Monthly Archives: October 2013

Sweets Review: So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Mint Chip Frozen Dessert

Having reviewed another So Delicious product (here) as well as another brand’s coconut milk mint chip (here), I decided to write a review for So Delicious’s Mint Chip. As with their other products in this lineup, this is a dairy-free, soy-free frozen desert which has a coconut base, sweetened by agave syrup.

Flavor

As you might expect from the name, this frozen dessert has a fresh, minty coconut base with a nice amount of chocolate chips dispersed throughout. The mint overpowers the subtle coconut flavor, probably because there is no whole coconut used, only coconut oil and cream. For those not accustomed to coconut-based frozen desserts, it tastes sort of like a dulled down, diet version of a normal milk-based desert. In some sense it is, because of the lower calorie and sodium content.

My biggest problem is that there isn’t really anything special or unique about the flavor. It loses hands down to the same company’s German Chocolate, whose succulent caramel and pecan pieces really make for a great taste experience. There is something strange about the Mint Chip’s texture, a lack of creaminess almost to the extent of being gummy. When I opened the sealed package the ice cream was in an odd shape with a little tornado shaped hole in the middle, almost as if it had partially melted and than refrozen. That could explain why the texture is so funky, or it could be due to the proportions of the gums that are used.

Just as with Luna & Larry’s Mint Galactica product, a balance of contrasting flavors is lacking. While this rival product does have a smoother texture, Mint Chip has the advantage of having larger sized chunks of chocolate with richer flavor. Overall I rate these two products’ flavors on the same level.

Even though I didn’t love the flavor of either coconut-based mint-flavored desert, it’s not that I dislike all minty desserts. There are some milk-based ones I do enjoy such as Bryer’s Mint Chocolate Chip and Talenti’s Mediterranean Mint. Both of these have much more sugar and calories, so its not entirely fair to compare them to the coconut versions. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to review one of these products sometime in the near future.

Nutrition/Ingredients

As is with many companies, the products in a set all have similar nutritional information and ingredient makeup. This product is no different and has much in common with the same company’s German Chocolate frozen desert.

In a 85 gram serving (four total in the container) there is 170 calories, with 80 of those from fat, and both figures are lower than many milk-based deserts. Protein is low compared to most milk-based ice creams at only 1 gram per serving, although fiber is quite high at 6 grams, thanks to the chicory root extract. Sugar is only 13 grams per serving, well below average compared to most milk-based ice creams, but comparable with other company’s coconut-based products, such as Luna & Larrys.

This product’s ingredients have a few key differences from the German Chocolate flavor. One is that it has significantly less ingredients thanks to the omission of caramel sauce, which contains a few undesirables like carrageenan and sodium citrite. Because of this I would say Mint Chip is arguably more healthy that German Chocolate.

In addition, Pecans and shredded coconut are not present in Mint Chip, and are replaced by chocolate liquor. For those who didn’t know (I didn’t until I looked it up), chocolate liquor is pure cocoa mass in liquid form and has nothing to do with alcohol. (According to Dictionary.com, “liquor” has a secondary meaning “any liquid substance”)

At first I thought the “mint flavor” listed on the label meant something which tastes like mint (either artificial or natural in origin), but doesn’t necessarily contain natural spearmint or peppermint. I checked with the company and they said this simply means “peppermint extract”, so it is the real stuff after all. I wish they would just list it an extract (as is done by Luna & Larry’s) since it sounds much better and leaves no room for doubt.

I slightly prefer the ingredients of Mint Galactica to this product because the former contains entirely organic ingredients, while Mint Chip has only two (organic coconut cream and organic agave syrup).

Full ingredient list: ORGANIC COCONUT MILK (WATER, ORGANIC COCONUT CREAM), ORGANIC AGAVE SYRUP, CHOCOLATE FLAKE [DRIED CANE SYRUP, COCONUT OIL, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, VANILLA], CHICORY ROOT EXTRACT, CAROB BEAN GUM, GUAR GUM, MINT FLAVOR.

This product is certified gluten free, as per the small icon printed on the top of the carton.

Price/Availability

I bought this for $5.99 at Publix, though it is sold at many other supermarkets.

Ratings:   Flavor: 6.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:  8.0  Price:  7.0  Overall: 7.0

Summary

This is a no-frills mint flavored coconut frozen desert with chocolate chips. It has healthy ingredients and moderate calorie/sugar levels which urges me to recommend it over most milk-based ice creams. However, So Delicious’s German Chocolate is much better tasting and has a similar nutritional profile, so you might want to consider going with that instead.

References

http://www.sodeliciousdairyfree.com/products/coconut-milk-frozen-desserts/mint-chip

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

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Company response: Caffeine content in Haagen Dazs Green Tea Ice Cream

I recently got a response back from an email query sent to Haagen Dazs with regards to the amount of green tea and caffeine in their green tea ice cream product (which I recently reviewed here).

They were tight lipped on the exact amount of green tea in the product, classifying it as “proprietary information”, but they did respond about the caffeine content:

“there is approximately 25 mg of caffeine per ½ cup serving which is considered 1 serving.”

Haagen Dazs website lists how they use Japanese matcha tea for this product, and according to the energyfiend website, matcha has roughly 70 milligrams of caffeine in 1 cup (8 fluid onces) of tea. This can be twice to three times of that found in other green teas, depending on the company and brewing length. One reason matcha has a high caffeine content is because the whole leaf is present, ground up, instead of just brewing it as other green teas.

Since matcha should be the only ingredient with any significant amount of caffeine present, we can use the above information to get a ballpark figure for how much green tea is in this product. It works out to be roughly one-third cup  (1 teaspoon of matcha powder) in a single serving, and almost one and half cups in the entire package (one pint). This is useful information for those trying to make their own homemade ice cream with a similar flavor.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate to a huge amount of tea, so those looking to reap the health benefits of green tea would be better off keeping to matcha tea, or mixing in extra matcha powder into your ice cream.

References

http://www.energyfiend.com/caffeine-content/matcha-green-tea

http://www.energyfiend.com/caffeine-content/green-tea

Product Review: Julie’s Organic Gluten Free Vanilla Sandwich Cookies

I really like Whole Treat Organic Ice Cream Sandwiches (reviewed by me here), so I thought I would try out a competitor’s product to see what it had to offer.

Before I even put these sandwiches into my cart I was impressed with the packaging, which has a flowery, elegant design overlaid onto a tall tube shape (think a mini version of a Pringles can). It sure beats the Whole Treat packaging which is  homely, down-to-earth, and just looks cheap. Some of this may have been intentional on their part, though.

Flavor

This sandwich is made from two discs of chocolate, as opposed to the Whole Treat one which is made of two rectangular-sized ones. Julie’s also makes a rectangular one according to their website, but I don’t remember seeing that in the store.

When comparing these two sandwiches, Julie’s sandwich does everything bigger and thicker than its Whole Treat rival. For example, the total weight is roughly 20% more, and the ice cream in the middle is significantly thicker.

The cookies have a similar texture to Oreos, but somehow seem to crumble in my mouth before I’m expecting them to, leaving behind an almost grainy sensation. I prefer the Whole Treat sandwiches texture which is is bit softer and moister, and allows your teeth to really sink in. The cookie itself also has a very pronounced sweetness backed by a milder saltiness.

When I got to the ice cream within, I felt the thickness was a bit extreme. I’d even go as far as saying it made it difficult for me to fully appreciate the flavor. I either could force myself to bite off the full berth of the sandwich, which was more than I was comfortable with, or nibble away at it with multiple bites which was similarly awkward. On the other hand, the competitor’s thickness seemed just right and allowed me to eat it naturally without even thinking about it.

The ice cream flavor itself has a nice robust milk flavor to it, but again I felt it was a bit on the sweet side and too thick with cream.

This is without a doubt a delicious desert, but judging from taste alone I prefer Whole Treat’s product by a wide margin.

Nutrition/Ingredients

One sandwich weighs 74 grams and contains 200 calories, 90 of them from fat. There are 18 grams of sugars, 3% DV of sodium, and 3 grams of protein.

These figures are all very close to the Whole Treat sandwiches when adjusted for serving size, an interesting fact because my overall impression of Julie’s sandwich was that it was sweeter and higher in calories. This is likely because of the 20% difference in overall size, as well as the width of the sandwich.

Though there are many similarities and both have generally natural ingredients, I prefer those in Julie’s sandwiches for a few reasons. First of all, in addition to being organic the cookies are gluten free, through the use of rice flour instead of normal wheat flour. According to Wikipedia, about 1 in 133 people in developed nations have an allergic reaction to gluten, which can be very serious. Because of this, this product is available to be eaten by a larger audience which is always a good thing. I’ve even heard stories of people who have minor gluten allergies that don’t realize it until later in life, so you might want to try experimenting with gluten free foods and see if you body reacts better to them.

Second, there is no caramel coloring. It’s true that Whole Treat’s coloring is in class I, the least risky of the four classes, but no coloring is always better in my book. There is also a few natural starches used, tapioca starch, corn starch, and potato starch, which may add a little more vitamins and minerals.

Finally, cocoa is listed much higher, at 5th place compared to 11th place for Whole Treat, and therefore likely to be in much higher concentration. This gives the consumer a better chance of reaping cocoa’s many potential health benefits. I think some of the black color comes from this, and possibly some from the starches used.

Full ingredients list:

Organic Vanilla Ice Cream – Organic milk, and cream, organic cane sugar, organic tapioca syrup, organic vanilla extract, organic tapioca starch, non-gmo soy lecithin, guar gum, locust bean gum, xantham gum.

Gluten Free Chocolate Cookie – Organic rice flour, organic unsalted butter, organic cane sugar, organic eggs, organic cocoa, organic corn starch, organic potato starch, baking soda, organic vanilla, sea salt.

Price/Availability

I purchased this at Whole Foods for about $6.99 and haven’t seen it anywhere else locally. However their web site search tool says there are a few other places nearby, such as Vitamin Hut and Simply Natural, which carry their products.

Considering Whole Treat’s product gives you more total product (6 x 60  = 360 grams vs. 4 x 74 = 296 grams), the price is a bit expensive. To be fair, Whole Foods can save money distributing its own products so some amount of price difference is not unexpected.

Ratings:   Flavor:  6.0  Nutrition/Ingredients:7.5    Price:  6.5  Overall: 6.6

Summary

These are large ice cream sandwiches that taste great and are composed of organic, gluten-free, and natural ingredients. Though I would rate it’s ingredients slightly lower overall, I prefer the taste of Whole Treat’s competing ice cream sandwiches for their light, easy-to-eat experience.

References

http://www.juliesorganic.com/ice_cream_sandwiches/

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

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So Delicious – so kind! (free coupons from So Delicious company)

In order to gather information on products for this blog, I’ve contacted a handful of companies. I’ve asked about “natural flavors” and caffeine content among other things.

Of all the companies I have sent queries to, only one of them so far – So Delicious Dairy Free – has asked me for my address so they could send me coupons in the mail.

I gave out my address and in less than two weeks received a pack of coupons in the mail, 9 coupons which save from 50 cents to $1.00 on various product groups: coconut milk, coconut milk creamer, almond plus beverages, and most importantly, frozen dessert pints!

Although this is only a small token of kindness on their part, I really appreciate it. Especially since no other companies have done as much.

I checked their website and they have a form you can provide your email address to get coupons. I recommend anyone interested to try and get some.

http://sodeliciousdairyfree.com/get-coupons

Product Review: Haagen Dazs Green Tea Ice Cream

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[Note: I have taken a break from this blog to focus my energies on my new blog, which is about learning Japanese language. Please check it out here if you are interested: http://selftaughtjapanese.com ]

Green tea has been used in China since at least 2737 BC, and also has been drank for hundreds of years in other Asian countries including Japan, Thailand, and Korea. It is sold both as a beverage and as a treatment for a variety of medical ailments. Green tea is made from the same plant as everyday black tea, Camellia Sinensis, but there are major differences in how the plant is processed and grown. For example, green tea is processed with methods such as oven-drying or steaming to minimize the oxidation and fermentation. Also, certain types of green tea are made from tea plants grown in shade, including “matcha” which is the type of tea typically used for green tea ice cream (and also happens to be the same tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony). Because of these things, green tea has a very different taste and nutritional profile than other types of tea.

Grocery stores usually sell green tea from a few brands, though some of them are very diluted. If you want real green tea, try ordering some at an authentic Japanese restaurant (buffets that also serve Chinese food don’t count), or even better buy powdered matcha green tea at an Asian supermarket and mix it yourself. The flavor is very bitter, but tea lovers might just fall in love at first sip.

Green tea ice cream has been made in Japan for at least 100 years, if not longer, and has been sold in the US since the late 1970s. When it was first introduced there was some manufacturers using artificial flavors instead of real green tea powder, but that has declined greatly since. However, as I discovered recently when trying some green tea ice cream in a local Asian buffet, there is still some around that tastes nothing like green tea and shares only the deep green color.

Although many ice cream companies make green tea flavored products, in typical (non-Asian) grocery stores where I live it is pretty hard to find one on the shelves. We were lucky to discover a store recently that sold Haagen Dazs’s version, so we picked up a pint right away.

Flavor

This ice cream has a simple, creamy milk flavor with a good balance of cream that gives a nice texture without being overly fatty. If you have tried the same company’s vanilla ice cream you’ll find the texture is almost identical, which is no surprise considering the ingredients are mostly the same.

The attractive green color hints at the green tea hidden within, and there is a definite authentic green tea flavor. But in all honesty, it’s more of an aftertaste – the milk flavor dominates the experience for me.

Being a fan of green tea, I wish there was much more used. Of course, this would make the flavor significantly more bitter and possibly scare away all but the most hardcore green tea lovers.

Overall, the flavor is better than any I’ve eaten in a restaurant, but not quite as good as the homemade version we made at home. For those interested, you can simply add matcha green tea powder to a standard vanilla ice cream recipe and it should turn out great. You can even mix it into a store bought vanilla ice cream, though you have to make sure the ice cream doesn’t completely melt in this process and run the creamy texture. In our case, we added a good amount of green tea powder which may be why I am slightly disappointed in the flavor of this product. Having said that, the rest of my family loves this ice cream so maybe I’m just overly picky about the flavor.

Nutrition/Ingredients

A single 102 gram serving contains 250 calories, which is about average for Haagen Dazs ice creams, but slightly higher than some other companies. Sugar is also pretty standard at 19 grams per serving.

There is 5 grams of protein per serving, a value typical of milk-based ice creams.

My favorite thing about this ice cream is that there is only 5 ingredients: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, and green tea. There is a few others made by Haagen Dazs (such as coffee) and I really appreciate their simplicity and lack of mysterious or unnecessary ingredients like colorings, natural flavor, or thickening agents. This fact alone puts this ice cream above over half of the products out there.

The other benefit of this is the green tea itself. It contains flavonoids and catechins, and research points to a large number of health benefits ranging from increased brain function and increased physical performance, to lower risk of certain cancer types and heart disease. Though further research on these nutritional benefits is still needed, some of the existing studies show impressive results. For example, a study of over 40,000 Japanese people showed that those who drank 5 or more cups a day were much less likely to die in an 11-year period.

The only catch is that, with green tea listed last on the label and a very mild green tea taste, the actual amount of green tea is probably very small. I sent an email to Haagen Dazs asking about the amount of green tea present and will write another blog post when I get the result.

Price/Availability

I bought this at Publix for around $5.00.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:8.0    Price:8.0    Overall: 8.0

Summary

A very flavorful ice cream with simple, natural ingredients, and a taste of authentic great tea. Unfortunately for me its a bit lacking, and may leave some wishing for a slightly stronger concentration of green tea.

References

http://www.haagendazs.com/Products/Product/2781

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

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

http://voices.yahoo.com/the-difference-between-black-green-white-tea-7215974.html?cat=5

http://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-green-tea/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16968850

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Product Review: Organic Nectars Cashewtopia Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato

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Did you know gelato made from cashew nuts existed?

Until recently I didn’t either. In fact, if it weren’t for me going out of my way to find unique desserts in order to have material for my reviews, I probably would have never tried Organic Nectar’s Cashewtopia Chocolate Hazelnut gelato.

Packaging

One of the reasons I had not been interested in this product is the packaging, magenta and black text against a plain white background, didn’t really appeal to me.  This design could be said to succeed in the sense of differentiating the product line from competitors, but it feels too sterile to me, almost like a medicine bottle design.

My other issue with the package design is that there is just too much text. There is over 10 lines of text no the front, and the back is even worse, with a very long description of how healthy this product is for you. Reading this, we learn that this gelato is sweetened with coconut and agave syrups, made in-house by the same company which are also sold as separate products. It makes me happy to know they are using two natural sources of sweetness, and the fact the sweeteners are self-produced means they probably have greater control over their quality. But it also annoys me since they are not-so-subtly advertising their own products in both the long descriptive text and the ingredients list below.

The thing that got me thinking about the design of this product was the “org” abbreviation for “organic”, used several times on the label. As it was the first time I had seen this particular shortening, it took a few seconds to register, especially because the full word “Organic” is used elsewhere in the ingredient list (it so happens this is only for their self-made syrup and nectar). After thinking about it for some time I finally realized that the only reason they abbreviated to “org” is because they ran out of space with such a cluttered and over-verbose design.

I was able to get the needed information from the package, but I just wish they had conveyed it in a more elegant and minimalistic way.

Flavor

To be honest, the flavor is very… lets just say different that what I was expecting. The hazelnuts scattered throughout are small and irregularly shaped, but they have a nice crunchy texture in the mouth. The problems is with the base itself, which has a strong sweetness that tastes somehow odd to me, and tastes quite unlike cashews. I’ve had a dessert which contained a high proportion of agave (Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss, Chocolate Hazelnut fudge), but in that product the sweetness was toned down. Here, its more in-your-face, and just tastes different. I’m not sure how to explain it – a effect caused by cashews, some difference in the plant or processing of the agave, or possibly some other minor ingredient.

It’s not that I hate the taste, just that its strange and hard to get accustomed to. Even the scent is very unusual and has some overtones not present in coconut, agave, or cashews.

Having said that, I’ve been able to eat over half a pint so far, and will likely finish it up in the next few days. The only question is will I buy this again, hoping to get used to it for the sake of the nutritional benefits, or stay with frozen desserts which are more my taste.

Nutrition/Ingredients

The marketing quip on the label is correct in that this gelato has (slightly) below-average calories, with 160 calories in a 85 gram serving. My mini database of ice cream figures has about 170 calories as an average figure for this serving size. Sugars is 16 grams which is also a bit below average, though the sugar is from two natural sources (coconuts and agave) so it may be healthier than some frozen desserts which use only table sugar.

Protein is suspiciously low at 2 grams per serving. Cashews apparently have 5 grams of protein per 28 grams worth of total weight, and from that you can infer there is a relatively small amount of cashews in this product (my calculations estimate 8-10%). Just because they are listed first doesn’t mean there is necessarily a huge amount of it present.

Nutritionally this product is great, with a wide array of natural sources, some of which are thought to have many beneficial health effects, such as coconut and cashews. There is no added sugars, no artificial flavors, and no artificial colors. For those trying to avoid certain foods, everything is dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, gluten-free, vegan, and certified organic and kosher.

My only concern is the “org chocolate hazelnut flavor” ingredient, listed last. It seems to indicate something besides actual chocolate or hazelnuts, similar to the “natural flavors” category I despise. I had an exchange with an employee of Organic Nectars over email and was told the organic flavorings are only 0.025% of the total weight, “composed of NON-GMO carriers, as well as flavoring components comprised of  one or more of the following: Natural extracts of plant origin, (from vegetables or fruits), Essential Oils (from vegetables, fruit or spice sources) and essences of plant origin (from fruit primarily).”

As with other companies, they won’t tell you what’s in their ‘secret sauce’, but its nice they have limited the possible components and the proportion used in the product. Honestly I don’t understand how anything present in such a small dose (0.025%) could have any effect on the taste, but I clearly have more research to do in this area so I can learn how these “natural flavors” are made and influence the overall taste.

Full ingredient list: raw org cashews, purified water, Organic Nectars AgaveLight (raw organic agave syrup), org hazelnuts, org gum acacia (nutritional acacia sap fiber), org agave inulin (nutritional prebiotic fiber), org raw cacao powder, Organic Nectars PalmSweet (organic evaporated coconut palm nectar), org virgin coconut oil, org safflower oil, org raw cacao butter, org guar gum (nutritional jaguar plant seed fiber), org arrowroot, pink crystal salt, org chocolate hazelnut flavor.

Price/Availability

I bought this at Whole Foods for around $7.49, quite expensive for a pint. I understand premium/specialty products have justification to keep their prices high, but in the long run I feel this product only has a chance to succeed if they lower prices to a more reasonable level.

Ratings:   Flavor:  5.0 Nutrition/Ingredients: 9.0  Price: 6.0   Overall: 6.7

Summary

This gelato is a Jekyll/Hyde to me – amazing nutritional potential but the weird sweetness that dominates the flavor is hard to ignore. I recommend waiting until the price drops to $5-$6 and then try it yourself, or one of the company’s other flavors.

References

http://www.organicnectars.com/products.html#

Ingredient Math: Calculating minimum ingredient proportions

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In a previous article here, I showed how to calculate the maximum proportion of a ingredient listed on a food label. I derived the following simple formula:

Maximum percentage of the Nth ingredient = (100 / N)

This time I’ll use similar logic to derive a formula for the  minimum amount of an ingredient, based on only its order in the listing and the total number of ingredients.

Let’s start with the simple case of a product with two ingredients: “sugar, cocoa”.

With a little thought, we can see that sugar cannot be any less than 50%. If it was, then cocoa would have to be greater than 50% (since it equals 100% – sugar) and that is impossible based on the ordering rule that the most prominent ingredients, by weight, are listed first.

What about cocoa? Clearly it has no minimum since it could be 0.00001%, leaving the remaining 99.9999% to sugar.

Next let’s try a product with three ingredients: “sugar, cocoa, shredded coconut”.

Using similar logic, we will see the minimum amount of sugar is 33%, since any less than that would mean the other ingredients would have to have a higher proportion than sugar. If we assumed sugar was 20%, then the other two ingredients must add up to 80%, and therefore one of them must be present in at least 40% proportion – but that is greater than sugar which is listed first!

And the second ingredient? Just like the second ingredient in the two-ingredient example, this can be arbitrarily small. For example: 99.9% sugar, 0.09% cocoa, and 0.01% shredded coconut.

To generalize these results:

Minimum percentage of the 1st ingredient = (100 / T), where T is the number of total ingredients

Minimum percentage of the other ingredients = infinitesimally close to zero 

As with the calculations of maximum proportion in my previous article, if we have additional information about the other ingredients we can use that to determine the minimum level of the other ingredients. For the same example, if we sifted and then weighed the shredded coconut (third ingredient), we could determine its overall proportion by weight. Lets say this is 10%. Then we could reason that cocoa, the second ingredient, takes up a minimum of 10% total weight since it must be equal or greater to the amount of shredded coconut. From this we could also conclude sugar (the first ingredient) is at most 80% of the total weight.

You can use nutritional values such as protein and fiber to infer how much of certain ingredients are present, especially if those have a large proportion of a certain element.

You may feel that this sort of calculation may seem unlikely to have any practical use, but if you find yourself saying “I eat so-and-so product because it contains a large amount of X, which is healthy”, then you can use it to see the minimum level of that ingredient you are consuming.

Another use is if you are trying to make a homemade version of something and you want to get a feel for the minimum and maximum amount of it in the product.

Product Review: Ben & Jerry’s Frozen Yogurt Chocolate Fudge Brownie

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This ice cream is from the “FroYo” series which takes popular Ben & Jerry’s flavors and turns them into frozen yogurt with reduced calories and fat. I had reviewed the ice cream (non lowfat) version of Chocolate Fudge Brownie here, and this time I thought I would review the lowfat one. It’s great when you want a deep, rich flavor without quite as many calories.

Flavor

This dessert tastes very similar to the ice cream version. Spongy brownie pieces float in a sea of rich, gooey chocolate, saturated with sugary goodness throughout.

I’m sure if did a direct taste comparison where I alternated between spoonfuls of these two products I would be able to taste the difference more clearly, but eating it normally the FroYo doesn’t taste anything like “low-calorie” or “low-fat” – which is a good thing. The main difference is that the texture is more icey and less creamy. It’s midway in between eating normal ice cream and Italian ice (the latter of which has no milk and only water as its base).

The first time I tried this I didn’t taste any of the yogurt flavor. I tried it again, paying close attention, and was able to detect yogurt very subtly, more as an aftertaste than anything else. More on this below.

Nutrition/Ingredients

For a single 104 gram serving there is 180 calories, slightly below average for an ice cream of this type. Consistent with the “lowfat” branding, there is only 2.5 grams of fat. Compare these figures to the normal Chocolate Fudge Brownie – 270 calories and 12 grams of fat – and you’ll see a huge difference.

For those of you who are more concerned about sugar intake than calories (which I sometimes am), this product isn’t too great. There is a whopping 25 grams of sugar, only 2 grams less than the standard less-healthy version. I’d wish they would have reduced it a bit more, but I guess the characteristic flavor would be ruined if they took out any more sugar.

Protein amount is typical at 5 grams, and fiber is 2 grams a serving.

As I mentioned above, this product has only a tiny hint of yogurt taste. I checked on what “frozen yogurt” really means, and it looks like besides containing yogurt, it is also typically more tart, and lower in fat due to milk used in place of cream. Comparing ingredients against the normal ice cream version, we can see that both contain skim milk and cream. However the FroYo version contains more skim milk than cream (order on label 2nd and 9th, compared to 3rd and 1st on the ice cream version). So this frozen yogurt does contain less fat, although it is not particularly tart.

Technically this product can be placed in the “frozen yogurt” category because of the presence of yogurt powder (11th place) and yogurt cultures (20th and last place). However, because of  the small amount of these ingredients, which is reflected in the taste, I wouldn’t really consider this a true “frozen yogurt”. It looks like Ben & Jerry’s is just using the “yogurt” nomenclature to associate nutrition and health, and as a result sell better. I can’t say whether the yogurt cultures have any nutritional benefit or not, but they in are such small proportion I doubt that is much an effect, if at all. I’d prefer B&J’s either drop the yogurt branding and remove the little yogurt that is present, or increase it so this dessert can honestly be called a “frozen yogurt”.

Another trick they use to make this product lighter is using water as a filler – it’s listed as the #1 ingredient and is the main reason for the texture change I discussed previously. I think this is generally a great idea for health-conscious frozen desserts, and when done in moderation doesn’t destroy the flavor.

I’ve listed both versions’ ingredient list below. If you compare you’ll see that except for the yogurt, milk/cream, and water differences, they are very similar.

FroYo version (this product):

Water, Skim Milk, Liquid Sugar (Sugar, Water), Corn Syrup, Sugar, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Wheat Flour, Corn Syrup Solids, Cream, Cocoa, Nonfat Yogurt Powder, Egg Yolks, Butter (Cream, Salt), Eggs, Egg Whites, Locust Bean Gum, Salt, Vanilla Extract, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yogurt Cultures

ice cream version:

CREAM, LIQUID SUGAR (SUGAR, WATER), SKIM MILK, WATER, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), WHEAT FLOUR, COCOA POWDER, EGG YOLKS, BUTTER (CREAM, SALT), INVERT SUGAR SYRUP, WHOLE EGGS, EGG WHITES, GUAR GUM, SALT, CARRAGEENAN, VANILLA EXTRACT, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, SODIUM BICARBONATE.

One final difference is that the FroYo version does not contain carrageenan, a substance used as a thickener/stabilizer. It turns out there is some research that indicates carrageenan may be involved in tumor promotion, though I don’t think there is any definitive proof for this yet, and currently it is considered as a safe food additive by the FDA. Nevertheless I’d rather do without it if I have a choice.

Price/Availability

This product is available all over the place. I purchased it for $4.69 at Publix supermarket.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.0  Nutrition/Ingredients:7.0    Price:8.0    Overall: 7.6

Summary

This doesn’t stand out as a particularly healthy choice, but when compared against the less healthy non-yogurt version it’s much lower in calories and fat, and still boasts a rich, sweet taste. Once you switch to FroYo I doubt you’ll find the need to return to more fattening ice cream.

References

http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/our-flavors#product_id=650

http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/our-flavors#product_id=611

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

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

Product Review: Justin’s Maple Almond Butter Spread

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Introduction

I’m a heavy consumer of Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter (which I reviewed here), but regardless of how healthy and tasty it is I need a break from it from time to time. I decided to try another product in this series, an Almond Butter sweetened with natural maple sugar.

Flavor

I hope you’ll pardon the cheesy turn of phrase, but I’m nuts about nuts. Essentially seeds from a plant which grow in a hard shell, these amazing creations of nature are one of the few things that have a rich, savory flavor in their unprocessed natural form.

Start with a paste made from dry roasted almonds and add maple sugar for an extra touch of sweetness, palm fruit oil for increased spreadability, and round off the taste with a pinch of salt, and you get a spread made in heaven.

I’m not going to attempt to explain the intricate flavors contained with almonds, but this product will surely appeal to anyone who likes peanut butter or eating raw almonds.

There is a surprising sweetness for the actual amount of sugar present. This is because maple syrup primarily consists of sucrose, whose sweetness lies between fructose and gluctose, and as a result is approximately twice as sweet as table sugar.

My only minor complaint is the ratio of oil is a bit high. When I spread a blob of this on my bread with a knife, sometimes it overflows onto my plate and this messiness isn’t desirable.

Nutrition/Ingredients

A single serving (two tablespoons) of this thick spread contains 200 calories and 17 grams of fat. As I mentioned in my hazelnut butter review, the problem with spreads is that its hard to meter how much you eat. If you’re not careful you can wolf down 1000 calories or more in a span of minutes. For those concerned about their weight it’s best to eat this in very small doses, but everyone else shouldn’t feel any guilt when eating this. With minimally processed natural ingredients, if you going to go overboard with calories and fat this is probably the safest way to do it.

There is a minimal 3 grams of sugars per serving, less than half found in Justin’s chocolate spreads. Interestingly, the “classic” version of this paste, containing no added sugar, contains nearly the same amount of sugars at 2 grams. If you find the maple overtones bother you, feel free to try the classic version. I’ve had it and its even stronger almond taste is superb.

There is 6 grams per serving which is a good amount, especially considering that you are likely to consume multiple servings in a single sitting. This is natural protein from the nuts themselves, not something added artificially.

Both almonds and maple sugar are packet with nutrients. Almonds contain Vitamin E, manganese, copper, Vitamin B2, among others, and are considered to be very heart-healthy. Maple sugar contains a large amount of manganese, zinc, and also contains substances called polyphenols that may help control blood sugar levels. It’s estimated glycemic load is less than that of table sugar and only slightly more than honey, though diabetics still need to be careful when eating it.

Palm fruit oil, a less popular form of oil, has its own set of potential health benefits including cancer prevention, immune system strengthening, and reducing heart disease.

Full ingredients list: Dry Roasted Almonds, Maple Sugar, Organic Palm Fruit Oil, Sea Salt.

Price/Availability

Like most of Justin’s products, this sells for around $10.00 per a 454 gram jar. When compared to everyday peanut butter this is quite expensive, but its competitive to other almond butters.  After all, this product is mostly made of almonds, which have a unit price roughly double that of peanuts. Justin’s peanut butter goes for a roughly proportional price ($6.00).

I usually buy this at Whole Foods but its also started appearing at Target and other stores recently. Its also available from the producer directly via their website, and packs of 6 are sold for a slight discount. Justin’s nut butters are also sold in single serving packs.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.5   Nutrition/Ingredients:9    Price:7.0    Overall: 8.2

Summary

With a rich taste and packed with nutrients, I’m apt to call this the perfect snack food – if it weren’t for the high calorie and fat content. I consider this, along with the other products in Justin’s lineup,  to be the best available spreads judging from taste and nutrition content.

References

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

http://www.thenutbox.com/Nuts-s/1.htm

http://greenlitebites.com/2010/11/11/sweetener-comparisons-honey-agave-molasses-sugar-maple-syrup/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nut_(fruit)

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=20

http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/glycemic-index-for-sweeteners.html

http://diabeteshealth.com/read/2011/05/24/7158/maple-syrup-a-sweet-surprise/

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/why-you-should-give-red-palm-oil-try

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Product Review: Clif Vanilla Almond Builder’s 20g Protein Bar

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There was a time in the last year or two when I was into weightlifting. As many weightlifters do, I tried to get as much protein as possible to help maximize my muscle mass by using protein bars, shakes, and the like. I have since stopped lifting, and also discovered there isn’t much conclusive research showing that excess protein really helps develop more muscle. So for the most part I’ve given up on all the protein supplement products.

Clif’s Vanilla Almond Builder’s protein bar is the one thing in this category I still eat from time to time, not for the protein but because it’s just so darn tasty. Not surprisingly, it also happens to be quite sweet.

Flavor

My first feeling when removing this protein bar from the wrapper is that it’s really *big*. It’s solid rectangular shape hints at the bulging muscles you might get with frequent consumption of it (of course, assuming you do the necessary weight training). On its way to your mouth, this solid mass of protein and almonds gives off a very strong scent of vanilla, whetting your appetite.

As you sink your teeth in, you put in a little extra force to bite off a chunk, after which your jaw gets a real workout on chewy, sweet stuff.

This bar is composed of three parts. The outside is coated in a sugary vanilla frosting that is the star of the show, thick on the bottom but thinly painted on the top. Within there are two layers, the larger bottom one comprised of tiny almond pieces that are held together by something sticky with the appearance of brown sugar. This has only a mild sweetness if eaten on its own, pale in comparison to the candy-like frosting. The top layer, partially visible by the thin coating on top, is made of very dense, chewy soy protein isolate. It doesn’t have too strong of a taste on it own. In fact I’m impressed how they’ve managed to cover up the texture and taste of powdered protein, which is not exactly what I would call appetizing.

This bar does an excellent job at filling you up so you can continue on with exercise. In my case it filled me up for an hour or two, if not longer. A minor side effect is that it really makes you thirsty. I typically drink a glass of cold water while eating it, and another after I’ve gobbled it up. The flavor tends to stay around in your mouth for a while afterwards and the water helps lessen this effect.

If I had to describe this product in a single word I would say “addictive”. From the fresh vanilla scent to the delicious chewy texture, Clif and his company have truly crafted a masterpiece of sweet nutrition.

If little frosting pieces didn’t break off and make little white smears on my clothes it would be perfect, but for those who aren’t messy eaters like me this won’t apply to you.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In one bar (68 grams / 2.4 ounces) there are 270 calories. This figure should be judged differently than other sweet products, since the whole point of this bar is to give your body some nutrition so it can keep working, or start rebuilding muscle before you have a chance for a proper meal. Remember this type of product should never replace a real, complete meal with fresh vegetables, starches, and meat (if you aren’t a vegetarian, that is).

There is of course the massive 20 grams of protein, plus 240 mg of salt (10% DV), 170 mg of potassium (5% DV) and 3 grams of fiber (12% DV).

This is a big portion of sugar, 22 grams, which I don’t consider a bad thing if you are consuming this product during or after exercise. After all, your body does need some sugar to function properly. However, for this like myself who simply indulge in this as a tasty snack there may be a little guilt, especially given the sugar per weight (roughly 32 grams sugar / 100 grams total weight) is higher than many ice creams!

Actually I take that back – this is one of the few products where you shouldn’t feel very guilty about the high sugar content. The reason is that there is several different sweeteners used, at least one or two of which has the potential to be healthier than your average added sugar: beet juice, brown rice syrup, and dried cane syrup. Sure, it may turn out that after all “sugar is sugar” and your body handles these roughly the same, but until that is 100% proven I think you’re better off with a variety of sweeteners as opposed to a load of everyday table sugar.

Except for the “Natural Flavors” which I have a deep hatred of, the rest of the ingredients are very healthy. There is a mix of oils from natural sources (palm kernel oil, sunflower oil), natural seeds (flaxseed, quinoa), oats, almond butter, and almonds.

The only other thing which is potentially unhealthy is the soy protein isolate itself, more because it is in super-concentrated form (and hence unnatural) than because of claims of soy’s effects on testosterone, which have for the most part been proven invalid. Complaining about this ingredient when it is the primary selling point of the product doesn’t make much sense, because those purchasing it know full well what they are buying.

The full ingredient list is: Soy Protein Isolate, Beet Juice Concentrate, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Dried Cane Syrup, Palm Kernel Oil, Organic Rolled Oats, Almond Butter, Organic Soy Flour, Almonds, Vegetable Glycerin, Organic Quinoa, Organic Vanilla, Organic Sunflower Oil, Inulin (Chicory Extract), Rice Starch, Organic Flaxseed, Organic Oat Fiber, Natural Flavors, Soy Lecithin, Salt.

Vitamins & Minerals: Dicalcium Phosphate, Magnesium Oxide, Ascorbic Acid (Vit. C), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vit. E), Ferric Orthophosphate (Iron), Beta Carotene (Vit. A), Zinc Citrate, Phytonadione (Vit.K1), Biotin, Niacinamide (Vit. B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vit. B5), Potassium Iodide, Manganese Gluconate, Copper Gluconate, Sodium Selenite, Thiamin (Vit. B1), Chromium Chloride, Cyanocobalamin (Vit. B12), Sodium Molybdate, Folic Acid (Vit. B9), Riboflavin (Vit. B2), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit. B6).

The long list of vitamins and minerals could be a blessing or a curse, depending on your stance regarding these food additives. I think they may help and are less likely to cause harm, and am therefore cautiously positive on them. Again, if you are the type of person who balks at vitamins added to a food product you wouldn’t likely be looking for a protein bar in the first place.

33% of the ingredients are Organic, which is nice bonus because the product is not openly marketed as a organic product.

Price/Availability

These are sold are various supermarkets, including Publix and Whole Foods Supermarket, from $2 – $3. If you buy wholesale online (in packs of 12), you can get the price down to $1.50 a bar.

Ratings:   Flavor: 9.0  Nutrition/Ingredients:8.0    Price:7.5    Overall:8.2

Summary

If you’ve looking for a great way to grab a load of protein quick during or after exercise, this tasty mix of mostly natural ingredients is highly recommended. Those with a sweet tooth who are less active should find it equally appealing as a delicious snack.

References

http://www.clifbar.com/food/products_builders/1230

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