/ Xeni Jardin / 7 am Tue, Oct 23 2012
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  • The best cheap, all-purpose juicer: Omega 8003

    The best cheap, all-purpose juicer: Omega 8003

    During my treatment for breast cancer this year, nutrition was a big challenge. Hell, getting any food down was a challenge during chemo and radiation. That's where my interest in fresh juices began. I hunted around for a single, affordable device that could produce a diverse array of juice, and ended up with the Omega J8003. It rocks.

    During my treatment for breast cancer this year, nutrition was a big challenge. Hell, getting any food down was a challenge during chemo and radiation. That's where juice comes in. Fresh fruit and vegetable juices are a great way to get concentrated nutrition in an easy-to-ingest form. Green juices, root juices like carrot and beet, fruit juices—just as they each yield different colors, they also yield different flavor profiles and nutritional benefits.

    I hunted around online for a single, affordable device that could produce a diverse array of juice.

    I bought this: the Omega J8003 Nutrition Center Single-Gear Commercial Masticating Juicer. $229 on Amazon (free shipping if you're a Prime member, as I am).

    There are far more expensive juicers, and there are more recent (and pricier) versions of this one—but this is a great entry-level, affordable tool. It suits my daily needs just fine, and I have used it regularly for the past 6 months. My friend Brian Lam at Wirecutter first pointed me to it. Three big strong points: Price, ease-of-use, ease of cleaning up.

    Let me show you what I mean, with today's batch of what I jokingly referred to as my go-go juice, with apologies to Honey Boo Boo. I drank it every day during radiation, and here I am, alive. So, I suppose it helped me win.

    A word about produce: I try to stick to organic (or at least from local farms that don't use synthetic chemical pesticides). That may or may not be your preference, but it's mine. Hitting farmers markets is great, too. But whatever's fresh and readily available and affordable, so you will be encouraged to juice regularly is best.

    For the green juice I'm making today, I started with the large bunch of kale shown in the snapshot at left (thanks, @isalara!).

    There are many varieties. My favorite is the one known as lacinato ("lacy") or black kale, sometimes called cavalo nero. It's dark and meaty, with rich flavor. But you can use purple, curly, whatever kale is in season and crisp. This giant bunch as big as my head cost me 2 bucks at my local farmers market.

    In the photo below, you can see how I smush in the entire leaves of kale; stem and all. Other than washing them and inspecting them for any bugs or dirt, there's really no prep involved with the leafy greens. If they're so huge they jam in the intake, tear them up a little with your hands.

    I add an apple or two for sweetness and to balance the intense kale flavor. The mouth of the juicer is too small for the apples to fit in whole, so I cut them into loose chunky slices just small enough to fit in. No need to remove core or skin.

    * Update: A commenter points out that apple seeds contain naturally-occuring traces of cyanide. Sounds like you'd have to juice a WHOLE LOT of seeds to poison someone, but you can core your apples if you want to eliminate that question entirely.

    I'm adding celery to this juice. 4-5 stalks. Clean them well, make sure to chop off any parts that are damaged or full of dirt. During cancer treatment, I had to be especially careful about dirt or contamination, because of my compromised immune system. You don't have to be quite so paranoid when you're healthy, but it's always good to clean your produce carefully.

    To finish this juice, I'm adding a little squeeze of citrus. Today I'm using lime, but orange and lemon are great, too. I don't consume grapefruit because it messes with my cancer meds (if you're reading this post and you're a cancer patient on chemo, radiation, or hormone antagonists, talk to your doc before consuming grapefruit in any form).

    For citrus, I use a little hand squeezer . You could also juice citrus in the juicer, but I prefer squeezing it to avoid the oily rind pulp, or the extra labor involved in cutting away the peel.

    I also love how dry the pulp is is when it comes out. You really get the sense that the device is helping you squeeze the most mileage out of your produce. If you compost, add this stuff to your heap. It breaks down quickly and is full of good stuff for your garden.

    I love this kale-apple-celery-lime juice so much. It tastes like a mellow, fruity, freshly-mowed lawn. I didn't strain this batch of juice, but if you want less fiber, there's a little wire mesh strainer included with the juicer parts. I like to add ginger or pineapple to this combo, if they're available and I'm in the mood.

    Depending on the ratio of ingredients, you could add a smidge of maple syrup or agave to taste. But I rarely do, even when mixing juice for newbies who are grossed out by anything that isn't super-sweet. The apples add plenty of sweetness. Grapes, pineapple or pear would do the same. For a more savory juice, reduce the ratio of sweet stuff.

    Cleanup is one of the biggest plusses of this device. As you can see in the photo here, you twist a dial that connects the macerating unit to the motor. Then, the parts pop out one by one. Just rinse them under the faucet, with a little soap and a sponge, and clean out that little metal grate with an included brush (basically, a toothbrush). Maybe a minute of cleanup work. I love how easy that part is. Juicers that require more cleanup time just tend to be used less frequently. And I didn't buy this thing to beautify the inside of my storage cabinet, I bought it to use every day.

    Below: A minute and a little bit of warm water later. Look how tidy that is. It makes my OCD nerves tingle with joy. It's so simple and lazy-person-friendly.

    One of the complaints I hear a lot about juicing is that the idea sounds good, but it's so expensive to buy produce, why bother. Maybe that's the case with other machines, but I haven't found this to be true with the Omega unit I bought.

    here's the produce used in today's 6 cups of juice.

    The batch I made here cost about $6.50 in produce, takes maybe 10-15 minutes to prepare including setup and cleanup, and yielded 6 cups of juice. Way too much for one person to drink all in one sitting! Add that up, and it is way less expensive than buying a juice at a juice bar. It's so nutritionally dense, it tastes amazing, and it's just fun. You get into a rhythm of particular juices you like, tweaking them to your taste.

    My favorite combinations right now are: this green juice; carrot-orange; beet-carrot; Watermelon-cucumber-lime; virgin mojito (mint-lime-grape over crushed ice and more crushed mint); and a blend that's kind of like V-8: spinach, lettuce, tomato, celery, cucumber, onion, Tabasco, Soy sauce, liquid smoke, and lemon. It's so good, seriously. I don't drink alcohol, but if you do, you cannot possibly find a better Bloody Mary mix.

    One thing I'd like to do that I haven't yet is look at before and after blood counts (my blood was tested weekly during my primary cancer treatment, and will be every 90 days or so for the next year). I'd want to compare, say, a month with no daily consumption of juice, compared to a month of daily juicing. More or less the same diet, all other factors being more or less equal. I suspect that certain levels in my blood lab report would be higher with daily juice intake—like folate, for instance. I really prefer getting nutrition from food and juice, less so from pills. But I also just really like the way juice tastes.


    TIPS and NOTES:

    • This is what's known as a masticating (crushing) juicer. It smushes the juice out of your produce, and kinda poops out the pulp at the other end. Over at Wirecutter, in his review of the Omega line, Brian Lam goes into a lot of detail on how this works differently than centrifugal juicers like the Breville. A little side bonus with the masticating designs: quieter. The centrifugal designs tend to be a lot louder.

    • Whatever kind of juice you prepare, it's best consumed right after you make it, for flavor and nutrition. I like to make a day's batch, store it in an airtight glass pitcher, and sip or share as needed. Juice like this that does not contain added stabilizers will separate if you let it sit. If it does, stir or shake. Sometimes I like to dump it in the blender and make it all frothy like a pint of green Guinness.

    • There are tons of recipes for juices online. Experiment with them, or just improvise. Don't be afraid to fail. When in doubt, my motto with juicing is to limit the number of ingredients, and see how each addition changes the combined flavor.

    • This device can also be used to extrude pasta, make soymilk, and other cooking tasks. I haven't used it for any of those, so I can't speak to its usefulness in those area.

    • If all you want to juice is oranges, and absolutely nothing else, there are more efficient tools for that. This one handles citrus just fine, but its value is in its versatility with many different kinds of ingredients: it excels at hard fruits and vegetables (beets, carrots, apples) and leafy greens (wheatgrass, kale, and the like), and also does okay with softer fruits.

    • Sometimes it's nice to add fresh herbs and spices, like ginger root, turmeric, mint, basil, or cilantro (the latter are great in tomato-based savory blends). This works best if you add other bulkier ingredients after the herb/spice ingredient, so all the flavor makes it through. Ginger followed by apple, for example. Not ginger at the very end.

    • An unexpected bonus: I've noticed that when I drink juice, I tend to crave less coffee and simple carb-y/sugary snacks between meals. This is an anecdote I've heard from other people who got into juicing. I didn't start with the intent of cutting down my coffee or carb-snack intake, but it did end up doing that.

    • If you don't want to make trips to the grocery store every day for produce, there are ways to extend the life of your fruits and veggies. Kale lasts days longer for me when I rinse it as soon as I get home, then store it with a damp paper towel in a plastic baggie, or in a salad spinner with some water in the bottom.

    • When you're buying produce for juicing, remember that you can often buy uglier, cosmetically less-desirable pickings and save money. For instance, I bought the apples you see in these snapshots at a nearby farmer's market. The farmer had one bin with beautiful huge shiny perfect organic apples for $3/lb., and another bin with smaller, mottled-looking "seconds" for $1.75/lb. The ugly ones taste just as awesome.

    • John Kohler's discountjuicers.com review site and YouTube channel are a far more extensive resource for comparison shopping than this blog post could ever hope to be.

    Happy drinking!


    Amazon: Omega J8003 Nutrition Center Single-Gear Commercial Masticating Juicer.


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