Monthly Archives: September 2013

Artisana Organic Raw Cacao Bliss – The coconut lovers’ spread!

artisana

Intro

A majority of the products I’ve reviewed in this blog up until now have been longtime favorites of mine, something I’ve enjoyed for months if not years. Those reports were a lot of fun to write, but I’m running out of ammo. If I am going to keep updating this blog at the same rate, I’m going to have to adventure out and try new things. It will be a great experience for me to see what else is out there in the world of sweets, and I hope some of you readers can learn about some products you hadn’t heard of it, or hadn’t had a chance to try.

My last review was partially in this category, but the subject this time, Artisana Oganic Raw Cacao Bliss, was chosen just so I could have something interesting to report on.

I wasn’t able to find out the official date this product was released, but I just noticed it on the shelves of Whole Foods Market a few weeks back, so it may be somewhat new.

Flavor

I could just state the flavor is a mix of coconut and cacao, which would be quite correct, but that much you could easily guess just from the product name.

In all fairness, I come a background of heavy “Justin” (Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter) use, so I can’t help but compare initially. Texture wise, cacao bliss is much more oilier with a finer consistency, almost what I would describe as grainy. Due to the lack of nuts this product is less ‘meaty’ than nut-based spreads.

What really hit me in the face, so to speak, was how *coconutty* this spread is. I’m a big proponent of coconut-based ice cream, but I’ve never been overpowered by the coconut flavor there; it’s always secondary to the other flavors. In this product it’s really exposed, with the cocoa flavor taking a back seat.

My first reaction wasn’t too rosy, but after I finished my slice of bread and rested a moment, I realized I wanted some more. So I worked my fingers and squeezed every last drop of this coconut-heavy spread into my mouth, and to my surprise was already liking it more. I have the feeling I’ll learn to love it as I eat more of this product, and learn to stop comparing it to other spreads.

Ingredients / Nutrition

In one 33.7 gram pack there are 177 calories, a value on par with similar spreads. Sugar is very low at 3 grams, nearly half that of my beloved “Justin”.

There all only five ingredients, all Organic: Coconut Butter, Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Agave Syrup, Cacao, and Cacao Butter. Many will be happy to hear this product is both vegan and free of sugar cane sugar, and it should satisfy even the pickiest health fanatics. I’d like to note that the term “raw” is a bit vague, and most if not all of the ingredients here have at least some processing.

Although the protein content (2 grams) is a little lower than nut-based spreads, both coconut butter and coconut oil are known for a wide array of health benefits.  For example, they can increase metabolism, reduce cholesterol, and help maintain proper weight. 

Unfortunately in the world of nutrition there is always another side to things. Coconut oil is a saturated fat and hence should be limited a small portion of total calories due to potential increase in heart disease risk. So as with most things, eat this in moderation.

Price and Availability

This product is sold in 1.19 ounce (33.7 gram) packs, either individually or in sets of 10. I bought a single pack from Whole Foods for around $2.00, though if you look around you can buy a pack of 10 for as little as 1.67 per pack online (see references).

It’s also sold in 6 packs of 227 gram jars, for roughly 20% cheaper than buying the 33 gram packs.

Ratings

Flavor: 5.0

Ingredients/Nutrition:8.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.66

Summary

Healthy chocolate spread which is great for coconut lovers.

References

http://artisanafoods.com/raw-organic-cacao-bliss-single-serving

http://artisanafoods.com/products/cacao-bliss

http://www.wholesomerepublic.com/artisana-organic-raw-cacao-butter-1-19-oz-10-squeeze-packs/

http://www.vitadigest.com/groc-870001000923.html

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/surprising-health-benefits-coconut-oil

http://www.12minuteathlete.com/coconut-butter/

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/coconut-oil-and-health

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Whole Treat Organic Ice Cream Sandwiches – Product Review

sandwich

Intro

In my high school days there was a time when I frequently ate ice cream sandwiches – vanilla ice cream held between two chocolate cookies.  But it was just a passing craze for me, and many years have passed since I went on to other desserts.

Recently I discovered Whole Foods made their own “healthy” version of the traditional ice cream sandwich, so I decided to try them out.

Flavor

By far the most noteworthy thing about this product is the texture, which is pretty rare as desserts go. Neither the ice cream nor the cookie, both very sweet, are exceptionally tasty on their own. And yet together they make a perfect match – the dark cookies with their tough, chewy texture contrast well against the soft, pure white ice cream. The latter is always the perfect consistency, even when pulled straight from the freezer, thanks to rich cream being used as the main ingredient.

Temperature difference also plays a big role here in the enjoyment. The cookie, with its relatively low density and viscosity, tends to retain less of the coldness than the ice cream. Just as you are sinking your teeth into the cookie you suddenly hit gold and the sensation of chilled cream expands in your mouth – a refreshing surprise that repeats itself on each and every bite.

Ingredients / Nutrition

Each 60 gram, 89 mL sandwich contains 170 calories and 14 grams of sugar. These are on the low end of the scale, making this a perfect dessert for those counting calories, and the individually wrapped packs make it easy to limit yourself to one sandwich per sitting.

The perceived sweetness is actually quite intense, which is perplexing at first because of the low sugar content. However, this makes sense when you take into account the fact that the sandwiches are pretty small, and that sugar (in the form of organic dehydrated cane juice) is the second ingredient in both ice cream and cookies.

The ingredients, mostly organic, are generally healthy, with the possible exception of caramel coloring present in the cookie. Caramel coloring, depending on how it is made, can be a carcinogen (see references) and cause problems with allergies. I don’t know the exact type of caramel coloring used here as it isn’t specified on the package, but I feel that using a more natural coloring agent (possibly a beet-based one) would be healthier. I’ve sent an email to Whole Foods requesting more information about this, will update this post when I receive a response.

[Update: after a few days I got a response from Whole Foods stating that the vendor uses a Class 1 caramel color, which is the least controversial because it avoids using ammonium or sulfite compounds]

This product doesn’t have much going for it nutrition wise, with low levels of protein (3 g) and other common vitamins and minerals. A nice perk is that it is much more filling than many ice cream products, probably due to the flour used in the cookie.Also, organic cocoa is listed as the final ingredient for the cookie, which means there isn’t very much caffeine to worry about.

In fact, I just had one of these sandwiches to stave off my hunger before I go to bed.

Price and Availability

This product generally sells for around $4.99 from Whole Foods Market. With six sandwiches per pack, thats less than one dollar per each, quite inexpensive for an organic dessert.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Ingredients/Nutrition: 7.0

Price: 8.0

Overall: 7.3

Summary

Tasty organic snack, great for times you want to eat light.

References

http://www.fatsecret.com/Diary.aspx?pa=fjrd&rid=2448532

http://www.cspinet.org/new/201102161.html

Lind Excellence Cocoa Bars Report – Serious Gourmet Chocolate

chocbar

Products Covered

Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 75% [Smooth Dark]

Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 85% [Extra Dark]

Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 90% [Supreme Dark]

Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 99% [Dark – Noir]

Intro

I remember eating Hershey’s Miniatures variety packs as a child, and how I would always go straight for the “Extra Dark” ones before they were snatched up by someone. Besides loving the flavor, there was always something attractive about the idea of “Dark” – this was the rich, “real” chocolate that made you somehow feel privileged to eat it, and anything else was just a faint ghost of chocolate.

It turns out I had underestimated what real dark chocolate was.

“Special Dark” has around 60% cocoa content, but this time I’ll be reporting on a series of products by Lindt which have 75%-99% cocoa (yes, that last figure isn’t a typo).

Everything about these Lindt bars – from the packaging and marketing literature to the flavor –  speaks of elegance and sophistication, in a way that other chocolatiers with less than 150 years of experience can’t imitate. Their own term of “gourmet chocolate” is quite fitting.

Flavor

Cocoa and Coffee have much in common. They both come from a dark-colored bean, have a significant amount of caffeine, and in natural form have a distinctly bitter taste.

As you would expect in these bars, the characteristic bitterness gets increasingly sharp the higher percentage of cocoa you have, and the mild sweetness fades out until there is nothing but a trace.

I’ll give my comments about each bar, broken down by cocoa percentage.

70%: By dark chocolate standards, this bar is sufficiently sweet and the bitterness of the cocoa is subtle. For those accustomed to other dark chocolate this should be a easy starting point to enjoy Lindt’s Excellence chocolate.

85%: Though the amount of cocoa increases by only 15%, the sugar content is less than halved. This results in a much more pronounced bitter taste. My personal favorite and most consumed of the four, I find the this perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness.

90%: I haven’t had the opportunity to sample this, but judging from the ingredients and cocoa content, it must be very similar to the 85% bar. I’d only recommend this for those wanting to attempt the 99% but need a more gradual transition.

99%: The ultimate, most hard core of this serious chocolates. I’ve only tried this once, and with only around 1 gram of sugar per serving, frankily it was just too bitter for me. Having said that, chocolate lovers should try this at least once.

There are several other competing bars with similar composition and cocoa content, but none of them have quite the same consistency or thickness.

Suggestions

In a recent article I had discussed ideas for how to eat ice cream, in particular the importance of the half-melted state. With dark chocolate, especially 85% and above, using the right “technique” is even more important to get the maximum enjoyment of the flavor and texture.

Breaking off a irregularly shaped piece and popping it in your mouth, quickly chewing, and finally swallowing. That’s the typical way to eat chocolate, which is unfortunate since it misses out on so much.

Instead, try to pop a large chunk of chocolate in your mouth, leaving it to rest on the tongue for a few seconds. The first time you do this you’ll surely be assaulted by the urge to bite down, so go ahead and give in. Now try again, holding it even longer on your tongue, until the chocolate starts to melt and soften. The longer you do this, the more you will start to savor the deep, rich flavor, quite different from a crude bite and swallow. When you do finally decide to bite down, fracturing the chocolate into several pieces which whirl around your mouth, you’ll notice the rough edges you felt before are now dulled and smooth on the tongue.

What’s happening here, in my interpretation, is that the digestive juices in your mouth are beginning to gradually break down the chocolate while your body warmth simultaneously melts it. It becomes easier to do this when you repeat it again and again. Beware of drinking liquids such as water mid-snack, which will ‘reset’ the chemistry in your mouth.

Try this once, and I bet you’ll never feel the same about dark chocolate again.

Ingredients / Nutrition

The 75% bar has only five ingredients: chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lechitin (emulsifier), and bourbon vanilla. The 85% gets rid of soya lechitin and upgrades everyday sugar to demerara sugar, a large-grain unrefined sugar. The 90% adds in some cocoa powder processed with alkali, and the 99% removes the vanilla beans from the 90% recipe.

The emulsifier used in the 75% bar serves many purposes, including reduction of sugar crystallization and helping the ingredients mix uniformly. It also contains choline, as essential nutrient, which studies have shown to have various health benefits.

Cocoa itself has a wide range of nutrients including antioxidants, serotonine, and many essential minerals, with a high concentration of iron. There are many studies linking chocolate to specific health benefits, including a recent one about preventing decline in aging brains (see references section).

For those of you who are sold on Cocoa’s health benefits, this set of products is perfect because of the high cocoa content. As a result sugar content is low, which is a health benefit in and of itself.

The biggest drawback of this product is cocoa does contain a somewhat high proportion of fat and a corresponding number of calories. But even if you gobble up an entire bar, you will only be getting roughly 500-600 calories. That’s not too bad considering it’s the in the ballpark of what you would get eating two servings (half a pint) of ice cream.

Another minor complaint is that these bars don’t really satisfy hunger at all for me (in the same way coffee doesn’t), so don’t eat them on an empty stomach. This applies to many other desserts as well.

See the below table for a nutritional comparison of the four products.

Lindt Excellence Chocolate Bars Nutritional Information

Caffeine

The Lindt FAQ online downplays the amount of caffeine in theirproducts, stating that dark chocolate generally has 20 mg of caffeine per 1 g of dark chocolate, and compares to caffeine in coffee which can typically be 80 mg to around double that.

However if you do the math you’ll see that eating a full 3.5 g bar results in around 70 mg by their estimates. For the higher concentration bars (85%, 90%, 100%) I feel this estimate is still too low since the amount of cocoa, and hence caffeine, is that much higher.

From my personal experience there have been several occasions when I had over half an 85% bar in the evening before bed, and it took me several more hours before I was able to fall asleep due to the caffeine in my system. To be fair, during that time I wasn’t consuming many other caffeine products so my body’s tolerance to this stimulant was low.

I’m not trying to say caffeine is evil here – just keep in mind that caffeine by any definition is a drug, whose effects can vary greatly depending on the dosage, and the state of your body (heavy coffee drinker, empty stomach, feeling under the weather, etc.). It can be used for positive impact (nice temporary buzz) or negative impact (sleep loss, jitters, etc.).

Price and Availability

The 70% and 85% bars can typically be found at most grocery stores, and of course online. For the higher concentration bars (90%, 99%) you might have to do some searching to find them in a brick-and-mortar store.

If you haven’t been to a Lindt store, be sure to check it out – the diversity of the various bars on sale is astonishing. The Sawgrass Mills mall is one of the places in South Florida where you can enjoy Lindt’s world of chocolate.

All but the 99% bar, which sells for $4.99, have prices of $3.85 on the official Lindt website. If you buy in bulk (12 bars) on some internet retailer sites (Amazon, etc.) you can get sub-$3 pricing for the lower cocoa content bars.

Ratings

(Note: these refer to the 85% bar)

Flavor:8.0

Nutrition/Ingredients:7.0

Price: 8.0

Overall: 8.3

Summary

If you’re looking to consume chocolate in its simplest, purest form, you can’t get anything better than this.

References

http://www.lindtusa.com/common/images/products/nutritional/392825_nutr.pdf

http://www.cacaoweb.net/nutrition.html

http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2013/08/07/WNL.0b013e3182a351aa.short?sid=63d90ba5-f304-4cfa-87b7-f16372acf474

http://www.lindtusa.com/info-exec/display/faq

Three Twins Organic Ice Cream, Milk Coffee (Free Trade!)

3twins

Intro

I tried this for the first time several months ago while on a coffee ice cream kick. It’s my favorite of the healthy coffee ice creams, so I thought I would review it. I’ll report on my favorite less-healthy coffee ice cream later.

Flavor

The flavor is much what you would expect from the product name – sweetened milk and coffee. There isn’t any unexpected flavors or toppings mixed in. Compared to other coffee ice creams I’ve had, everything is a little toned down, and the dominant flavor and texture is that of milk, rather than coffee. It brings back memories of when I used to drink iced milk as a boy and the milk would crystallize around the cubes.

This cream tastes significantly better when eaten in a half-melted state, bringing out extra flavor and texture. Carving out chunks of frozen cream with a spoon and popping in your mouth to chew just doesn’t give quite the same satisfaction as running your tongue across cold coffee-infused milk.

Nutrition / Ingredients

Both the sugar and calorie count is a less than similar ice creams in the same class, with 200 calories and 17 grams sugar in a 85 gram serving. There’s 4 servings per container.

All seven ingredients are organic, with three of them Fair Trade. In fact, according to a March 2013 press release by the company, this is the first Fair Trade organic ice cream, and I haven’t found any evidence to the contrary. For those unfamiliar with Free Trade, I’ll briefly quote Wikipedia’s entry on this (see references section at bottom for link):

“Fair trade is an organized social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability.”

As always, the ingredients speak for themselves, listed here in the order of highest concentration first: whole milk, cream, evaporated cane juice, nonfat milk, egg yolks, coffee, and vanilla extract. As you can see, three of the top four ingredients are diary related, which explains the dominant milk taste.

Price and Availability

This product is available at Whole Foods Market for $4.69, an excellent price considering the delicious taste and natural ingredients. Its also available at The Fresh Market and a few other places in South Florida.

Ratings

Flavor:7.0

Nutrition/Ingredients:8.0

Price:8.5

Total: 7.8

Summary

Nothing revolutionary here, simply a handful of natural ingredients put together with a great milk coffee taste and mild sweetness. Definitely recommended for coffee-flavored ice cream lovers.

References

I was not able to find the nutritional and ingredient information listed online, but have sent an email to the company requesting this. Will update back when I get more information.

http://www.threetwinsicecream.com/blog/2013/03/three-twins-ice-cream-launches-first-horsemeat-free-ice-cream-at-expo-west-2013-at

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_trade

Ice Cream Hacks: How to get the most out of your ice cream experience.

spoons

For this article, I’ll take a break from my usual review-style posts and try something different.

This sounds a little strange, but having eaten so many gallons of ice cream in my life, I feel like I’ve gotten “good” at eating ice cream. Sure, great ice cream tastes great no matter how you indulge yourself. But there are a few little tips I wanted to put in writing to give everyone just that extra edge in squeezing the most enjoyment and flavor out of every creamy bite.

Many of these are highly subjective, but I’m hoping that at least a few will work for you.

Let it melt – Nobody likes ice cream melted into a puddle of messy sugar, but I’ve discovered that eating half-melted ice cream really allows me to savor the flavor that much more. Scientific studies on this may be lacking, but these are my guesses for why this is so.

1) Cold is refreshing to a point, but as you cross the line to freezing the taste buds numb up and can’t do their job effectively. I remember reporting on something similar in my review of Lakewood Blueberry juice. I think its commonly accepted that some things with a mediocre taste (i.e. Beer) are more palatable when drank cold.

2) Whereas a solid will touch the tongue at a few points for a brief moment, the cool liquid of partially melted ice cream coats a large area of the tongue. With more surface area and more taste buds active, it’s  no surprise there is more flavor perceived.

There are few tricks you can use to help melt your ice cream to the right consistency:

1) Use a metal spoon. Metal is a conductor so it will help to melt the cream on the way to your mouth. Using plastic will just help it maintain its current temperature.

2) Eat ice cream from the outermost layer, that which is against the wall of the container and will melt the fastest. Occasionally wipe off the outside of the container with a towel when it gets frosty, to promote melting.

3) Chop up the top layer of ice cream with your spoon, or just poke a bunch of holes in it. That will allow more exposure to the outside air and promote faster melting.

4) Do NOT try to leave your ice cream anywhere but the freezer for any period of time to try and melt it. The risk for returning to ice cream soup is too high.

Small spoon – Several years back I switched from eating with a tablespoon to a smaller sized spoon (slightly larger than a teaspoon). This taught me to really enjoy every ounce and prolonged the length of time it took to finish off a container. It will also tend to reduce the total amount of ice cream eaten.

Small container – The advantage of a small container is that its easier to set limits on how much you eat, which prevents over-eating and helps you enjoy what you eat. With one of those giant containers, its easy to break your “ok, just one more bite” promises, until you feel ready to explode. And while it makes economical sense to buy in bulk, the quality the ice cream is typically much worse compared to the smaller containers.

Less sugar – If you eat ice cream with high sugar content day after day, you are likely to get tired of it quickly. Lower sugar ice creams need something to fill that gap, leading to more nutrition, and your body will thank you.

Ice Cream > Mlik – Don’t stay confined to only milk-based creams. Try coconut milk, goat milk, or even rice-based. This is another way to get a wider variety of nutrition and not burn yourself out.

Use Toppings – If you end up buying an ice cream that is not what you expected, don’t be afraid to use toppings to make the taste a bit more to your liking. My favorite healthy topping are walnuts (broken into small pieces), cocoa powder and cocoa nibs. Adding your own whip cream adds a new dimension of texture to any ice cream. Pouring chilled Kahlua over ice cream is also nice once in awhile.

Know your ingredients – Reading through the ingredients list to know what you’re eating (either before or after you take your first bite) is a nice way to enrich your experience. It will help train your taste buds to look for certain subtle flavors.

Try it yourself – Try making your own homemade ice cream. That will give you a better understanding of some of the more mysterious ingredients (like ‘guar gum’) and also an appreciation of how difficult it is to make a great-tasting cream. I like to make variations of the same ice cream, putting less or more of a certain ingredient, and seeing how the end result is. When you fail at this trial-and-error process (as I have), just head to the nearest supermarket for some pro-made cream.

Eat when your stomach is happy – I’ve found that its hard to enjoy ice cream fully on a completely empty stomach because my body is craving nutrition. Conversely, trying to stuff my mouth when I’m already full isn’t smart. Eating a sweet dessert an hour or two after I’ve had a moderate meal seems to be the trick to maximum appreciation.

Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino Blended Beverage – a true love/hate relationship

javachip

Intro

There is almost no sweets from my college days that I still enjoy now in my 30s. Our subject this time, a sugary chilled drink, is one of the few that has passed the test of time and taste. It’s also very high on my list of guilty, unhealthy pleasures to quit. In that way I have a true love/hate relationship with this drink.

For those easily-addicted types with a sweet tooth, I highly recommend stopping here and moving on to my next report. It will save you innumerable calories and pounds.

Flavor

Chocolate chips, coffee, and milk, blended smoothly with ice, topped off with a very generous spray of whip cream, further layered with a criss cross of chocolate syrup. This is a good objective summary of the basic ingredients and flavor of this decadent dessert-lovers dessert.

Being a long time Java Chip junkie, I perceive things more as  succession of sensations and stimuli. First, the welcome chill as near-freezing liquid passes through a wide straw, into my mouth, through my esophagus into into my stomach. In passing, the sugar gives my taste buds a jolt and I start to feel the high coming on. Not long after the caffeine kicks in, sending me to a state of near-enlightenment – a true altered state of consciousness (*). Occasionally I use my straw as a spoon, scooping up swaths of fluffy whipped cream for a mild dairy intermission, or snipe up gobs of rich dark syrup for a burst of extra sweetness.

Alas, things aren’t always this blissful. A combination of badly trained employees and differing recipes makes this drink more like a roulette wheel of chance. The amount of caffeine, chocolate, ice, and mostly importantly how well blended the beverage is, varies considerably even within a single store. Around 20% of time it’s a perfect ten, and in rare cases the drink will get totally botched.

This reminds me of the time I glanced at the cafe counter and caught sight of a snowy white drink which had just been placed there. A moment later the barista said my Java Chip was ready. My eyes blinked in disbelief. When I asked the barista if he put coffee the drink, his returned answer put me in a state of shock.

“There is no coffee in Java Chip Frappuccino”.

Nutrition

A “grande” (medium) size is 16 ounces and, with whipped cream added, has the following key nutrition facts: 460 calories, 66 grams of sugar, and 110 mg of caffeine. The calorie count is comparable to two servings of ice cream, if not less, but the sugar concentration is a bit extreme. The caffeine is roughly equivalent to two shots of espresso.

Sometimes the problem nutritionally with foods is not with what they do contain, but rather than what they lack. It’s true that chocolate, coffee, and milk all have benefits according to nutritionists, but there isn’t much here to supply the body with needed vitamins and minerals. My gut confirms this when I down these 16 sugary ounces on an empty stomach. Hunger is suppressed for a short time but then renews with even greater vigor, leaving me starving with a stomach full of junk my body doesn’t need.

Sugar and caffeine are both strong stimulants in the right dose, and while this drink is good for a quick pick-me-up, I can’t help but feel that frequent usage has the chance for adverse long-term effects. Another problem with this drink is that the full ingredient list isn’t published, which means there is bound to be all sorts of scary things like artificial flavor in the syrup used.

Which is why I do plan to kick the Java Chip habit. Eventually.

Price and Availability

The “grande” size goes for $4.25, which isn’t too bad for a dessert of this type. Those of you watching calories can go for the “tall” 12 ounce size, but with a price of only 50 cents less its a hard sell. There is also a “light” version for the same price with roughly half the number of calories, but I haven’t tried it.

These are available at Starbucks Cafe, or at Barnes & Noble Bookstores Cafe. I tend to use the latter, which may be why I have had such an inconsistent experience.

Ratings

Flavor: 8.0 (varies between 4.0 – 10.0 depending on the person making it)

Nutrition/Ingredients: 4.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.3

Summary

A serious drink loaded with enough sugar and caffeine to keep you up for hours. Not recommended for anyone too concerned about nutrition.

References

http://www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/frappuccino-blended-beverages/java-chip-frappuccino-blended-coffee#size=11002666&milk=67&whip=125

(*) This sort of sensation is a good (though slightly exaggerated) account of what I felt when drinking this product until recently. Since I started drinking coffee on a daily basis several weeks ago, my caffeine tolerance has increased so my body responds less readily to the stimulation.

Lakewood Organic Pure Blueberry Juice – Hardcore natural goodness

blueberry

Introduction

Our subject this time, a particularly pure and tasty form of blueberry juice, isn’t something normally attributed to the category of ‘sweets’.  Nonetheless, it is defined by a mild, natural, sweetness, which places it in the same league as sugary treats, if not only spiritually.

Another reason I’ve chosen to showcase this item is because it excels in both the nutritional and taste departments . As a purist who pursues simple, natural foods, this is about as close to ideal as you can get.

Flavor

I’ve went through stages in my life where I frequently drank one type of juice – apple, orange, tangerine, but the honeymoon always ends. Blueberry juice is the only one I really can’t get tired of.

Unlike many other popular juices, the sweetness of blueberry is understated, something like a softened version of grape juice. Filling the place of an overbearing sweetness is a complex, earthy taste, ripe with a diverse array of compounds, each replenishing much needed nutrition to the body. (Ok – I admit I’ve have my share of influence from the marketing material here).

This juice can be enjoyed at room temperature, which brings the intricate flavor to full volume, or can be served chilled for an extremely refreshing experience. After a bout of intensive exercise, I used to run for the Gatorade to quench my thirst, but have since discovered that this blueberry juice, straight from the fridge, satisfies my cravings fully.

Nutrition and Ingredients

This is the epitome of a natural, simple drink: fresh pressed, organic blueberry juice, no additives, no preservatives, and no water for reconstitution. And no extra sugar.

In one serving (240 mL, ¼ of a bottle) there is only 100 calories, 16 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of fiber. Contained within is 14 minerals, such as Vitamin C (20% per serving), Vitamin K (50%), and Manganese (40 %).

I won’t repeat all of the many health benefits of blueberry juice listed on the bottle, but suffice to say there are wide ranging effects from the immune system to the digestive system. I’m of the belief that nutritional science is in its infancy and there is still so much we have to learn, but even if only half of the reported effects are true, its totally worth drinking.

My eyes sometimes get painfully light-sensitive after too much starting at a computer or television screen, and this juice is the only thing that seems to consistently help when that happens. I did some research and it turns out that blueberry juice is supposed to be one of the best things for eye health. Sure, some of this is likely due to the placebo effect, but I can’t help taking advantage of it. In fact, I drank several glasses of this stuff while writing this report.

Price and Availability

Before I mention the high price of this product, I should mention that I don’t know of any juice of the same quality and purity. 99 times of 100 when you see a drink with the word ‘blueberry’ in the title, there is only a small fraction of pure blueberry juice used, and oftentimes apple juice will be used as a filler because it is sweet and expensive. I have seen a handful of products that serve essence of blueberry in a capsule, or a bottle of condensed blueberry, but those can’t come close taste wise (if they have any taste at all).

The only place I buy this is – yes you guessed it –  Whole Foods, where it sells for roughly $12. I had some difficulty finding it online but shoporganic.com seemed to be selling it for around $13.

For those than can appreciate the natural sweetness and believe in the numerous health benefits, this product is worth it, without a doubt.

Ratings

Flavor: 8.5

Nutrition/Ingredients: 10.0

Price: 4.0

Overall: 7.5

Summary

An extreme juice in many ways – super natural, super healthy, and super expensive. In the ever-expending juice world, it’s a true rarity you are likely to either love or hate.

Reference

http://www.lakewoodjuices.com/product_detail/id-30/

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-blueberries-eyes-5356.html

Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter – spread made for royalty

justin1

Introduction

I’ll continue in the same vein as my last review and report on another of my sweet favorites. This one is a spread, typically used to complement something like bread, a bagel, or a crepe, but its heavenly flavor is far from secondary – more like the main event.

Speaking of spreads – In my college days I was addicted to the well-known Nutella hazelnut spread. Several years later, after I had weaned myself away from that sugary goodness, I discovered Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter. In many ways it was the healthier version of Nutella, so I decided to try it. I’ve never looked back since.

Flavor

It’s a bit difficult to describe the taste for those who have never tasted a hazelnut butter before, but I’ll try my best. It has a deep nutty flavor, not unlike peanut butter, with subtle roasted overtones. In this spread, the hazelnuts strike a harmony against rich cocoa and the sublime sweetness of cane sugar. Compared with everyday peanut butter, it has a high-class ambiance to it, almost as if it was made for royalty.

Let me try to convey how yummy this stuff is in another way. Its addictive, very addictive. I’d feel a bit too guilty eating this straight out of the jar so I always spread it on something, usually bread. But bread itself can be quite filling, so I actually have caught myself more than once trying to eat a small dinner just to have that many more slices of bread in the evening, layered thick with “Justin”.

It’s aroma is nutty and buttery rather than chocolaty, as should be expected since there is a much higher proportion of nuts than cocoa.

After eating this product quite frequently for a year or so, my only gripe regarding flavor is that the texture is very inconsistent. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to get the best experience each time. When it’s overly oily, give a long, vigorous mix to balance out the oil more evenly. When its extra dry (as it was last time I bought it), mix in a few tablespoons of walnut oil. The flavor doesn’t change appreciably, but the increase in spreadability is well worth it, enabling better control over the amount used and less chance of tearing the bread.

Nutrition / Ingredients

As I alluded to in the introduction, this is an upgraded, healthier version of classic Nutella spread. That means a whole lot less sugar (approximately one third of Nutella’s), and much more hazelnuts.

One of my simple tests for healthiness is the number of ingredients. This passes easily, with only eight ingredients, and half of those are organic. Evaporated cane sugar, more natural and less processed, is used in place of commonplace refined white sugar. Add to that a touch of natural sea salt, produced by the evaporation of seawater. There are no vague terms such as “natural flavors”, and nothing artificial is used.

For a single serving (2 tablespoons), there are 180 calories and 7 grams of sugar. The problem with spreads is that its very hard to judge the amount being used, especially if applied with a knife (as opposed to a spoon which is no small feat). I’ve noticed if I’m not careful I can easily exceed a serving *per slice of bread*, and its no wonder once after a few weeks or eating a few of these slices a night I gained a few of pounds. The good news is if you can get yourself to spread thin you’ll healthier while still enjoying the rich, nutty flavor. You’ll taste more of the bread as well, or whatever you are spreading on.

For those who really want to count their calories, you can buy the single serving packs. I tried this a few times, but kept running into the problem of trying to squeeze out every last ounce, rather than enjoying my snack. More waste produced means this isn’t an environmentally friendly option either.

With the low amount of sugar, where do all the calories come from? Well, it turns out that nuts are extremely fatty. Having said that, If it came to a choice of calories from nuts as opposed processed like corn syrup, I’d pick the former. Hazelnuts also naturally pack a good amount of protein (4 g per serving here), which is a nice extra.

One minor nitpick is that sometime around 2012 they added a significant portion of almonds to their formula.  Though I easily adjusted to the subtle change in flavor, the purist in me was frustrated by this recipe modification. I went so far as to send the company an email requesting why. Here is an unmodified excerpt of their polite response, which didn’t take too long to get back to me.

“We were getting a ton of feedback that it was just too hazelnutty. Since our chocolate spreads contain 70% nut and others contain only around 10% nuts, people just weren’t used to the robust hazelnut taste. We cut in almonds to round out the flavor.”

Serving Suggestions

Odds are whatever base you choose to ornament with this spread, the sweet, nutty flavor will overpower it. This transforms mediocre breads, which would otherwise be left to go stale, into delicious desserts. But why not be health conscious and choose a quality bread with natural ingredients?

I recommend Whole Food’s “Prairie Bread” which has a diverse mix of nuts and seeds. It’s slightly stiff texture makes it ideal to help defend against tearing when using a bottle of “Justin” that happens to be a little low on oil. This combination is sweet enough to be called a desert, yet is much better nutritionally than most other sweets I eat.

Price and Availability

This spread can be found in places like Whole Foods, Target, as well as online for $8-$9. This price is undeniably hard on the wallet, but I’m apt to forgive considering hazelnuts are typically very expensive compared to other nuts.

I happened to pick up my last two jars at around $6 on sale in Whole Foods. Unfortunately that deep of a discount is quite rare.

Ratings

Flavor: 9.0

Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.0

Price: 6.0

Overall: 7.6

Summary

A chocolaty nut butter whose addictive taste is offset by a high price tag and a minor problems with inconsistent oil content. Much healthier than some competing products, this product must be consumed in moderation to reap those benefits.

References

http://www.justins.com/products.php

justin2

Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss Chocolate Walnut Brownie (non-dairy ice cream)

Coconut Bliss Chocolate Walnut Brownie

Introduction

For my first review I’ve decided on a frozen dessert which is one of my recent favorites. This is something that I’ve savored several times in the last month and plan to continue on doing for the foreseeable future.

When I think back on the ice cream I used to eat in high school and compare that to what I have been enjoying the last few years, its amazing how different they are – especially regarding the ingredients used. But this is only a natural consequence of putting more consideration into what I eat. For ice cream I typically use three types of information when deciding on the healthiness of the product: calories, sugar, and the ingredients themselves, as well as a few others which I give less weight to (protein, container size, etc.). Though everyone has their own opinions on what is really ‘healthy’, I subscribe to the theory that generally ‘natural is better’.

Enough of the historical aside. Let’s move on to the juiciest, most mouthwatering part of any of my reviews, the discussion of flavor.

Flavor

First of all, I’d like to give a heads up to all the ice cream addicts who have eaten only milk-based ice cream (like me until recently). This is unabashedly a coconut milk based product, with some other important ingredients I’ll talk about in the ingredients section below. So of course there will be differences between this and dairy-based ice creams. For those willing to take a step out of their limited world of dairy ice cream, a little open mindedness will go along way to quickly accustoming to these differences.

One of the key differences is the texture when frozen. When compared to standard ice cream it seems finer and crumbles/flakes quite easily. But once it is in a half-melted state, the creaminess factor goes up a notch, though not quite reaching that of milk-based creams. All things being considered, the creaminess and overall mouthfeel of the base, crafted by a delicate balance of coconut, water, and guar gum, is quite impressive.

But the real killer here is the flavor – a deep, complex taste that lingers on the palate long afterwards. The base cream, it’s richness derived from a good helping of cocoa, is complimented nicely by a generous helping of crunchy walnuts and sweet chocolate brownie chunks. I can’t put it any better than the marketing quip on the front of the package: “A Devine Treat for Chocolate Lovers“.

The only issue I have with the flavor is that there is a mild chalky aftertaste. Its the same I get after eating walnuts by themselves, which marks them as the culprit here. Their crunchy contribution to the overall texture is nice but I wouldn’t mind sampling a version of this product without the nuts.

Ingredients and Nutrition

This dessert does an excellent job of satisfying those choosy about ingredient quality. Most ingredients are organic, with a subset declared as Fair Trade. Apart from the walnuts and the brownie morsels, the base is made from only six ingredients.  There are other products on the market with less ingredients (ex: Haagen-Dazs “Five”), but their ingredients are generally not Organic nor this rich. It is vegan friendly with no dairy, soy, or gluten, so the number of people who can safely enjoy this ice cream goes far above any typical milk-based cream.

The ingredients are also very natural, with no artificial flavors or colorings. Thankfully, my personal pet-peeve “natural flavors” is not present either. “Natural flavors”  is a general category for any flavoring which is derived from natural (animal or plant) sources. “natural” is great and all, but I’m turned off by the lack of details about what was used (could be tree bark for all you know) and that it may be heavily processed. I avoid products with this usually, though if the taste is right I can make an exception. 

The sweeteners employed are both natural and well known – agave syrup and coconut sugar. The debate on which sugars are truly healthier is far from settled but I think it’s safe to have a mixed diet of typical powdered white sugar and other variations like these which are more natural with less processing. The Vanilla extract used is also natural, with no artificial “Vanillin” used.

Calories (per 95 g serving, ¼ of container) are 250, par for the course here. Sugar is 15 g per serving and happens to be one of the reasons I decided to try this out. Compared to other products which can have approximately twice the sugar, this is surprisingly low, especially considering the rich flavor. This can be attributed to the fact agave syrup has a higher sweetness per gram than normal table sugar. Agave syrup is generally valued for its relatively low glycemic index, and less processing compared to some artificial sweeteners.

As with most ice creams salt content is low (2% of recommended daily intake). A nice bonus is a per-serving iron amount of 15% of daily intake, compared to a much lower percentage in many other products (many have 0%).

Price and Availability

Price is $6.49 with tax (bought around 9/15/13). This a bit pricey for those on a budget, but not unexpected, considering this is a non-dairy specialty product.

There a only a few places that I know of in South Florida that sell this, one is Whole Foods Market which is where I picked it up.

Ratings (out of 10)

  • Flavor: 7.5
  • Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.5
  • Price: 6.0
  • Overall: 7.3

Summary

Great organic coconut ice cream with an excellent taste, average calorie count, but less sugar content than many other similar products. Not cheap but an exotic item definitely worth trying.

References

http://coconutbliss.com/coconut-bliss-products/chocolatewalnutbrownie

Meet the Sweets Reporter

Hello, I’m the Sweets Reporter, thanks for reading!

With a nearly uncountable number of people on this planet addicted to sweet treats, why did I decide to dedicate some of my treasured free time to reporting on a variety of delicious, delightful sweet things?

Well, for starters I’m the type of person who almost always has something sweet at night before going to bed, and have been doing so as long as I can remember. In the last few years I also have been paying more attention to what is in the sweets I eat – for health reasons as well as just natural curiosity about what makes great flavor. And finally, I feel as if the “scientist” part of me – the tendency to analyze and report detailed observations – makes me a perfect candidate for a critic of sweets. Its even taken me to the point where I have tried making my own confections (ice cream, cookies, etc.) using experimental recipes.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey, where each stop is a flavorful concoction designed to delight the senses.

One more thing before we move onto the first sweets review. Having read my share of food (and other) reviews, I am quick to pick up on those who put a positive spin for commercial reasons. Though I don’t expect to focus on items which I don’t enjoy eating, for those I do decide to review I’ll be giving my thorough, honest take. Even my favorite sweets have drawbacks, and I want to give my readers an unbiased (well, as much as a human can be unbiased) commentary on things. In any case, I’ll do my best to convey my feelings to you as if you had just popped it into your mouth, senses savoring all the glory of its sweetness.