they want to resolve it. Want to make a warranty claim? You’ll get instant service. If the warranty involves one of the external fittings then expect a new fitting express post delivered to your door in a couple of days, no fuss. The service is really good. It exceeded my expectations.
I can understand one reason why the Thermomix is sold in a pyramid scheme. The manufacturer doesn’t want it to become relegated to the back shelf of the kitchen. They want personal training. They want you to be motivated to use it. They want you to get the most out of it. They want you to have an emotional attachment to it. This means, despite the extravagant price, people will see value in the product after some long term use. This value perception will spread via word of mouth and help market the product. If the Thermomix was available off the shelf, maybe it would get a lot of bad press from people who spent a lot of money on it but were not motivated enough to use it. More people would encounter a problem and not bother pursuing a solution. More people would think it was a waste of money. Regardless, if you’re keen to get your monies worth, the support is there to help you.
The Thermomix is a quality unit. As a whole it feels heavy and sturdy. The plastic housing and external fittings feel durable. The bowl is a high grade stainless steel that’s tough and very resistant to physical and corrosive damage. Similarly the blades are a high grade stainless steel that stay sharp and resist corrosion. The buttons and interface panel are durable.
Our unit is around five years old and the blades are still sharp. The bowl still looks like new if given a good rub. The plastic is all in good condition. The fittings used for steaming look almost new which is surprising. You’d expect steamed plastic to start to look a bit scruffy from constant heat exposure.
After about four years of use, our Thermomix did develop a problem with detecting the lid in the locked position. Sometimes the speed dial is still locked when it shouldn’t be. Sometimes an error message is reported after blending. The problem is due to some play developing with the fittings related to the lid locked position. See below under “Lid and Dial Interlocks”.
Regardless, you can expect to get good use out of a Thermomix. It’s built to last. It comes with a two year warranty and the aftersales support will ensure any problems can be easily rectified.
I’m not a Thermomix veteran who’s been using the Thermomix 3 times a day every day for the last 10 years. So I’m not the most experienced Thermomix operator but I have had a fair bit of play over the last few years. I’ll provide some feedback on what I know.
From a technical perspective, as a drive / motor system, the Thermomix is superior to anything else I know in the kitchen. The motor is powered by a true variable speed drive. The same type of equipment used in industry to control motors in complex processes, except the Thermomix is a brushless DC design rather than the 3 Phase AC motors used in heavy industry. What does this mean? The speed control is continuously variable and very accurate. The motor can deliver massive torque from a standing start. The motor can run very slowly. The motor can run very quickly. The motor can run backwards. The motor can be braked to slow down rapidly. The motor starts softly to reduce mechanical wear. Power output is controlled to ensure the motor is kept within safe operating limits at all times. So there are many advantages to this arrangement. The downside is complexity and cost.
As a blender, the Thermomix is a powerhouse. Unusual for an all in one compromise, it blends better than a dedicated blender. The motor is super strong and can spin the blades extremely fast. It can do in a few seconds what a blender may take more than a minute. The speed control is continuously variable and the motor will compensate for varying load to maintain steady speed.
As a steamer it works perfectly. It’s not hard to steam food. Chuck water in, put the food in the steamer fitting on top of the Thermomix, push a couple of buttons and away it goes.
Cooking stuff in the Thermomix works well. It’s good for soups and sauces and anything with lots of liquid that you’d typically cook in a pot. It stirs for you, controls temperature, stops the bottom getting burnt, and terminates the cook according to the time you specify. The size of the bowl may be inhibitive if say you’re cooking up a huge batch of pasta sauce or massive soup. It will easily do a serving for 4.
It boils water well. We use it for making hot water for tea and coffee when we’re on the road when it’s not practical to whip out the Kelly Kettle. It won’t boil as fast as an electric kettle, but still it takes just a few minutes to boil enough water for a few cups of tea.
It’s a handy tool for general prep work. I use it to weigh ingredients, chop up garlic and chilli, grate cheese, aerate flour, chop onions. For chopping, it has similar limitations to any blender style chopper. It’s a compromise between even chopping (run it longer to ensure everything gets chopped) and avoiding grinding into a paste (don’t run it too long). It won’t give you nice evenly sized cubes that you can get when chopping by hand. Mind you it does a better job than most rotating blade style choppers because it has a function where it accelerates to maximum speed as quickly as possible, then brakes the motor to stop it as quickly as possible. This mode minimizes the time the blade spends at slow and medium speeds. Higher speeds deliver a more even chop.
I’ve made dough with the Thermomix. It’s good for everything from sloppy pancake mix to thick bread mix. You can get away without requiring a sieve as the Thermomix will aerate dry ingredients. It will mix and knead nicely but it won’t bake. It won’t replace a breadmaker.
The Thermomix is not a juicer. It will blend. Blending oranges makes orange juice. Blending most other things makes a thick paste. It’s ok for juicing if using lots of oranges or watermelon in the mix to provide the water to dilute all the fibre and pulp. You can also dilute with water and crushed ice. You’ll get a very fibrous juice. It isn’t able to filter the pulp like a juicer can.
Lid and Dial Interlocks
One thing I don’t like about the Thermomix is how the lid and speed dial interlocks have been implemented.
Firstly the speed dial interlock. If the lid is not correctly locked in then the speed dial cannot be moved. This means that, if you inadvertently fail it properly lock in the lid and quickly go to ramp up the speed, you can place excessive force onto the speed dial. This is a dumb design. It means that after years of use the speed dial starts feeling imprecise and loose. Eventually it will fail. The dial does not need to be interlocked with the lid. It is the electrical circuit that energizes the motor that needs to be interlocked with the lid. If the lid is not in position then the motor should be inhibited from starting but the dial should be free to move. Moving the dial should yield an error indicating the lid is not in position.
The lid interlock is similarly a problem. If the speed dial is not turned all the way to the “lid off” position, then the lid is locked into place. This means that, if you accidentally fail to turn the speed dial all the way down, you can put excessive pressure on the lid trying to remove it. This is a dumb design. The lid locked position starts feeling imprecise and loose after years of use. Actually, on our Thermomix, it now sometimes fails to detect the lid is in the locked position. If the rotor is not turning then the lid should be able to be removed regardless of dial position. Once the lid is removed the motor should be electrically isolated.
The new Thermomix has changed how the lid is locked which resolves this complaint, click here for more info.
Too Much Automation?
Some cooking hippies believe cooking should be about feel, emotion, tasting as you go, adding as you go, etc. This is not a valid argument against the Thermomix in my opinion. The Thermomix helps with the mechanical parts of cooking. It’s a blade and a heating element. You still need to know how to cook. You do not have to follow a recipe. Use as much feel and emotion and instinct as you want. Get a machine to do the rest. With the time you save you can sit around in a circle with your friends and play guitar and sing about love. Maybe smoke a spliff.
I’ve seen some people suggest the Thermomix is for people who aren’t good cooks. Again, this is rubbish. Having a Thermomix doesn’t mean your ability is limited to following a recipe like a robot. Use it to do whatever you want. If the world’s best chef sees an opportunity to use the Thermomix to some advantage then he’ll use it. It’s got nothing to do with lack of cooking ability. I’ve seen the Thermomix used in commercial applications (restaurants, cafes) and have heard of professional chefs using it.
When you’ve got limited space there’s not much that can match a Thermomix. Well maybe a small box with a couple of thousand dollars in it. But disregarding price, a Thermomix does more stuff than any other appliance I know. All in one solutions are exactly what you’re after when camping, touring and caravaning with limited space.
For blending, the Thermomix uses a few hundred watts which is pretty easy for your typical 12V system in a car or caravan. For cooking it uses up to around 1200W. Thats about 100A on a 12V supply. Pretty high current but a good 12V system with a reasonable inverter will handle it ok. We can cook with the thermomix using our inverter without a drama but it uses a lot of energy. With our 100Ah second battery, we can run the Thermomix on maximum heat for about half an hour for the battery to become 50% depleted. Lead acid batteries should not be depleted below 50%, otherwise they wear out too much. With the car’s engine running we could cook for much longer periods. It’s a good idea to run the engine when cooking with the Thermomix regardless of how long you cook for. It prevents taking a big slice out of your battery capacity that you need to keep your fridges running.
The main duty of the Thermomix whilst we are camping is blending. Especially for making banana smoothies. So you might say we could have got away with just a blender. But also we commonly use it for boiling water so it’s negated the need for an electric kettle. We’ve used it a few times for preparing ingredients – weighing, grating, chopping, etc. We’ve used it a couple of times to knead dough when making some camp oven bread. We’ve used it a couple of times for actual cooking. So despite being mainly used as a blender, its other features do get used and are handy to have.
Boiling water in a Thermomix takes only a couple of minutes so it’s not a big deal for the batteries. I still run the engine to make sure I keep the battery charged enough to keep my beer cold. We’ve only used it for long cookups when staying at caravan parks where power has not been an issue. Using it to momentarily blend and prepare ingredients uses little power so can be done anytime without the car’s engine running. A couple of hundred watts for a couple of minutes is bugger all.
High power consumption for cooking is not unique to the Thermomix. It’s not a deficiency of the Thermomix. It takes lot’s of energy to heat stuff up, and for that reason it’s usually not practical to use electric cooking appliances when camping or caravaning. Usually the energy source would be from a gas bottle or a fire. Actually the Thermomix is more efficient at transferring heat to food than a typical electric hotplate because the heating element is integrated into the bowl which maximizes heat transfer and minimizes heat escaping to the environment. Also the constant stirring by the blades ensures heat is transferred to the bulk of the food rather than accumulating at the bottom and dissipating out the sides.
For camping, touring and caravaning, the Thermomix is probably the best solution for your camp kitchen. That’s assuming price is not an issue. For a guide on how to set up a 12V system for camping and touring, click here.
There are a few alternatives to the Thermomix, however I have no experience with them. Alternatives include the Bellini Intelli Kitchen Master, Thermochef, Magimix, Maxi ThermoFoodPro Superchef, Philips Jamie Oliver HomeCooker and Kenwood Cooking Chef. They all do some or maybe all of what a Thermomix can do. From what I have read, the Thermomix is superior with it’s variable speed drive. The other products may not have continuously variable speed and may not be able to go in reverse. Whether this is much of a problem or not I can’t say. Some of them cannot weigh ingredients. Many other features are very similar to Thermomix but I can’t comment on performance, build quality or reliability.
I’ve read obviously biased reviews on Thermomix alternatives. Clearly biased towards the Thermomix. So take care when doing your research. There is a huge emotional attachment to the Thermomix, which to me detracts from its desirability.
The Thermomix is a good product. I’m not disputing that. The question is whether it’s worth the money. That’s a personal choice. In my opinion, it’s marginal. Good, but maybe not good enough to justify the expense. I can understand why people buy it and I can understand that there is value there if you make use of it. Apart from value garnered through the convenience of using it and the time saved, it can also produce value by actually saving money by encouraging you to make more stuff at home, like home made bread, home made peanut butter, icing sugar, blending leftovers into soup, etc. The problem is I keep comparing it to what I could have got for the same price. Maybe a small dinghy for chasing barra. Maybe some ridiculously huge tyres on the Hilux to make it look like a monster truck. I’d look really tough in my Hilux if it had massive tyres, even with the Thermomix in the back.
If you’ve outlaid a lot of money for something and have had to convince other parties to agree to spending that money, then there’s a good chance you’ll suffer from confirmation bias (for the Thermomix example, this is the wife). If you make money yourself from an item then obviously you have a conflict of interest in your opinion (in this case, the Thermomix pyramid seller). Similarly if you were skeptical about outlaying the money for something then there’s a good chance you will also suffer from confirmation bias (that’s me). So any review has bias, including this one.
For me, I’d probably buy a Thermomix if it were half the price and available off the shelf. I don’t want to go to Thermomix parties or deal with irrationally biased salespeople and I don’t want to pay for massive margins. However we’ve got enough use out of it for me to be impartial. I’m not angry anymore. I can live with a Thermomix and normal sized tyres on the Hilux. We do use it. At least now I finally own a car worth more than the Thermomix.