Everything You Need to Know Before Buying a Ninja CREAMi

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There is a rift between fancy food professionals and home cooks that never fails to annoy me, and it comes to a head whenever a new appliance gains an inordinate amount of popularity. We saw it with the air fryer and Instant Pot, when seasoned food personalities and chefs recoiled from both appliances, pronouncing them both “unnecessary,” without considering the benefits to home cooks, particularly those who live in households of two or fewer, and those with disabilities. The Ninja CREAMi is poised for such treatment, if the many Facebook groups dedicated to appliance are to be believed.

What is the Ninja CREAMi?

The Ninja CREAMi falls into the category of “ice cream maker,” but it’s better at making “alternative” frozen treats than processing true custards and ice cream bases. According to the product description on the Ninja website, “The Ninja™ CREAMi® transforms frozen solid bases into ice cream, sorbets, milkshakes and more at the touch of a button. From healthy to indulgent, the Ninja® CREAMi™ can create frozen treats as unique as you are!”

To use the CREAMi, you blend ingredients together to create a liquid base, freeze it solid, then secure it to the appliance so the “creamify technology” (aka, a series of blades propelled by a powerful motor) can “break down a uniformly frozen block into an incredibly smooth, creamy texture in minutes.”

But it’s not as simple as that. Not all liquids freeze the same way, and getting the right texture on your frozen treats can take a bit of trial and error.

Who is the Ninja CREAMi for?

The appliance is an absolute godsend for people with dietary restrictions, especially when you consider the price point of dairy-free and other alternative “ice creams.” Fruit juice, canned fruit, protein drinks, yogurt, coffee creamers, and alternative milks of all kinds are just a few of the ingredients that are often used to make bespoke frozen treats.

whipped cherry pie filling

This is a can of cherry pie filling Credit: Claire Lower

It does not, however, make very good ice cream, at least not without a lot of futzing. The standard vanilla ice cream recipe from the CREAMi manual is, frankly, subpar. The powerful “creamifying” blades do terrible things to heavy cream, effectively churning it into butter, giving your ice cream a greasy mouthfeel. There are ways you can work around it (reduce the cream and use more milk), but if you buy this appliance with the intent of making a lot of real-deal ice cream, you will end up frustrated and disappointed.

But if you are looking for ways to make low-fat offerings taste creamier and more indulgent than they actually are—or just want to turn a can of pie filling into sorbet—you will be delighted by the Ninja CREAMi.

There are a few add-ins you may want to buy

There are two ingredients I think every CREAMi owner should have: guar gum and citric acid. Guar gum is a naturally derived thickening and stabilizing agent that increases the viscosity of your frozen dessert. It prevents large ice crystals from forming, keeping the consistency smooth and creamy. Some CREAMi recipes call for cream cheese, which contains guar gum, but it’s cheaper to just buy a bag of the additive, and guar gum is vegan-friendly. You don’t need a ton—just 1/2 a teaspoon per pint is all it takes to make your not-really-ice cream taste and feel more like the real thing.

Citric acid (aka, “sour MSG”) is another ingredient I used a lot in my CREAMi experiments, especially when playing around with fruit-flavored desserts. As little as 1/8 teaspoon increases the acidity, balancing any cloying qualities while heightening fruity flavors with a bit of contrast.

Keep the motor runnin’

If you peruse various forums and Facebook groups dedicated to the appliance, you’ll notice a few people complaining about the motor giving out. Ninja seems to be decent about replacing broken models, but the easiest way to prevent literal burn out is to let your frozen base soften for five or 10 minutes before letting the appliance do its thing. Once I made this adjustment, I found my desserts came out smoother and creamier, and didn’t need to be re-spun as often.

What’s this “re-spun” business?

On paper, the Ninja CREAMi is easy to operate. Freeze your base, secure it to the appliance, and select your appropriate program (“ice cream,” “sorbet,” etc.). The blades do their thing, and your base is transformed into a smooth, frozen confection without any discirnable ice crystals. In reality, some bases come out dry and crumbly the first (and second) time you process them, and you have to process them again, either with the “Re-spin” function, or with the original program. Letting the base sit out for a few minutes can help with this, but sometimes re-spinning is unavoidable, especially with fat-free, or very low-fat bases.

What a professional food writer without dietary restrictions makes with a Ninja CREAMi

Finding recipes for the CREAMi is not hard. The appliance comes with a recipe booklet and, as I’ve mentioned a couple of times, there are tons of forums and groups dedicated to CREAMi recipes, and you can find a fair amount of recipes on the Ninja website. While I haven’t found an “ice cream” that compares to a traditionally churned vanilla, I have been thrilled with sorbets and sorbet-adjacent treats. I have three favorites:

  • A 15-ounce can of fruit or pie filling (with the accompanying liquid) + 1/8-1/4 teaspoon citric acid (depending on the sweetness of your fruit and fondness for sour things): Blend, freeze until solid, and process using the “Sorbet” function.

  • A 15-ounce can of fruit + a 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk (can reduce according to personal preference): Blend, freeze until solid, and process using the “Lite Ice Cream” function

And there is the piña colada Dole Whip dupe, which I am utterly obsessed with.

How to make vegan piña colada “Dole Whip” in the Ninja CREAMi

Dole whip is a frozen dessert that is often imitated and rarely duplicated, but this recipe is incredibly close to the real thing, with one difference—a hint of coconut flavor, making it more “piña colada” than straight up “pineapple.” Other than that, the texture and flavor is remarkably similar, and you only need three (incidentally vegan) ingredients.

Ingredients (makes roughly 1 1/2 pints):

  • 15-ounce can Coco Lopez cream of coconut

  • 20-ounce canned pineapple chunks (with juice)

  • 1/4 teaspoon citric acid

Blend all three ingredients with whatever blender you have until smooth. Pour into CREAMi-compatible pints and freeze overnight, or until frozen solid. Remove from the freezer and let soften briefly on the counter for five minutes. Attach to the Ninja CREAMi and process using the “Lite Ice Cream” setting. Enjoy immediately for a soft serve consistency, or return to the freezer for a couple of hours if you want something more “scoopable.

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