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Can it Creami?

The history and design of the ultimate ice cream machine

I normally don’t delve into the world of industrial design and hardware, preferring to stick to my lane with software design. However in the spirit of April Cool’s day and writing about topics outside of my comfort zone, here is a love letter and strong recommendation for our household’s newest device: the Ninja Creami.

One shared motif for me and my husband’s 2024 yearly themes was a renewed focus on health & fitness. We wanted to revamp our diets, getting back to home cooking and whole foods. 2023 was a stressful year for both of us–I had taken on a new position as head of engineering and Dru founded his own startup. Healthy and moderate eating definitely fell by the wayside. We defaulted to ordering food for convenience and high-caloric stress-relieving comfort. Rethinking our eating habits was a nice way to kickoff the new year.

The Ninja Creami went viral on social media in early 2023, with dozens of tech reviews alternately praising and deriding the technology. So by all accounts, we missed the hype cycle. Then earlier this year, we visited a friend’s house. They’d been gifted a Creami and, after the first taste, we were convinced.

ninja-creami Stores were completely sold out of the Creami in mid-2023. (Photo from Refinery29)

A drill press for ice cream

To tell the history of the Creami, we first have to go back in time to the 1980s and the invention of a different machine: the Pacojet.

Swiss engineer Wilhelm Maurer was looking for a faster way to make ice cream. Conventional ice cream machines that use a churning method can take 30min or more to produce a single quart. His patented technology was a spinning blade to quickly mill cylinders of frozen base into ice cream. It was indeed faster–the modern version of his design can make 3/4 of a quart of ice cream in two minutes. Maurer’s patent was bought by an investment company in 1988 and the technology finally brought to market as the Pacojet in 1993. It was originally and still is primarily designed for commercial kitchens. The latest version, the Pacojet 4, retails for $7,299.

If you have been to a fine dining restaurant, you most likely have eaten a Pacojet-made creation. Any ice cream or sorbet dessert with weird flavors–think lavender or blue cheese or bacon–was probably made with the machine. The Pacojet revolutionized the making of ice cream by making it faster and even, according to some, tastier. It spins “high-strength silver or titanium-nitrate blades at 2,000 RPMs” to produce smaller ice crystals than traditional ice cream makers, making it taste creamier than the churning method. However, at the multi-thousand dollar price point, only restaurants and a select few rich ice-cream aficionados can afford the machine. The typical home cook probably only knows the name Pacojet from seeing it featured in the 2022 movie The Menu, a black comedy that satirizes high-end culinary culture.

When the patent expired in 2017, SharkNinja made the attempt to bring the same drill press technology to home kitchens. The Ninja Creami debuted in July 2021, for the staggeringly low price of $200.

How does it taste?

Chris Young does a great breakdown of the engineering and design behind Pacojet vs Ninja Creami.

An interesting point Young makes is that the ice cream that is produced by Pacojet/Creami using the drill press method does taste different than a conventional churning machine: it has less air incorporated into the final mixture, which makes the ice cream both melt faster but also taste stronger (and less rich) because the flavor releases faster. So, depending on your preferences, this style of machine may not be the best.

However, in my opinion, the Creami is unbeatable. The price is already comparable to a mid-range conventional ice cream maker like Whynter, which retails at $333. But beyond that, the design and speed of the machine unlocks a truly delightful level of creativity.

We’ve experimented with so many flavors and ingredients in the two months that we’ve owned this machine. The Creami comes with two plastic canisters so it’s easy to experiment with different recipes. We’ve already tried dozens of cream and fruit purees, making it more or less healthy depending on our diet needs on any given week. The only downside with the drill press technique of ice cream making is that you have to freeze the base solid, which typically means that you have to get them into the freezer 8-10 hours before you can eat them. One of our friends D, who bought a Creami after we raved to him about it, couldn’t stand even missing one day of forgetting to prep his ice cream. He bought 10 more canisters so he never would be without a ready-to-mill frozen base.

Here is just a sample of the delicious recipes that we’ve tried:

  • Greek yogurt, milk, and vanilla ice cream-flavored protein powder
  • Fresh mango puree and coconut milk
  • Fresh kiwi and Chinese drinkable yogurt (酸奶)
  • A full can of unblended whole lychees in syrup
  • Greek yogurt with pistachio pudding mix, with real pistachio mix-in
  • Strawberries, yogurt, a scoop of cream cheese, with crushed graham cracker mix-in

strawberry-cheesecake The “strawberry cheesecake” ice cream with crushed graham cracker mixed in. Plus extra plated graham cracker for the aesthetic shot.

My husband and I have begun several conversations by one of us looking at an ingredient in the kitchen, then looking at the other and saying: “Can it Creami?”

Our go-to healthy version of ice cream is only 250 calories for the whole canister. It’s easy to make by blending the following:

  • 1 cup of nonfat greek yogurt
  • 1 cup of almond milk
  • Scoop of vanilla ice cream-flavored protein powder
  • 2 tsp of vanilla extract

The Ninja Creami may be a single-use appliance, but it’s a damn good one. Our household has already convinced three other families to buy the Creami (and maybe even more, if this post is even slightly convincing). My sister’s birthday is in mid-April but I also already bought her a Creami as an early birthday present.

As Mike Greenfield from Pro Home Cooks puts in his video “I’ve waited 15 years for this appliance…”, :

It just opens up a whole world of versatility. For me, over the last 10 years, I’ve never found one ice cream maker that I felt like I could just incorporate into my weekly routine easily. But just the way this works, to be able to freeze a bunch of of these flavors, throw them in the freezer, and then whip them out to make ice cream… it’s just so much easier.

Because I want to eat frozen desserts of different kinds and there’s not that many good ice cream places around me, especially ones that offer a healthier option. And it’s so easy with this machine to make healthy frozen desserts.

Not convinced? Check out the reviews for yourself:

This article was last updated on 4/1/2024. v1 is 1,194 words and took 3.5 hours to write and edit.