It’s 2019, and it seems like everyone and their mother has one of the 26 different types of Instant Pot, the pressurized multicooker with 1.6 million Facebook fans. Now the popular brand is looking to conquer more of your kitchen countertop space with a $99 blender.
This past fall, Instant Pot launched the Ace 60 Cooking Blender ($99) exclusively at Walmart. With eight different one-touch programs, a glass container, and a built-in heating element that’s capable of directly cooking vegetables for soup, the odd-looking Ace has more in common with the best high-end blenders like Vitamix and luxury appliances like the Thermomix than your run-of-the-mill blender.
But can a $99 blender from a fledgling brand really compete with a household name that's been making them for years?
To find out, we put the Instant Pot Ace 60 and our Vitamix Pro Series 750 through a complex blender obstacle course, blending smoothies, mixing up almond milk, chopping dry ingredients, crushing ice, and even cooking a cold-weather favorite: butternut squash soup.
After all that testing, I know which blender I want in my kitchen.
How do the features compare?
The Instant Pot Ace comes equipped with eight pre-set programs—Smoothie, Purée, Frozen Desserts, Crushed Ice, Soy Milk, Rice Milk, Nut/Oat Milk, and Soup—as well as three speeds for manual blending and a pulse/cream option. That’s a lot of variation, and with the classic, straightforward Instant Pot display on the blender’s base, it’s easy to know what to press for which function. Want to make ice cream? The “Ice Cream” button is right there. Rice milk? Bam, same.
The Vitamix Pro Series 750 has similar functionality, but a much more subtle display. At the center of its base is a dial that allows you to choose between five pre-set programs—Smoothie, Frozen, Purée, Soup, and Clean—and ten manual speeds. There’s also a quick pulse lever off to the left. The images on the pre-set programs can be hard to decipher at first, so you’ll want to have the manual on hand.
Although they communicate their abilities differently, the Ace and the Pro 750 can essentially make all the same things, including smoothies, ice cream, crushed ice, nut butter, non-dairy milk, and hot soup. The Instant Pot comes with more one-touch programs for lazy people like me, but the Vitamix has enough manual speed variation to accomplish anything.
The key difference in their features is how they achieve hot soup—while the Vitamix uses pure friction to heat soup ingredients up to serving temperature, the Instant Pot actually has a built-in heating element capable of cooking (like, properly boiling) vegetables and other ingredients for soup. This is what sets a “cooking blender” apart from a regular blender.
Is the Instant Pot as good at blending as the Vitamix?
While they might seem like similar tasks, blending smoothies and blending nut milk ask different things of your blender. Smoothies are always the first line of questioning—if a blender can’t make a good smoothie, what’s the point?
But nut milk is more tricky prepare, requiring razor-sharp blades and a high-powered motor to pulverize soaked nuts into a fine meal that can then be separated from the liquid with a fine mesh bag or colander.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Instant Pot Blender could whip up both a berry smoothie and jug of almond milk just as well as our Vitamix. In testing, I used the “Smoothie” and “Nut Milk” presets on the Ace, and while these programs took longer to achieve their final products than the manual controls on the Vitamix, the end results were just as smooth, tasty, and even.
The Ace even comes with a bag designed for straining the almond milk, and its sturdy base prevents it from wobbling across the counter as it blends.
If someone was looking to buy a Vitamix just to make smoothies and their favorite non-dairy milk, I would advise them to consider the Instant Pot Ace—or another discount blender—instead. For a fifth the price, it can achieve almost identical results.
What about chopping and crushing?
Unfortunately, chopping and crushing don’t seem as suited to the Instant Pot’s abilities as blending. I tested both blenders as food processors by having them chop dry almonds, M&Ms, peanut butter cups, frozen strawberries, and ice cubes.
While the Vitamix quickly pulverized each of these foods into a fine powder, the Instant Pot struggled to reach all the pieces, eventually shutting off when too much chocolate got caked into the blender’s base. This was a real pain to clean, too. Ice wasn’t exactly a challenge for the Ace, but the resulting slush wasn’t as fine or even as that from the Vitamix.
It was clear from preparing almond milk that the Ace is equipped to pulverize hard ingredients, but it seems like it needs liquid present to really handle the task. The Instant Pot Blender’s manual says it is safe to use as a food processor, so this can’t be chalked up to misuse. Vitamix clearly wins this round.
Which has a better hot soup function?
Although the Vitamix and Instant Pot take very different approaches to preparing soup, neither of the blenders’ hot soup functions impressed me throughout testing—at least not enough for me to consider cooking soup in them again without first preparing ingredients in the oven or on the stove. Despite using a butternut squash soup recipe designed specifically for blenders, the results were underwhelming.
The Vitamix Pro Series 750 claims to use pure friction to heat soup ingredients up to serving temperature. After placing all the room-temperature ingredients into the blending container and turning the dial to “Soup,” the blender ran for just 8 minutes before turning off. I was impressed by the speed, but less impressed by the temperature—the soup had warmed to a paltry 91 degrees fahrenheit, well below standard serving temperature. It tasted fine, but lacked depth of flavor from the raw (rather than roasted) butternut squash.
Unlike the Vitamix, the Instant Pot Ace actually has a built-in heating element capable of cooking vegetables and other ingredients for soup. With all the ingredients added to the blending container, the “Hot Soup” program on the Ace ran for a full 44 minutes. While it ran, I could see the liquid in the container actually boiling and cooking the vegetables inside before blending everything into a smooth soup. When the program ended, our thermometer in the soup read 211 degrees fahrenheit, basically still boiling.
The Ace’s heating element clearly did its job, cooking the soup while it blended without the assistance of preheated ingredients. Unfortunately, the soup tasted thin and almost flavorless, again lacking the depth that comes from roasting or cooking with dry heat source. By boiling the vegetables, the Ace zapped much of their flavor—and it took just as long to accomplish as roasting the vegetables in the oven and transferring them to a regular blender would have.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t use either blender without the help of an oven to prepare butternut squash soup again. While the Ace can get soup much hotter than the Pro 750, it can’t improve the flavor and texture the way that roasting and quick-blending can. If you want a blender just for cooking soup, you’d be better off investing in a nice dutch oven and an immersion (stick) blender instead.
Should you buy it?
If you’re looking for a solid, well-designed blender from one of America’s favorite brands for under $100, the Instant Pot Ace 60 is worth your time. It’s proven itself to be a formidable opponent to luxury blenders like the Vitamix when it comes to blending smoothies, whipping up non-dairy milk and frozen desserts, and looking pretty on your counter.
That being said, the Ace simply can’t compete with the Vitamix as a food processor or other multi-use tool—and for a fifth the price, it would be unreasonable to expect that. Vitamix has been developing high-end blenders with unparalleled warranties for years, and Instant Pot’s first foray into this area isn’t up to that standard quite yet. The Ace’s heating element is what really sets it apart from the competition—especially at this price—but I haven’t figured out why it would actually be useful for most cooks.
Don't let the Ace's underwhelming heat function make you think it's all flash and no substance, however. Instant Pot's first blender can handle the basics with style and ease, and all at a fraction of the price of any Vitamix.