Monthly Archives: October 2013

Talenti Caribbean Coconut Gelato – product review

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Introduction

Talenti is one of my favorite ice cream/gelato companies, with a wide range of tasty products sporting a sleek and modern design, which looks even better after their recent rebranding effort (done in March 2013).

I reviewed their coffee-flavored ice cream in a previous post here, and this time I thought I would talk about another one of their flavors – Caribbean Coconut. I love it’s name which combines catchy alliteration with an island paradise atmosphere.

Flavor

This gelato takes a simple, light ice cream base with a touch of vanilla and mixes in a generous portion of shredded coconut. I’m not exaggerating, there is really a lot of coconut here. When you run your spoon through it you can see the little piece of coconuts, or feel their rough texture if you let the ice cream melt slowly on your tongue.

I always say a good ice cream needs a balance of two or more contrasting things. Talent’s Caribbean Coconut just barely manages that – the creamy light base against the shredded coconut pieces, and the strong milk taste against the subdued coconut. The milk flavor, reminiscent of drinking chilled milk, blends together with the coconut flavor so well that you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends. With such simple flavors I’m not sure how they did it, but the end product is a very satisfying experience for the senses.

The only weak point of this gelato, if you could even call it that, is that its lightness doesn’t make it very filling. After eating half of the pint, you’re hard pressed to not just finish it off.

Nutrition/Ingredients

There is 190 calories in a single 100 gram serving, about average in its class if not slightly on the low side. Sugar is a bit excessive for my liking at 24 grams.

There’s nothing nutritionally special about the product according to the label’s information: 3 grams protein, 0 grams fiber, and minimal vitamins and minerals. But there is surely other important nutrients present that are not captured there.

The strongest selling point of this ice cream (besides the great flavor) is it’s short, simple list of ingredients. There is only seven, with no artificial anything, and (impressively) no “natural flavor”. Add the potential nutritional benefits of coconut – listed 4th so there may be as much as 25% coconut – and you get a big thumbs up from me!

The complete list is milk, sugar, cream, coconut, dextrose, carob gum, and vanilla.

Milk listed as the first ingredient explains the strong milk flavor. There is really a lot of milk in this dessert.

Dextrose is another name for glucose, one of the basic sugars. It’s is less sweet than fructose, and the “sugar” listed second place on the label is simple table sugar, which contains roughly half glucose and half fructose. I’m not sure why Talenti would need to supplement with dextrose, possibly as a money-saving effort. I wonder what the effect would be of simply removing the dextrose and adjusting the table sugar to give the desired sweetness.

Someday I hope to many a similar ice cream myself, where I increase the amount of coconut while dialing down the sugar. If I’m lucky I can raise the nutritional value without sacrificing taste too much.

Price/Availability

This product is available at Publix, Whole Foods, Target, and other supermarkets. The price is around $5.00 – $6.00, with online pricing around $8.00.

Ratings:   Flavor:   8.5   Nutrition/Ingredients:    8.5 Price:    7.0 Overall: 8.0

Summary

This ice cream has a rare combination of natural ingredients and fresh, simple taste that makes it one of my favorites. It’s a must try for anyone who is a fan of coconuts, or looking to upgrade their vanilla to a product with simple, healthy ingredients.

References

http://talentigelato.com/our-products/

 

Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan ice cream

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Introduction

I typically don’t eat Haagen-Dazs ice cream, but since it was buy one get one free I decided to try their Butter Pecan flavor, which was one of the lower sugar choices in their lineup. It’s not that there is anything wrong with this brand per se, but Haagen Dazs feel very generic to me in that it has been around as far as I can remember and isn’t marketed as being particularly healthy or different. I guess being around since 1961 you could call it a ‘classic’ ice cream company. Having said that, I’ll try to put aside my biases aside when reviewing this product.

Flavor

This ice cream tastes like your typical butter pecan, except that it it has a very strong cream flavor. I’ve made ice cream myself and used a large proportion of heavy cream (which contains 36%-40% milk fat) and it tasted similar.

My problem with this product is monotony – in both appearance and flavor. The brown pecans set against the plain white aren’t particularly visually appealing, but more importantly the flavor of the thick, creamy base isn’t different enough from the sweet pecans (which aren’t exactly crunchy), and as a result I get tired of eating this ice cream quickly. To put it another way, this ice cream lacks balance between two opposing flavors and textures. If I was tasked to improve the flavor, first I’d make the base lighter, possibly adding some other mild flavor and natural food coloring. Then I’d add more pecans, using larger ones if they exist, and possibly removing or reducing the butter from the pecans. Yes, I realize this would make the flavor less “butter pecan”, but the butter flavor and the cream flavors are too close for my taste.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In a 100 gram serving there is 300 calories, slightly higher than the average of other Haagen Dazs ice cream products I’ve looked at, but very high if you compare to some other companies such as Talenti and So Delicious desserts. Sugar content is a bit below average with 17 grams per serving

There is a nice portion of protein with 5 grams per serving, but the fat per serving (22 grams) is off the chart – its literally the highest I have seen in recent memory and helps to explain why the flavor is so heavy. I checked a few other brands and their versions of butter pecan all had less fat, with Bryer’s butter pecan containing less than half fat per serving (roughly 10 grams). Personally, I value overall number of calories more than fat content, but as I mentioned those are quite high as well.

The full list of ingredients are: cream, skim milk, sugar, skim milk (lactose reduced), pecans (pecans, coconut oil, salt, butter [salt, cream]), corn syrup, egg yolks, salt, vanilla extract

In spite of my problems with high calories, fat, and taste, the ingredients in this ice cream are actually quite healthy, as least as far as ice creams go. There are no preservatives, no artificial colorings, no artificial flavorings, or even natural flavorings.  In fact, there aren’t any thickening agents such as guar gum either. Though I don’t consider this latter category to be necessarily unhealthy, I almost always prefer less ingredients, especially ones that are not everyday items I would use in the kitchen.

Some may spot “corn syrup” and associate that with “high fructose corn syrup”. While its true they are both made from corn, plain “corn syrup” contains more glucose as opposed to fructose, which is sweeter. While there is some research showing high amounts of fructose are harmful to the body if consumed frequently, some people maintain that these sugars all have similar effects on the body. After all, fruits naturally contain fructose (as well as gluctose and fructose), and table sugar is roughly half glucose and fructose.

Price/Availability

This sells all over but typically can be bought at Publix for around $4.69.

Ratings:   Flavor: 5.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:7.5    Price:8.0    Overall: 6.8

Summary

A high-fat, high-calorie ice cream with reasonable ingredients that is worth a try for fans of butter pecan, but I found its heavy cream flavor a little too much.

References

http://www.haagendazs.com/Products/Product/2449

http://candy.about.com/od/candybasics/a/creamguide.htm

http://nutrition.about.com/od/grainsandcereals/f/fructosesyrup.htm

So Delicious Coconut Milk German Chocolate Frozen Dessert – product review

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Introduction

I’m a proponent of all type of ice creams, including soy, coconut, and even goat milk-based. I’ve previously reviewed one of Luna Larry’s Coconut Bliss products (here), and this time I decided on reviewing another brand’s coconut frozen desserts that is soy free and dairy free.

I’ve had real German chocolate cake, as well as Cold Stone Creamery’s ice cream of the same flavor, and enjoyed both immensely. Unintentional or not, I’ll be comparing this to those products.

Flavor

To be honest, the first time I tasted this frozen dessert, I was a bit disappointed with the flavor. But when I tried it again the next day, it tasted much, much better. It took a mighty effort of willpower to stop myself from eating 2/3rds of the carton in a matter of seconds. From this I deduced two possible reasons for the difference in enjoyment. The first is that I was tired, not to mention on a full stomach, so my body was rejecting the ice cream. The other reason is that maybe it took my taste buds two tries before it “got” the flavor and learned to appreciate it fully. In any case, I’ll try to  sample something on two separate days before I complete my review, whenever possible.

The appearance of this ice cream isn’t too appetizing, at least when compared to Cold Stone’s version (see references section below for a nice picture of the latter). The nuts are small and their color blends in with the chocolate so they don’t stand out. The coconut shavings are also few and far between, and blend into the chocolate and caramel base.

However, as you gradually start to shovel spoon after spoon into your mouth (of course after letting it partially melt) your doubts start to disappear. Rich chocolate swirled with sweet caramel, coconut shavings that tickle the tongue, and crunchy pecan pieces that entertain the teeth – its all there. There is no brownie as with the Cold Stone version, but the flavor is comparable and there is approximately 200 less calories and half the sugar.

If you take a deep whiff you’ll notice the coconut smell stands out, with a slight overtone of the caramel. There is little to no chocolate scent as cocoa is used in relatively small proportion compared to the coconut and caramel ingredients.

Nutrition/Ingredients

This product has 180 calories in a single 85 gram serving, slightly lower than the average of equivalent milk-based creams. Its also slightly higher than some of the other flavors of So Delicious coconut milk.

Sugar content is 14 grams per serving, which is typical for other coconut based frozen desserts, but quite low compared to many milk-based creams. I’m always amazed with the apparent sweetness of coconut-based products given their low sugar content. Its probably because agave syrup is commonly used, which is roughly 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar due to a high concentration of fructose. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that agave is potentially healthier than table sugar, but keep in mind that is still unproven and it may turn out that there is no difference from a nutritional point of view.

There is only one gram of protein in contrast to the relatively high fiber (6 grams of fiber which is 24% DV). I believe most of this comes from the chicory root extract which is high in fiber. Vitamins and Minerals, as listed on the package, are negligible except 6% of Iron.

Here is the full list of ingredients:

ORGANIC COCONUT MILK (WATER, ORGANIC COCONUT CREAM), ORGANIC AGAVE SYRUP, ORGANIC DRIED COCONUT, CHICORY ROOT EXTRACT, CARAMEL SAUCE (ORGANIC TAPIOCA SYRUP, WATER, MOLASSES, PEA PROTEIN, NATURAL FLAVORS, ORGANIC COCOA BUTTER, SODIUM CITRATE, SALT, CARRAGEENAN), PECANS, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), CAROB BEAN GUM, GUAR GUM, NATURAL FLAVOR.

Sodium citrate is used for flavor and also to regular acidity, and carob bean gum and guar gum are both used as thickeners to control texture. I’ve been seeing this in many of the products I’ve reviewed lately, but “natural flavor” is always a bad thing to me due to lack of transparency.

Carageenan, a substance extracted from seaweed, is used to thicken and stabilize the dessert. While it is generally accepted by the FDA as a food additive, some experts advise against using it in infant formulas, and some scientific research had indicated there is a possibility it can promote cancer. However these results were done with tissue cultures as opposed to directly with human subjects, and they are disputed by the scientific community.

I feel that the most nutritious ingredient in this dessert, by far, is the coconut itself – in the form of coconut milk and dried coconut. Though I am skeptical on those who claim coconuts are a “superfood” or one can live purely off them, there is a large number of vitamins and minerals in them: potassium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, folate, and manganese, among many others. There is also a large number of health benefits claimed, including raising good cholesterol, helping the immune system, and promoting heart health. (Check out the links I have provided in the references section for a starting point on researching coconut’s potential benefits.) I don’t think there is enough evidence to be 100% certain of many of these supposed benefits, but from the point of view that a wide variety of foods are good for health I feel it is wise to include some coconut in your (ice cream) diet.

On a final note, I’d like to mention a word of caution about how much nutrition coconut actually contributes to this product. While “coconut milk” is listed first on the label, and hence highest in proportion that other ingredients, coconut milk itself consists of water and coconut cream, with water in higher proportion. From this all that we can determine is that the coconut milk is at most 50% coconut cream, possibly much less. That would actually put the amount of coconut cream used less than other ingredients, such as agave which is listed second.

Price/Availability

I picked this up at Whole Foods Market for around $4.99 on sale, whereas it usually sells for $5.99.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:7.5    Price:7.0    Overall: 7.5

Summary

This frozen dessert combines the potential health benefits of coconut with a reasonable amount of sugar and calories, not to mention an unforgettable flavor that makes it one of my favorite coconut-based ice creams.

References

http://sodeliciousdairyfree.com/products/coconut-milk-frozen-desserts/german-chocolate

http://www.coldstonecreamery.com/icecream/signaturecreations/germanchokolatekake/index.html

http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/cold-stone-creamery-german-chocolate-like-it-852207

http://inrfood.com/ingredients/419

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

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/coconut.html

http://healthism.blogspot.com/2011/07/vitamins-and-minerals-in-coconut.html

http://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/

Talenti Chocolate Coffee Chocolate Chip – company response on caffeine content and natural flavors query

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I had previously reviewed Talenti’s Chocolate Coffee Chocolate Chip ice cream, which maintains first place for my most loved ice cream. In that post I discussed sending an email to the company requesting more information about this product, and since I received a response from them I decided to write it up as a new post.  The original blog post is here for those interested.

I had requested two things from them: caffeine amount and detailed explanation of “natural flavors”. The former was because I had felt quite a ‘kick’ from eating this and wanted to determine whether that was from sugar, caffeine, or something else. I asked the latter from my uneasiness as to what I am actually eating. It’s apparently ‘natural’ but what is it really? Consumers who want to research more about the possible side effects and nutrition of this catch-all ingredient are at a loss.

First I’ll give an excerpt of the polite email I received from Talenti, followed by my comments on it.

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Thank you for the inquiry.  We do understand your concerns regarding “natural flavors’ in our ingredients.

Unfortunately, the natural flavor(s) in our ingredients are considered a trade secret and is proprietary information. I can tell you the consist of juice, juice concentrates, essences, essential oils, and extractives.
 
Also, the amount of caffeine in our product is less that 2 one hundredths of one percent.  Our Coffee Chocolate Chip gelato has 5 – 8% per serving.
 
I hope this helps and apologize for not being at liberty to share more information with you.
 
Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns. We wish you all the best,
 
===
According to the response, caffeine is only 5-8% per serving, which means only 5 to 8 milligrams per 102 gram serving. I typically eat half a pint (two servings) which translates to at most 16 mg of caffeine, far from enough to feel anything for anyone with a moderate caffeine tolerance. This leaves the cause of the buzz I was feeling to come from sugar or something else in the product.
Because of competitive reasons Talenti gave me practically no information on what is contained within “Natural Flavors”, only that it consists of “juice, juice concentrates” (which I am generally OK with), as well as “essences, essential oils, and extractives”. This latter group is still quite vague and could be practically anything. The only consolation we have is that since this ingredient is listed 10th on the label, we know there is no more than 10% of it present in the product (see here for a post on where I got this number from).
I don’t think it will do much good to push Talenti for more information at this stage, but I haven’t given up on exposing what is really in our foods.
Part of me wonders how much more can be discovered by doing a lab analysis of the product, but surely there is a high cost there so I’ll put that off until another time.
I really enjoy learning more about sweet treats directly from the producer, and hope to continue to provide this type of information in this blog.

Ikea chocolate oat ball with coconut sprinkles (SÖTSAK KAKAOBOLL) – product review

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Introduction

[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 ]

This one of the rare times where I tried a product without any prior knowledge of its ingredients or nutritional information. These chocolate balls were sitting on display (openly without packaging) in Ikea’s cafeteria, and I couldn’t help myself from tasting one.

I was very delighted by this  unique confection and have made a habit of having one every time I visit this wonderland of furniture stores.

I’ll set the tone for this review with an an excerpt of marketing material I received from Ikea.

“In a coffee-loving country like Sweden, the “fika”, or coffee break, is a treasured part of the day. And Swedish fika traditions hold that coffee should be served with seven small cakes and sweet biscuits.”

Flavor

The first time I picked up these chilled chocolate balls I was surprised at its weight, hinting at the massive amount of delicious things packed inside.

There is a strong sweetness and rich chocolate flavor, but the complex texture of this product is what really makes it so special. I struggle to find a way to describe its hearty composition.  It’s almost like someone dug deep into the earth and pulled out a crumbly chunk of slightly oily, chocolaty soil, When you chew through the middle of the ball there is sort a gritty sensation which is a treat for the jaw, somewhere between crunchy and chewy. There’s also a strong chocolate scent to complete the taste experience.

At the time I had no idea how they crafted this magnificent texture, but when I read through the ingredients later I discovered that oats where the main contributor, with help from wheat flour, egg powder and baking soda. Irrespective of the nutritional value of this product, I consider this a masterpiece of cookie design.

If you take big bites you’ll polish off one of these in no time. Try to nibble small morsels one at a time for maximum enjoyment.

The coconut sprinkled on the outside of the ball added little to the taste or texture. I even broke off a piece of the crumbly inside, without the outer layer of chocolate coating and coconut rasp, but it tasted the same. To be fair, without the coconut sprinkles I think the appearance of the product would be naked and bland. If nothing else it hints at the texture inside.

The only thing preventing me from giving this a perfect flavor score is that the taste is so rich, its difficult to enjoy more than one in a sitting. It does go perfect with milk, however.

Nutrition/Ingredients

Each ball weighs in at 40 grams and packs 195 calories. For a small desert that’s quite a punch, but the calories/weight ratio is comparable to other similar candies. Take Ferrero Rocher’s Hazlenut chocolates where one serving (three balls) contain 220 calories for 41 grams. There are 13 grams of sugar which is reasonable for this type of product (compare to 15 grams in the same Hazlenut chocolates).  Regardless of these figures, If I was trying to cut down on calories and sugar, I would pick Rocher’s product because the smaller ball size, with less density of ingredients, means I can spend more time enjoying them.

There isn’t much nutrition here, with only 2 grams of fiber and protein, and practically no vitamins or minerals. That’s OK with me, since I don’t expect much nutrition for a dessert of this type.

When I had first discovered this product in Ikea’s restaurant, I didn’t realize it was also sold in packs of six, so I sent an email to the company requesting ingredient information. After a little persistence, I finally got the detailed list which I’ll excerpt here unmodified:

Oat flakes (27 %), margarine (vegetable oils, water, salt, emulsifier [E471], natural flavouring, antioxidant [E330]), sugar, chocolate flavoured coating (12 %) (sugar, vegetable oil, fat reduced cocoa powder [15 %], emulsifier [soya lecithin], stabilizer [E492]), crumbs (sugar, oats [25 %], margarine [vegetable oils, water, salt, emulsifier (E471), antioxidant (E330), natural flavouring], wheat flour, egg powder, raising agents ­[E500ii, E450i, E503ii]), inverted sugar syrup, coconut rasp (2.5 %), fat reduced cocoa powder (1.6 %), flavouring, colour (E150a), water, preservative (E202). May contain traces of milk and almonds.

Its nice that  27 % of this product is oat flakes. Unfortunately there are several ingredients I try to avoid – margarine, flavoring (one is ‘natural’ while the other is likely artificial), an antioxidant (citric acid), preservative (potassium sorbate) and coloring (caramel color, class I – the least risky of the four classes).

With practically no nutrients and a handful of potentially harmful ingredients, this product should never be eaten for the purpose of nourishing the body.

Price/Availability

These chocolate balls are sold in Ikea stores as singles (for roughly $1.00 each) and in packs of six for $2.29.

I am considering making a homemade version of these chocolate balls myself someday, so I was very delighted to find that Ikea has a free handout available which contains a recipe for this product. Surely it will not taste exactly the same, but it has less ingredients and will likely be much healthier. This is probably the first time I’ve seen a store do this (except for places like Publix which stand to make a profit from ingredient sales) and I’m very impressed Ikea went out of their way to do this.

Ratings:   Flavor: 9.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:5.0    Price:8.0    Overall: 7.3

Summary

A delicious, unique desert which should be sampled once by any sweet tooth. Be careful about getting addicted since it lacks nutrition and contains several suspicious substances.

References

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/20229025/

http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/ikea-chocolate-covered-oat-balls-with-coconut-sprinkles-31372721

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Do you believe in Nutrition?

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In this blog I’ll occasionally discuss nutritional advantages or disadvantages of certain foods, but I’d like you to take those types of statements with a grain of salt. In fact, I think you should avoid taking any matters about nutrition too seriously, even if it comes from a doctor, scientist, or other professional.

Why?

The more I learn about nutrition, the more I feel that nobody really knows how good or bad things are for your body. That includes both long- and short-term effects, such as the chance of developing diseases or living longer as a result of a certain diet.

I’ll give a few of the reasons I feel this way. See if you agree.

To begin with, our understanding of the human body is still in its early stages and very limited. This is evident by the innumerable number of medical cases where the cause of the malady is unknown and a process of trial-and-error is used for treatment. This sometimes results in the patient being cured, but other times it ends in failure, or even worse, harm to the patient. This is true even for relatively simple physical systems such as the heart and lungs, but when it comes to the brain our knowledge is even more limited to the point we are just beginning to understand the secrets of the inner workings of this magnificent organ.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to disparage doctors or the medical community at large. On the contrary, I think every one of them is doing an amazing job, trying their best to make each and every patient’s life that much better. Even acknowledging that some doctors enter the field because of its potential for a high income, I’m impressed by anyone who can withstand the mental and physical challenges of this honorable job.

Another reason I don’t take nutritional information too seriously is that there is too many contradictory studies. Taking wine as an example, it has been shown to be linked to higher good cholesterol, help the heart, fight obesity, and help prevent stroke. At the same time it has also been connected to ailments such as migraine headaches, breast cancer, reflux, and chronic liver disease. Is wine good for the body or not? Even assuming every one of these studies is valid, it is unclear if my overall chances to live longer are better or worse as a result of drinking wine. Who is going to want to help their heart if it also increases their chances of liver disease?

Cholesterol is another matter where there is very differing opinions in the community on whether it causes heart disease or not. Blue food coloring, which was previously banned in many countries, is now legal in most of those same countries. Even for something as simple as everyday table salt, there are still debates raging on whether it really causes heart disease or not. And these few cases are just a tip of the iceberg of indecisive nutrition science.

It’s also very instructive to take a detailed look at some of the studies that claim a certain food is either bad or good for the body. Take an example I researched recently, the sweetener Sucralose, better known as Splenda. There are many articles online stating this product is bad because (among other things) a experiment on rabbit babies caused many more of them to die when compared to a control group that wasn’t given Splenda. On the surface this sounds horrible and can make the casual reader vow to never touch this product again.

But if you look deeper into the actual experiment, you find this news reports are very misleading. First, the rabbits were given roughly 450 times the recommended daily intake of Splenda. Clearly if a rabbit (or human) was given the recommended daily intake (450 times less) the effects would be much less, if present at all. Second, the experimenters noted that several of the deaths were caused by complications of the tubes used to feed the subjects. Furthermore, they found many of the negative reactions only occurred with only rabbits, not with mice, dogs, or rats.  I’m not trying to say I’m convinced that Splenda is safe for consumption after all, but rather that there is still much room for debate on both sides.

How about vitamin C? Something that is touted to have a major effect on preventing colds and is added to so many products must have a strong scientific foundation, right? Not quite – a recent meta analysis of 72 studies on vitamin C’s effect on the prevention and reduction in length of the common cold determined that “The failure of vitamin C supplementation to reduce the incidence of colds in the general population indicates that routine vitamin C supplementation is not justified”. The study did find some scenarios where vitamin C’s effects were more apparent, such as subjects who were exposed to short periods of extreme stress, but that alone doesn’t warrant recommending it for everyone. So much for all those products which proudly announce “100% of daily value of Vitamin C!”

So what is the reason for all this indecisiveness? Besides the fact that the human body is such a complex thing and that all bodies are not made alike, in modern capitalist societies nearly everyone has an agenda. Food and drink producers want to make money, so they fund researchers to help ‘prove’ their product, or some ingredient used within, is healthy. If the results of the research are positive, they publish them and improve their chances of convincing the public to buy the product. But if things don’t turn out in their favor, they simply don’t release the information outside of their company. This is called the “file drawer effect” and adds a major bias to research without anyone outright lying.

What about those research results that prove a certain food is unhealthy? Surely, those are published by more morally minded, fair sources.

I doubt it.

The companies producing health foods without certain ingredients benefit from studies which prove those substances are unhealthy. Health-oriented supermarkets, such as Whole Foods Market, also have a stake in the game. There is also a plethora of health magazines, books, and news outlets which make money off any interesting or dramatic research. Note I didn’t include “accurate” here as a condition. Of course, I can’t speak comprehensively for all researchers, but  I’m sure there is a great deal of bias on both sides of the nutritional debates.

Another example that had me fooled until recently was “evaporated cane juice”. I had seen this listed on several “health foods” in place of normal sugar and for quite some time I felt great that I was putting healthy, natural sugar in my body, as opposed to the evil, unprocessed stuff. But I happened to stumble on some articles that discussed how this ingredient was nearly the same thing, with negligible nutrients. In spite of a recommendation of FDA for companies to not using this misleading term, Chobani did so and was apparently sued by several people in California. Again, I’m not saying this is clear cut one way or the other – feel free to investigate yourself and see what evidence you can find.

The difficult of measuring long-term effects further complicates things. Even assuming a study is ideally designed and carried out, it would take at least 20 to 30 years to find out true long term effects.  Nobody wants to wait that long  to find of whether their favorite candy has detrimental long-term effects on the body. Also, for a study of that scale it must be very challenging to keep the number of variables small and the amount of data from getting out of hand. Do you think it would be easy to force two groups of people over several decades to eat the exact same diet with just one difference (i.e. use added salt or not)? That would be the only way to know for certain the effects of that change, notwithstanding various statistical methods used to extract the influence of a single variable when many are present.

To be fair, there are some things that have been proven conclusively to have major negative effects on the body – hard drugs, tabacco, and alcohol to name a few. But even in some of those cases (alcohol being one), there don’t appear to be any drastic effects if done in moderation. The bigger problem with all these substances is that they can be addictive, and the more frequent your intake is the higher your chances of damaging your body (or worse).

But most nutrition just isn’t that black or white – especially for small doses. So if you plan to enjoy an occasional pint of ice cream, don’t feel like you need to stress out over the ingredients. Its only for those that are addicted to sweets where it makes more sense to carefully analyze what your eating.

Did you learn anything? Feel a little different about nutrition? I hope if nothing else you have been motivated to call into question your fundamental stance on nutrition.

If you are convinced about the uncertainty of modern nutrition, the next question is what do do about it?  Some may decide to just give up caring at all, and eat whatever they want. Others could try and read every published study, analyzing them and making their own decisions about nutrition – but doing that exhaustively would take an insane amount of time, and require some heavy scientific and medical background knowledge. Finally, you can just pick sources to trust, Dr. Oz or whomever that may be, and make nutritional decisions based on that information.

Just like other life decisions where things aren’t black or white, you’ll probably make decisions partially on emotion, partially on logic, and partially on logic. You’ll believe in your own way.

So – after saying all this, why do I even focus on nutrition in this blog? Shouldn’t I just give it up completely due to lack of clear direction on nutritional guidelines?

As I mentioned in my first post, my background is such that I like to think through things logically like a scientist, and enjoy very much picking apart a dessert ingredient by ingredient, looking up studies and opinions on each. Regardless of what you happen to believe about nutrition, I feel that nutritional transparency is very important. If consumers are not aware of what is in the food they are eating they can’t even begin the debate on whether those are healthy or not. That’s why I still am vehemently against “natural flavors” and anything that is not well-defined. I may choose to munch on some particularly (supposedly) unhealthy sweets, but I want to do it with full knowledge of what I’m putting into my body.

The process of learning about nutrition, and most other topics for that matter, is never ending. I’m still discovering new things day by day, inputting new information and always ready to change my beliefs.

References

http://www.bonappetit.com/trends/article/is-wine-good-for-you-a-look-at-scientific-studies-through-the-millennia

http://www.foodandhealing.com/articles/article-cholesterol.htm

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

http://www.salon.com/2013/05/27/is_salt_really_so_bad_for_your_health_partner/

http://books.google.com/books?id=Kd5BH5NNY_gC&pg=PA105&lpg=PA105&dq=rabbits+abortion+sucralose&source=bl&ots=_DPko7dvO-&sig=DFZ5JRKzgH1kEyBjT8EqHl9NrUs&hl=ja&sa=X&ei=l7VYUvCMD4Pw8QTHwYHACQ&ved=0CG4Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=rabbits%20abortion%20sucralose&f=false

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/779063

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/10/18/163098211/evaporated-cane-juice-sugar-in-disguise

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

Three Sisters Cocoa Snapz rice cereal – product review

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Introduction

I like to eat cereal every morning with my family before I go to work. It’s a good way to start the day especially when I can’t always predict when I’ll have time for lunch. To keep things from getting boring, we try to change up the cereal every few days to something different.

I had reviewed Three Sister’s Honey Puffs rice cereal in a previous blog entry (see first reference below), and I decided to try out another of their cereals. As you’ll soon find out, these two cereals have a great deal in common.

This cereal is pretty much a “healthy” version of Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies, meaning its supposed to be healthy though in some ways it isn’t much different.

Flavor

This cereal is made of puffed rice, made with a similar process as puffed wheat in Honey Puffs. This gives it a light fluffy texture, and the added advantage of higher surface area without too much volume. In other words, you are eating a lot of air, and as a result you take in less calories, sugar, and nutrients (per spoonful) that you would otherwise if it wasn’t puffed. You could call this a health food in that sense (much like puffed rice cakes), but I actually think of it more as a way for the producer to save money on materials and sell a large bag of cereal with a good percentage of that empty space.

It has a moderately sweet chocolate flavor, which is appetizing but not quite what I am looking for in a cereal. The sweetness catches your intention while you are eating but sometime later you realize you really haven’t eaten that much food (at least if you eat a small bowl like I do) and are likely to get hungry earlier than if you ate a more wholesome breakfast.

Both the flavor and texture is nearly identical to Cocoa Krispies.

Nutrition / Ingredients

In a single 29 gram (3/4 cup) serving, there are 120 calories which is standard for this type of product. Sugar is 13 grams, a bit on the sweet side.

There isn’t much nutrition in this product, with no fiber, practically no protein (1 gram per serving), and less than 10% of most common vitamins and minerals. Sodium is nothing special at 150 mg, which is 6% of daily intake.

Because of the lack of substance and nutrition, I feel this is really not the best way to get your day started, unless of course you supplement it with other foods higher in nutrition.

The ingredients are so-so, with caramel color, and natural flavor as negative marks in my book. The full list is as follows:

Rice, Sugar, Coconut oil, Cocoa (process with alkali), Contains 2% less of: salt, caramel color, natural flavor, reduced iron, zinc (zinc oxide)

When comparing this to Cocoa Krispies, as you might expect both the ingredients and nutritional information is very similar. Calorie count is virtually the same (120 calories for one 31 gram serving) and sugars is actually a tad less in the “less healthy” version, at 12 grams. The other funny thing is that Cocoa Krispies has much more vitamins and minerals (compare 25% DV of vitamin A and C to 0% in Cocoa Snaps).

I remember writing something similar for the Sugar Puffs review – but I’ll repeat it here. If a cereal really wants to be billed as “healthy”, it should reduce sugar and add some more nutrients. This cereal actually has less nutrients and more sugar! (I’d like to point on here that some believe that vitamins and minerals added artificially are not easily absorbed by the body and have little to no value)

There are a few areas where Cocoa Snapz is healthier than its predecessor. Natural flavor and caramel color is used instead of malt flavor, artificial flavor, and BHT (a preservative). The last of those has particularly scary, with some research pointing to cancer-inducing effects in animal experiments. I’m not convinced it is truly harmful but if a cereal can stay fresh enough without BHT that is clearly a better way go.

Price and Availability

Available exclusively from Whole Foods. I purchased mine for $3.99. There are 396 grams in the package.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Nutrition/Ingredients: 6.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.66

Summary

A cereal that closely copies Cocoa Krispies flavor while making it more healthy in some areas (no preservatives) and potentially worse in others (less nutrients, slightly more sugar). If you are a fan of Krispies I recommend trying this, otherwise I would search for a heartier cereal with more nutrition.

References

https://sweetsreporter.com/2013/10/02/three-sisters-honey-puffs-product-review/

http://threesisterscereal.com/product/cocoa-snapz/

http://www.ricekrispies.com/products/cocoa-krispies-cereal

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/two-preservatives-avoid

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Talenti Coffee Chocolate Chip Gelato- Product Review

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Introduction

For Sweets Reporter’s 20th post, I didn’t want to review just any product. It had to be something extra special and extra delicious.

I decided on using Talenti’s Coffee Chocolate Chip Gelato – my current favorite ice cream, hands down. You may have noticed I just mixed terms – is this a gelato or an ice cream?

Gelato is supposed to have several major differences compared to ice cream: Less fat, higher serving temperature, more sugar, and slower churning. But this ‘gelato’ has nearly the same amount of fat, if not more, than many ice cream products. I eat it at the same temperature, and the amount of sugar is comparable to ice cream. I can’t speak on how fast it was churned, but without a clear distinction between what makes a ‘gelato’ and an ‘ice cream’, I’ll continue to group these together. After all, ‘gelato’ simply means ice cream in Italian.

Anyway, lets get to the meat of this review. I’m looking forward to writing this and I hope you are looking forward to reading it.

Flavor

This is a product that I’ve eaten so many times and just learned to enjoy in sort of a zen state. Rather than thinking about the flavor too much,  I simply savor the experience as time seems to slow down. So its a little difficult to give an objective description for someone who is new to this gelato, but I’ll do my best.

From far away, things don’t look too different than run-of-the-mill chocolate ice cream. But as you dig in a spoon the texture is somehow thicker and more dense.

As I mentioned in previous posts, ice creams generally taste better when partially melted into a half-liquid state, so the creaminess can be felt along the length of the tongue. This product is no different. In fact I’d say the effect is even more pronounced, and this is in line with the recommendation that gelatos are served at a higher temperature than ice cream.

Several sensations come as your tongue makes contact with this delightful desert. There is a very strong sweetness, backed by evenly balanced flavors of chocolate and coffee. There is also a rich, savory flavor that is difficult to describe in words, but many associate with butter, meat, or cheese. On a historical note, a Japanese chemist was the first to discover this taste which he called “umami” (tastiness) and attributed to it glutamate. He was also the inventor of the (in)famous food additive MSG.

Fortunately, the savory taste in this product comes from a much more natural and healthy source, eggs. I don’t know of another gelato/ice cream with the same taste, and I think this is one of the reasons I’ve fallen for this product.

Awhile back actually tried to replicate this ice cream myself, and after a few batches with successively more eggs I realized those were what was giving such a great flavor. I never did quite get the right taste (or texture, for that matter), but I plan to try again someday.

Embedded throughout the ice cream base is a storm of chocolate pieces, little treasures hiding here and there. The company has referred to them as “a ribbon of chocolate”, but its really just tiny chocolate chips, and I enjoy their sweet, chocolate flavor much more than “chocolate flakes” I’ve had in another product.

That reminds me of a funny story. This gelato used to be called simply “Cappuccino” and lacked  chocolate chips, but sometime last year they changed the name to “Coffee Chocolate Chip” and added in the chips. At that time I was outraged. I even wrote an email to Talenti demanding my Cappuccino back, and went as far as saying that the chocolate chips destroyed the smooth, creamy texture and overpowered the coffee flavor.

Now it’s over a year later and I have gotten used to these things. Having said that, I wish I could taste that classic flavor one more time. Maybe I would still like it better.

Ingredients / Nutrition

Per a single 1/2 cup (102 gram) serving, there is 240 calories. I would say this is near the average for ice creams I have eaten.

As you would expect from the taste, this product has a good helping of sugar – 24 grams per serving. While this is higher than I am normally comfortable with, because of the great taste I make an exception. There are ice creams with much high sugar content, such as Argentine Caramel, made by the same company, with 33 grams per serving.

For an ice cream with such a complex flavor the ingredient count isn’t too high (13). Eggs, which give the characteristic savory taste and also enhance the thick creamy texture, are in very high proportion (they are the 3rd ingredient). I don’t know of any other ice cream or gelato for which this can be said of.

Because of the high egg content, there is a moderate amount of protein (6 grams per serving). But more than that, the cholesterol value is off the charts, providing over half (57%) of your daily amount in a single serving. Until recently this would have been regarded as extremely unhealthy, but some recent research shows that the cholesterol in eggs can actually be good for you. See link in references section below for more information.

Besides the massive amount of eggs, the ingredients are pretty typical. My pet-peeve “natural flavor” is present, and I have sent out an email to Talenti to get further detail on what is really in there.

Here is the full ingredient list:

Milk, sugar, eggs, cream, chocolate, dextrose, oil (coconut soybean), coffee, carob gum, natural flavor, soy lechitin, vanilla.

One warning for those who aren’t frequent coffee drinkers. I don’t have any specific figures on caffeine present but based on my experience I can say there is a hefty amount in this product, coming from both coffee and chocolate. Add a sugar high to the caffeine buzz and you’ll be bouncing around for quite a while.

Price and Availability

This sells for around $5 in Publix and other grocery stores, though I have seen it for nearly $8 online. It is a bit pricey but at Publix it occasionally goes on sale for one dollar off, and rarely for half price. Whole foods also carries Talenti gelatos, but I have never seen this flavor there for some reason.

Ratings

Flavor: 9.5

Ingredients/Nutrition: 7.5

Price:7.5

Overall: 8.16

 

Summary

A heavenly mix of sweet chocolate and coffee, enhanced by the lush, savory taste of eggs. Except for a few minor issues such as “natural flavor” and high sugar content, its practically the perfect ice cream (or gelato). As my current favorite, I recommend it to anyone who enjoys sweets, chocolate, or coffee.

References

https://talentigelato.com/our-products/

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

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/28/ice-cream-vs-gelato_n_3333016.html

http://sweets.seriouseats.com/2012/07/whats-the-difference-between-gelato-and-ice-cream.html

http://www.livescience.com/39353-eggs-dont-deserve-bad-reputation.html

Ingredient Math – estimating worst (or best) case for ingredient proportions

Have you ever wondered how much of a certain ingredient is really present in a sweet, or any food product?

You probably know that ingredients are listed on food labels in order or prevalence, with the most predominant ingredient first. You may have even known this was determined by weight. But in this article I will discuss a method to get an estimate for the maximum of each ingredient’s percentage of total weight – just by using the ordered ingredient list.

To derive this formula, lets start with a very simple example, a product with just “coffee and sugar”. Since coffee is listed first we know it has higher or equal amount of total weight when compared to sugar.

Is there anything we can do to determine about how much the first ingredient, coffee, is really in the product? The answer is no because coffee could be almost 100% to almost 0% of the total weight, with sugar filling in the remaining space. (Actually, there is a trick to determine the amount here since the second ingredient is sugar, which I’ll discuss later in this article).

But what about the sugar?

Well, if you think about it, there can’t be more than 50% sugar, by weight, since any more of that would mean there was more sugar than coffee, which we know is not the case.

So we’ve learned something important – that there is no more than 50% sugar in the product. This would apply to another second ingredient when there are two total ingredients.

What if there were three or more total ingredients? We would get the same result, because the other ingredients could be in trace amounts (practically 0%), so the “50% maximum for the second ingredient” rule would still apply.

What about the maximum amount of the third ingredient? Using the same logic you will see it cannot be above 33.3%, since any more of that would mean it is in greater proportion than the first and second ingredients. And for the forth ingredient you get a maximum, by weight, of 25%.

Turning this into a simple formula we get the following:

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

So for the 5th ingredient, you would get (100 / 5) = 20% maximum weight of that ingredient.

If you use formula along with the serving size you can determine the maximum weight of any of the ingredients per serving. Pretty handy if you want to minimize your intake of certain things.

If you want to take this to the next step, you can infer more information when one more more ingredients are a type of sugar. For example, if a product contains “coffee, sugar” and has 3 grams of sugar per 15 gram serving, then you know right away there is 20% sugar and 80% coffee in this product. Keep in mind that the grams of sugar listed includes any type of sugar, so if you have multiple ingredients which contain some type of sugar (even fruits) then the calculation gets a little trickier.

Besides knowing there is a certain percentage of sugar, you can use that to deduce information about other ingredients.

For example, if the imaginary product I just described had a third ingredient, say “coffee, sugar, vanilla”, then you would know that there is 20% or less vanilla because sugar is 20% or less. This assumes that there is no sugar in the vanilla, otherwise it would be harder to make any definitive conclusions.

Similarly, if you know how much protein is in each ingredient, you can figure out even more using the supplied protein in grams.

You can also leverage information about other ingredients to deduce additional information about the other ingredients. For example if a product had “milk, sugar, guar gum, vanilla”, you would know that the proportion of vanilla is much less than 25% since guar gum is typically used in relatively small doses. (I’ve tried overusing guar gum in homemade ice cream – its not pretty!)

I love thinking about food and ingredients from a methodical, logical point of view since it allows me to apply science to my everyday life.

References

http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064880.htm

Meiji Hokkaido Azuki (Red Bean & Condensed Milk) – product review

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Introduction

Last time I stopped by the neighborhood Asian grocery store I picked up Wakakusa Daifuku (a japanese sweet which was the subject of my last report), and my wife picked the product which I’ll highlight this time – Meiji’s Hokkaido Azuki ice cream bar. Meiji is a major producer of various food items – sweets, milk, juices, and soups to name a few. For those history buffs, ‘Meiji’ also represents an era in Japan from September 1868 through July 1912, where Japan’s society evolved from feudalism to a more modern structure.

Unlike the daifuku which was made in Japan, this product actually comes from a factory in Taiwan (from what looks like a Taiwanese subsidiary of Meiji called ‘Poki’), which is probably the reason for the cheaper price and some lower caliber ingredients (colorings, etc.)

Hokkaido is Japan’s second largest island, situated in the north, and it’s actually depicted on the package. I discovered that Azuki beans are in fact produced there, but I haven’t been able to verify if those used in this product are officially Hokkaido Azuki beans.

Flavor

This ice cream bar has a azuki bean core surrounded by a milk coating, painted on very thin except near the tip where there is nearly an inch of solid coating. My sweet-tooth instincts compelled me to bite here first, and I was rewarded handsomely with a lusciously thick, creamy flavor,  sweet but not overly so. The tip’s shape was deformed, likely a result of partial melting and re-freezing, but I got over this quirk immediately. I’ve attached a picture at the bottom of this article.

In the core, beans have been used in both whole bean and paste form. Unlike some azuki-based deserts which are overloaded by sugar, this one has a very mild sweetness which doesn’t overpower the strong, earthy azuki bean flavor. The rough texture here strikes an excellent balance with the outer coating’s creaminess. I was impressed by the surprising number of beans packed in, similar to the picture on the box.

Personally I’m not very found of ice cream bars where a wooden stick, serving as a handle, is submerged partway through. The first few bites are great, but as I get closer to the stick I have to bite carefully which takes away from the enjoyment. Neither the texture nor the flavor of wood fits with ice cream so accidental bites are unpleasant indeed.

Nutrition & Ingredients

Each box contains four bars, and each bar is 100g (1 serving). There isn’t a great deal of nutrition in this bar, with protein and fiber only 2 grams and 1 grams, respectively. There is also no trace of common vitamins such as A and C.

What really shines about this product is two of the most important nutrition metrics (to me, at least): calories and sugar content. In a single serving there is an below average amount of calories per serving size – only 173. But what’s even more amazing is the sugar content – only 5 grams! That’s the lowest I have seen in a product of this type and as a seeker of low-sugar sweets it really impresses me. I’m confounded on how they managed to create such a sweet flavor from only 5 grams of sugar, especially in the sugary milk coating.

One of the secrets of creating a low calorie, low sugar desert is to use water as a base, and that is done here with water as the most prevalent ingredient. Many of the top few ingredients are healthy and natural – milk powder, red beans, and coconut oil. Maltose, a sugar produced from grain and known by the name ‘malt sugar’, is used in higher proportion than normal sugar.

As you get to the less prevalent ingredients you start to run into “Natural Flavors” as well three artificial food colorings. These are disliked by the many of the health conscious, and for good reason. As an example, the blue coloring used is made from petroleum and is one of the dyes suspected of causing cancer (see link in references below for more info). Though legal in most countries, in the past it had been banned in over 10 countries.  As a health skeptic, I’m more likely to believe that companies lobbied to get this legalized as opposed to researchers suddenly “discovering” they were not bad for health.

Besides the health angle, I think the colors themselves are a bit strange (as well as quite different from those used on the package), and would like to see how things look without any colorings. I’m sure it would still be appetizing and much better for the body.

The full ingredient list is: Water, Skimmed Milk Powder, Red Bean, Butter, Coconut Oil, Maltose, Sugar, Emulsifier, Salt, Nature [sic] flavor, Caramel, FD&C Yellow #5, FD&C Red #20, FD&C Blue #1

[Update: Because many Japanese characters are derived from Chinese, I was able to partially read some of the original ingredients and nutrition information. First thing I noticed is that the order of ingredients is different. In the English translation some of the sugar-related ones are shown to be less prevalent. Also, the sugar content didn’t seem to be listed in the original ingredients. Without further research I can’t say definitely, but there is a chance the English translation is incorrect.]

Price and Availability

I purchased this at a local asian grocery store for around $3. I plan to verify the exact price next time I stop by there and update this blog.

Ratings

Nutrition & Ingredients: 6.5

Flavor: 8.5

Price:7.0

Overall: 7.33

Summary

A superb mix of azuki beans and sweet milk, made with mostly natural ingredients and very low sugar. The main drawback is the presence of unknown natural flavors and the dreaded artificial food colorings.

References

http://www.meiji.co.jp/

http://www.poki-meiji.com.tw/product-detail.aspx?id=469

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

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

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/food-dyes-are-they-safe

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