Spinzall Review: It Clarifies and Separates, But It Doesn’t Meet Most People’s Needs
Not long ago, I poured a bottle of fancy whipping cream into the gadget I was reviewing, started it up and watched in awe as the machine’s rotor began spinning rapidly, creating a vertical wall of solidified dairy that stayed in place after the machine wound down.
“Behold,” I exclaimed as my wife Elisabeth passed through the kitchen. “I made butter in a centrifuge!”
“Wow,” she said with a tone that foretold bubble bursting. “Did they run out of butter at the store?”
Booker and Dax Spinzall
A centrifuge for your kitchen! The Spinzall effectively does stuff like clarify fruit juices, make butter, create clear herb oils.
A centrifuge for your kitchen? It will never make most peoples’ list of needs, especially when it costs $800 and there are other ways to create many of the things it makes. Also, the production model we tested had a disconcerting defect.
The centrifuge, called the Spinzall, was created by culinary wizard and bartender extraordinaire Dave Arnold, the same man who brought the Searzall to life. Dave’s newest contraption is an $800 hulking black appliance that, with a pair of tubes jutting up out of the back, looks like the progeny of a top-of-the-line food processor crossed with a beer hat.
Clearly Elisabeth was just missing the machine’s potential. Along with butter, centrifuges can be used to clarify juices, create transparent herb oils, and make nut milks and even ultra-smooth baby foods.
I spun it up again, this time to whir up bartender Jamie Boudreau’s recipe for clarified Clamato juice, then combined it with a Pacifico and lime juice to make an elegant, clarified michlelada.
“Mmm,” said Elisabeth, “almost as good as the one we had in Guadalajara.”
Was she doing this on purpose?
“You were upstairs for a couple hours. Was that all that time just to make the one ingredient?”
I pretended not to hear her and, undeterred, I went to the store and bought 40 limes.
Lime juice, specifically the clarification of it by removing all the solid particles, has been something of a holy grail for Dave Arnold for years.
“Why clarify? Why breathe?” Arnold asked in his fantastic 2014 bartending book, Liquid Intelligence.
Arnold and other high-end bartenders like clarification because the resulting juice looks amazing on its own, bringing that transparency to any cocktail you make with it. Solids in the carbonation process gunk up the works, creating unwanted places for bubbles to form called nucleation sites. Regular lime juice is full of them. Remove them through clarification and you can carbonate the lime juice and end up with a fizzier drink.
Reading over the clarified lime juice recipe in the Spinzall manual, I noticed that I needed bottles of Pectinex, kieselsol, and chitosan (an enzyme, suspended silica, and a hydrocolloid, respectively). I realized I’d also need pipettes to measure them out, so I drove over to Seattle’s Scientific Supply & Equipment, who, since they only sold them in lots of 100, gave me a few samples (thanks, guys!), and, inexplicably, even threw a few doob tubes in the bag.
Right around this time, I called a chef friend with high-end restaurant pedigree to ask about clarifying juice and he asked if I was “doing it with agar.”
Here, I asked for a different kind of clarification.
“Dude! Centrifuges are slow, especially when you want to make a lot of juice. Just use agar-agar and cheesecloth,” he said. “Works just as well.”
This was news to me, so I hung up, looked up agar (aka agar-agar, a gelatinous substance made from seaweed), then Googled “agar-agar clarification” and the first three results that came up were all by Spinzall creator Dave Arnold.
The first one, a 2009 post called “Agar Clarification Made Stupid Simple: Best Technique Yet” featured this line: “Not only do you not need a centrifuge, you don’t need the bag and you don’t need the vacuum” to which Arnold’s website commentator “—SK—” responded, “Jesus H. Tapdancing Christ, can this day get any better???”
Once I read the centrifuge creator making a case for no centrifuges, my day certainly got more interesting.
I took some screen shots, decided it was time for a head-to-head test that involved making a liter of juice with each method, and went to the store to buy some agar and 40 more limes.
But There’s a Twist
The Spinzall has two modes: batch mode, where you just fill the rotor up to the fill line (480 ml), get it running, and pour off the liquid and scoop out whatever’s in there when you’re done. Continuous mode uses those tubes in the back; put one in the liquid you’d like to clarify and the other on top of the Spinzall’s bowl, which pumps the liquid into the rotor nestled inside of it. Once the rotor fills, clarified juice sprays out onto the sides of the bowl, making it look like a tempest in a terrarium, the finished product pouring out of a spout.
I quickly learned that for the Spinzall method, I needed to pre-treat the juice, getting it to do what Arnold calls “break,” a sort of pre-separation of the liquid, clearer above and cloudy below.
To do it, I got out the pipettes, added a few milliliters of Pectinex and kieselsol to the lime juice, waited 15 minutes, added some chitosan, waited 15 minutes, added more kieselsol, and waited about 15 more minutes before the “break” appeared. After that, I ran it through on continuous mode to get the clarified juice.
While I waited for the Pectinex to do its thing, I followed Arnold’s 2009 agar-agar method with the other liter of juice, hydrating the agar in a bit of boiling water, then whisking it into the lime juice and setting it over an ice bath. Soon after, the liquid had set up like Jell-o. I whisked it to break it up a little, squeezed it through the cheesecloth, and—voila!—had clarified lime juice. The process was a bit of a mess, but got the job done easily.
After following the instructions for both methods to the letter, I poured the clarified juices for each into matching drinking glasses and set them on a sunny porch railing. To my amazement, while neither was perfectly clear, the clarified juice made with the agar agar (no centrifuge) was notably clearer. The glass on the left, (agar), had much less cloudiness to it. I showed Elisabeth, holding fingers behind each glass, and again, it was easy to see the number of fingers (3) that I held behind the agar-method glass. While you could see something was behind the centrifuge-method glass, it wasn’t, um, clear, how many fingers were back there. As I walked away, she asked, “How many hours did that ingredient take you?”
To recap: I used a fining agent, a “specialty enzyme” (twice), and a hydrocolloid chitosan, (all of which can be reordered from a specialty store, some with Arnold’s “Booker and Dax” logo on them, for between $9 and $20 each), a couple pipettes (free doob tube!), and an $800 centrifuge to make an inferior version of a liquid that, in an older recipe by the same author, could be made with a saucepan, some cheese cloth, and the product of seaweed which I bought at a grocery store down the block for $9.
Things Take a Turn
Perhaps Arnold gets better results, and that’s why he now thinks that using a Spinzall is a superior method. But for me, while I’m sure I’d get slightly better results over time, this kind of thing kept happening. One of the proposed Spinzall recipes is turning yogurt into labneh (a thick, spreadable yogurt) by spinning out a bit of its whey, just like the butter-making process. This rang a little bell and I got out Anissa Helou’s book Levant and found her recipe for labneh which follows tradition and just strains the yogurt overnight in a cheesecloth for the same result.
That same little bell rang when I saw the recipe for making herb oils, where you whiz parsley in a high-speed blender, then spin it in the centrifuge, adding water at the end which cleverly displaces the flavored oil into the bowl. This one reminded me of the cookbook I wrote with chef Blaine Wetzel, where you blend the herbs in a high-speed blender with hot oil and let it strain overnight in cheesecloth.
Dutifully, I made the labneh and spun up some basil oil, and they were tasty but the machine had a hiccup while I was making the oil where the lid rotated toward the open position while it was running. I couldn’t get it to open any further, but it no longer felt fully secure, which is disconcerting when the rotor below continued to spin away at 4,000 rpm. Not really thinking, I just twisted it closed while the machine ran. Only afterward did I wonder why it started if the lid wasn’t secure or shut down if it started to open while running?
Spare the Spin
While Dave Arnold has been advancing the cooking and bartending fields for years, I’m not sure that the Spinzall does, at least not for home cooks. Read Liquid Intelligence and you’ll see the line “centrifuges are the wave of the juice future” and understand that his heart is in the right place.
That said, there’s also a line in there, that says, “When you squeeze lime into a gin and tonic, you witness immediate frothing and bubbling. Unacceptable!” Problem is, most people squeeze a lime into a G&T and, far from seeing it as unacceptable, they get giddy.
The Spinzall certainly has some neat tricks up its sleeve. It might solve a problem or two for owners of small bars (a larger bar would need several machines) or make for good entertainment for food nerds who like to throw parties and have $800 to blow. For the most part, however, it’s hard to justify awarding it a space on your counter.
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