The first rule of smoothie making? Make your smoothie thick. Because a runny smoothie, isn’t really a smoothie at all. It’s just a drink. Too, thick and you’ve got yourself a smoothie bowl. But that’s a problem easily solved. Just add liquid.
Making thick smoothies allows you to reduce the calories in your smoothie, while still feeling full and satisfied. Still, thickness is relative and everybody is going have a different opinion on what constitutes too thin or too thick a smoothie.
A smoothie’s delight stems not just from its delicious taste, but it’s texture. And like Goldilocks, you need to get it just right.
The other reason you want to make a smoothie thick is that you want it to be filling. Incredibly, you don’t have to trust me on this one. Research found that thick smoothies will leave you feeling fuller and more satisfied than thinner drinks that have the same number of calories.
In the study, scientists compared two yogurt-based smoothies with the same number of calories, but to one they added a thickener – tara gum. Results showed that the participants who drank the thicker smoothie felt twice as full than those who consumed the thinner smoothie.1
How to Make a Smoothie Thick
Here’s how to make your smoothie thick and creamy:
1 Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a particularly awesome choice to add to your smoothies. Apart from the rather cool fact that it is said to have been the basic survival ration of Aztec warriors, with one tablespoon believed to sustain an individual for 24 hours, chia seeds are super healthy.
Chia seeds are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium. In fact they are so high in antioxidants (higher than any whole food, including blueberries) that they don’t deteriorate easily and can be stored for long periods without turning rancid. In terms of flavor, chia is also a winner – it doesn’t really add any to the smoothie, as chia has a barely perceptible nutty flavor.
Thicken smoothie. Pre-soak chia seeds for about 20 minutes in a few tablespoons of water (1 tbp chia to 2 tbs liquid). If you’re usually pressed for time when you make your smoothies, make your own chia gel and add 1 or 2 tablespoons to your smoothie when needed.
To make chia gel: Soak 1/3 cup of seeds in 2 cups of water in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid (e.g., a mason jar). If you want a thinner gel add another cup of water. Cover jar and shake. After a few minutes shake again to prevent the chia seeds from clumping together. Put in sealed glass jar in fridge. Shelf life is approx 2 weeks.
Make smoothie more filling, but not thicker. Chia seeds will turn gel-like when soaked in liquid, retaining about eight to nine times their weight and swelling substantially. However, it takes about 20 minutes to fully activate. Therefore, drink your smoothie immediately after making it, as it will still have the same thickness/thinness, but swell up in your stomach and still leave you feeling full for hours. This option is for you if you don’t like your smoothies thick, but want your smoothie to be filling.
Like chia seeds, flaxseeds are often considered a superfood. Flaxseeds are thought to possess anti-inflammatory properties and help protect against heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
How to use: Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed (also known as linseed), which has a sweet, nutty flavor (stronger than chia seeds).
Flaxseed absorbs water and after about 20 minutes expands and forms a gel. So if you don’t like your smoothie thick, flaxseed is another option, as it wont expand until it’s in your stomach.
To get the maximum benefit from flaxseed, consume them ground. The blender is unlikely to do a good job grinding them, so you’ll either have to buy ground flaxseed (spoils quicker than whole flaxseed) or grind whole flaxseed in a coffee grinder.
The main disadvantage of flaxseed, especially compared to chia seeds, is that they tend to spoil quickly. Flaxseeds must be kept in the fridge and used fairly quickly before they become rancid.
3 Psyllium Seed Husks
Try adding fiber-rich psyllium seed husks to thicken a smoothie, without adding any flavor. Psyllium seed husks combine with liquid in your stomach and swell up, to create bulk and help you to feel full for longer. Use sparingly, as it is powerful and can have have laxative effects.
Oats are rich in B vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are also higher in protein compared to many other grains. But oats are not just a wonderful thickener, oatmeal also slows down stomach emptying and increases the production of a satiety hormone, which helps you feel more full.
How: Add about 1/4 cup of whole rolled oats to your smoothie. You needn’t cook oats, simply add them raw.
5 Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is natural carbohydrate commonly used as a food-thickening agent, in foods such as salad dressings, sauces and ice cream. It is a tasteless, plant-based fiber very popular in gluten-free cooking and you’ll often find it in the gluten-free section in your local supermarket.
It’s also used for lowering blood sugar and total cholesterol in people with diabetes (though diabetics should check with their doctors before using xanthan gum).2
How to use: Xanthan gum has no flavor and you’ll need only a tiny amount, a generous pinch or about 1/8-1/4 of a teaspoon. One tablespoon contains 30 calories, 7g of carbohydrates, 0g of fat, and 7g of fiber.
5 Frozen Fruit
Using frozen fruits is a simple way to thicken your smoothie a little. Freezing fruit (or even vegetables) will add thickness and texture, but also intensify the flavors of your smoothies, as you wont have to add any ice.
Frozen bananas are particularly effective for increasing thickness and creaminess.
6 Dense Fruit & Veggies
Dense fruits such as bananas, mangos, papaya and avocado will thicken a smoothie. Water-based fruit such as watermelon will do the opposite.
With regard to vegetables, spinach is a good option. The taste of spinach is mild, easily masked and barely perceptible in a smoothie. Spinach is also very low in calories, but will thicken the smoothie and give it a tremendous nutritional boost. It does turn a smoothie green. If that’s a turn-off, simply drink it out of a mug or other nontransparent cup.
Cooked sweet potato, pumpkin, or butternut squash will also make the smoothie thicker and more creamy.
7 Nuts & Nut Butter
Add a tablespoon of peanut butter or other nut butter (see here for lots of different nut butters) or a few nuts such as almonds/ pecans or walnuts. Nuts will also make the smoothie more creamy, and lend it a lovely nutty flavor.
Pre-soak nuts in a little water so that they are softer and easier to blend – and even creamier!
Unlike the previous smoothie thickening options, this does add calories. And nuts are particularly energy dense (though also high in nutrients). So you’ll only want to do this if your smoothie could do with a few more calories and/ or healthy fats. And when you do add nuts/ nut butter, do so sparingly.
8 Watch the Liquids
This is a simple one. If a smoothie recipe you’ve been eyeing is likely to end up runny, cut down on some of the liquids (e.g. water, milk, juice). Add liquid in increments, you can always add more liquid later.
You can also freeze the liquid into cubes to make the smoothie thicker. Use instead of regular ice cubes for a thick smoothie with a more intense flavor and creamier texture.
9 More Thickeners
- LSA (made from ground linseeds, sunflower seeds and almonds)
- Irish moss
- Beans (use white beans or chickpeas in fruit, vanilla or other light-colored smoothies and black beans in chocolate or dark smoothies)
- Coconut meat
- Protein powder
Basic smoothies ingredients that thicken a smoothie:
- Cottage cheese
- Silken tofu
- Frozen yogurt
- Wheat bran
- Wheat germ