Monthly Archives: December 2013
Store Review: Le Macaron French Pastries (Tampa, Florida)
I stumbled upon the “le macaron” store in Tampa’s International Plaza mall on a recent family trip. In addition to various flavors of french macarons, there are also fine chocolates sold here. I don’t remember the exact prices, but each of these sells for roughly $2 dollars a piece. We purchased 6 macaroons and 4 chocolates (shown in the below pictures) for around $22.
I have only tried macarons once or twice in my life, but the ones at “le macaron” were pretty typical. The rose and raspberry flavors really tasted and smelled like the real thing, but it’s hard to say if that taste is made from “natural ingredients” or the real thing. The coffee-flavored macaron really didn’t taste too much like coffee, so I doubt there much, if any, real coffee present.
My biggest issue with macarons in general is that there is always some slightly odd flavor I can’t put my finger on, and that applies to these sweets as well. But if you like macarons I’m sure you’ll enjoy the one’s sold here.
The chocolates were very impressive visually, with everything from patterns in the likeness of leopard spots to shiny metallic balls. There was a variety of fillings, including caramel- and fruit-like. While I have to admit they were all tasty, I know a load of sugar when I taste it. Macarons are relatively rare in the world of sweets but chocolates are a dime a dozen, so they have to hold up to more scrutiny. The pretty designs and (typical) good flavor don’t win over the high price and high sugar content.
As for the ingredients, I wasn’t able to find anywhere the full ingredient list was published for either product. However, the company’s website (which is a franchise, interestingly enough) states all macarons are gluten free with no artificial flavors or preservatives. This puts them in the mid range of ingredient quality, but I wish they published the entire list. I couldn’t find any information about the fine chocolates.
Overall, I feel both product lines are mediocre, but they are tasty enough to try once, and the fine chocolates are novel enough to buy for a friend or family member as a gift. The Internal Plaza is a great shopping center with many stores and restaurants, so if you happen to be traveling in Tampa be sure to check it out, and maybe stop by “le macaron” while you are there.
Product Review: Chox chocolate red wine
On a recent family trip to Tampa I was looking for something sweet to drink, but without mysterious artificial flavors. I ended up trying Chox: “Fine Red Wine Infused with the natural essence of chocolate”.
Fortunately this product had only a very slight taste of red wine, which is a big plus for me since I am not a big red wine fan. The sweet chocolate flavor really dominates the experience, although the texture is probably somewhat close to a red wine.
If you like Kahlua or other sweet chocolate beverages then you will likely love this, and the overall experience is quite similar.
I was attracted by the label which stated there are no artificial flavors, and think this the strongest point of this drink, especially when comparing to other sweet drinks like Kahlua which have who-knows-what in them. On the other hand, although everything in this product is ‘natural’, as with other instances of ‘natural flavors’, you really don’t know what is in the product. If this product actually listed everything used to make it I’d feel much better about it.
This product also contains sulfites, but from what I have researched they are present in a majority of wines, and have little effect on the body, so they are not much of a concern to me.
This product is imported from Holland. I’m not sure what type of impact this has on the taste or ingredients used, but it gives it somewhat of “exotic” feel from a marketing perspective.
Ingredients (as listed on package): Grape wine with molasses neutral spirits, dairy cream, natural flavors, and natural carmine color.
Alcohol content: 13.9%
I bought this 750 ml bottle for $12.99 at a Publix in Tampa, Florida.
Ratings: Flavor: 8.0 Nutrition/Ingredients: 6.0 Price: 8.0 Overall: 7.3
I was searching for a sweet alcoholic drink with no artificial flavors and some of the health benefits of wine. Turns out this fits the bill perfectly. I can’t speak whether a wine expert would enjoy this or not, but anyone with a sweet tooth who is looking for a little alcohol buzz should definitely try this product out.
Product Review: Realbeanz Iced Coffee made with coconut water
I was looking for a sweet coffee drink and this seemed to be different than the usual bunch, so I thought I would try it.
The flavor is very reminiscent of Starbucks Frappuccino beverage, with a strong milk flavor over a light coffee taste. The sweetness is quite subdued, no surprise considering the relatively small amount of sugar.
Although 20% of this drink is coconut water, there is little to no taste of it. To me this is a good thing since I’m not too fond of it’s taste.
To be honest, the Starbucks drink tastes better, but for the lower calories and sugar (see next section) the minor compromise in flavor is worth it.
In one bottle (281 ml), there is 70 calories, 10 from fat. There is also 9 grams of sugars and 5 of sugar alcohol. There’s 2 grams of protein as well.
When compared to a similar Starbucks drink, this one has less than half the calories and sugar, even if you include the sugar alcohol, erythritol.
Stevia is also used as a (nearly) zero-calorie sweetener. Though there have been some controversies regarding this additive, it seems that currently there are no major known health concerns with it. It may even have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits.
The crypticly named ingredients at the end of the ingredient list are all vitamins. For example, niacinamide is Vitamin B3. There is 25% of the following vitamins in this product: Vitamin A, Niacin, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, Panthothenic Acid. There are divided opinions on how healthy adding vitamins are, but for those who believe they are beneficial, this drink is a good supply of them.
Ingredients: Brewed Coffee (water, coffee solids, coffee extract, reduced fat milk, coconut water concentrate, erythritol, dried cane syrup, sodium phosphate, carrageenan, sodium bicarbonate, natural flavor, ascorbic acid, stevia rebaudiana leaf extract, di-alphatocopheryl acetate, calcium, d-pantothenate, niacinamide, vitamin a palmitate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, cyanocobalamin.
I got this for only $1.99 at Whole Foods Market.
Ratings: Flavor: 7.0 Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.5 Price: 9.0 Overall: 8.2
This product succeeds in its goal: making a product with low calories (70), low sugar, and a reasonably good taste. Add to that a little bit of coconut water and a load of different vitamins and you have a very well-rounded drink.
Product Review: Talenti Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip
This is my fifth review of a Talenti ice cream, with two of my favorites reviewed here and here. This brand’s chic packaging is what initially caught my eye, but with my first bite I was hooked with each of the sweet, creamy, and natural flavors.
This ice cream has all you could ever want – a strong, natural raspberry flavor backed by a creamy, sweet milk texture, and tiny chocolate chips to complete the picture.
I’ve mentioned this with many other ice creams as well, but this one especially tastes *really* good when eaten in a half-melted state, like when you scoop your spoon around the perimeter of the container, picking up only the most melted stuff. Focusing on eating the half-melted parts not only maximizes your enjoyment per bite, it also lengthens the time to eat a given amount of volume.
A single serving (1/2 cup, 104 grams) contains 230 calories and 24 grams of sugars. These are both somewhat higher than the average ice cream, but typical within Talenti’s lineup of milk-based ice creams.
This dessert has very natural and healthy ingredients, and is also gluten free, hfcs free, hormone free, vegetatian, and kosher. There are also no artificial flavors or colorings, or even “natural” flavors, the latter of which are present in a few other Talenti poducts.
Because of the calorie and sugar content I wouldn’t consider this a diet product, but the ingredient quality is top class. Some might point out that “sugar” (typical white refined sugar) is used instead of agave or some other popular sweetner, but based on my research there is not sufficient evidence to prove any of these sugars is significantly more healthier than any other.
Full ingredient list: milk, cream, sugar, black raspberries, chocolate, oil (coconut, soybean), dextrose, vanilla, carob gum, and soy lecithin.
I bought this for around $2.99 at a Publix grocery store, half of its normal price due a weekly sale. For some reason I never see this flavor at my local Whole Foods Market, though it may be at others.
Ratings: Flavor: 8.5 Nutrition/Ingredients: 9.0 Price: 8.0 Overall: 8.5
Natural ingredients, great taste, and a reasonable price (even when its not on sale) make this a must try for any ice cream lover.
A galaxy of sweetness: comparison graph of ice cream calories vs. sugar
For some reason I really enjoy making visual graphs from data, something which can give new insight into relationships hidden in the data.
I decided to apply this hobby of mine to ice cream, and came with the above graph. It shows calories on the horizontal axis, and sugars (in grams) on the vertical one. Numbers are measured against a single serving, which is typically 1/2 cup.
I have captured data for around 50 products across 7 different brands, and highlighted some of the points on the graph.
As expected, there is a general correlation between calories and sugar, since adding more sugar usually means adding more calories. However there are some cases like Haagen Dazs Peanut Butter Pecan, which has a lot of fat that contributes to calories, but not sugar. We also see the other extreme, Talenti Lisbon Lemon, where the main ingredients (besides water) are lemon and sugar, both which contribute to sugar but not to calories.
Product Review: Japanese Candy Bar “Choco Indulge Crunch” （チョコにがっつけパキッツ）
I happened to find this product at the Morikami Japanse Museum & Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida, and decided to pick it up.
“Choco Indulge Crunch” is my own translation. Literally translated, the title is closer to “Indulge in Chocolate! Crunch”. The translated English packaging calls the product “Pakitz<Nuts & Crunch>”, but I like my translation better. For those curious, “Pakitz” comes from the Japanese “パキッツ” which refers to the sound of something like a cracker crunching when bitten into.
This product is made by Glico, a Japanese company, and imported by JFC International Inc.
I want to take this opportunity to mention my other blog, “Self Taught Japanese”, where I have a series of articles aimed at Japanese learners of various skill levels. For those who are interested you check it out here: http://selftaughtjapanese.com/
The two halves of this bar are each wrapped separately in sealed packs, which is a nice trend I’ve seen in other Japanese candies. One disadvantage of this, however, is that there is less actual candy that you would expect from the size of the package.
Like many typical chocolate bars, this product is separated into little rectangular nuggets which are connected together in a 3×4 array in each serving. The top half of each nugget is a ‘gaufrette’ wafer (see ingredients section below for details), with a mild taste and crunchy texture not unlike that used in many typical American cookies.
The bottom part is made from pretty typical sweet chocolate, which tastes as if it has a low cocoa count (around 50-60%). It has some small peanut slivers in it that give it a mild crunch. The picture on the front of the wrapper, shown in the picture at the top of this post, gives a good idea of what both parts look like.
This bar does an excellent job of fulfilling my requirement of two or more contrasting flavors and textures, and the end result is quite different than anything I’ve had before. If I had to compare, I’d say that it’s a distant cousin of the classic KitKat bar.
One serving is 25.5 grams and there are two servings per package. In one serving there are 140 calories (60 from fat), and 9 sugars. This is definitely below average for this type of product.
Unfortunately the ingredient list is quite long and contains a few suspect items, such as high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, acelsulfame potassium, ammonium bicarbonate, and artificial flavors. This product is clearly not marketed at those concerned with natural and safe ingredients. Ironically, the text above the manufacturer’s name says “taste and health” in Japanese.
The first ingredient is sugar and the second is ‘gaufrette’, which is defined online as “a wafer of crisply fried potato cut to resemble a small waffle”. However, if you look at the original untranslated ingredient list (in Japanese), it contains flour, starch, sugar, chocolate, vegetable oil, and salt as sub-ingredients of this item. The term “wheat cracker” is also used in the translated English text though it doesn’t taste like a typical wheat cracker to me.
This product also contains several types of nuts – peanuts, hazelnuts, and almonds, but they contribute more to texture than taste.
For the entire list (in English), see the image at the bottom of this post.
I bought this at the Morikami Museum’s gift shop for only $3.00. Since this is an imported product I consider it a pretty good price, equal if not cheaper to something domestically produced. One reason for the low price is that the wafer portion is very light (filled with air) and so there is a bit of filler.
For those who want to learn more about the Morikami museum you can check out my review of it here.
Ratings: Flavor: 7.0 Nutrition/Ingredients: 5.0 Price: 9.0 Overall: 7.0
This Japanese import candy has a unique texture and flavor, but several debatable ingredients make it hard to recommend to those who are concerned about the safety of the ingredients they consume.
Product Review: Green Tea Mochi ice cream
When at a sushi restaurant recently with my family, we saw mochi ice cream on the menu and had to try a few. Both the azuki and green tea flavors tasted great, so when we saw the latter sold in a nearby asian grocer, we couldn’t help but pick up a box of six.
When I pulled one from the package I had kept in the freezer, it was covered by a frosty ice coating. This isn’t too appealing in terms of taste of texture, but it it’s easy to wipe off with a wet towel, or by running it quickly under running water.
This dessert consists of green tea ice cream wrapped in a very thin layer of Japanese-style ‘mochi’, made from sticky, glutinous rice. The stickiness and the creaminess really strike a perfect balance here. The ice cream is extremely sweet, with an equally strong flavor of authentic green tea.
I find I get the most enjoyment when I cut this into little slices using a knife, and then pop them into my mouth one at a time to savor. It helps me to appreciate the bold sweetness without getting overloaded.
All in all, great taste in a unique package.
One serving is 2 pieces (80 grams), and has 180 calories with 2 grams of protein. A single serving also has 22 sugars. The sugar/weight ratio is pretty close to high-sugar ice creams such as some of the Talenti products, but the density is much higher here because all that sweetness is packed into a tiny ball.
The ingredient list is pretty safe, with real green tea used in the flavoring and no artificial flavorings. The one exception is “mono & diglycerides”, which are used as emulsifying agents to extend shelf life and to help certain ingredients blend well together, such as oil & water. It is said that these contain fatty acids, which have had a lot of bad press lately because of their tendency to promote obesity and raise bad cholesterol.
Ingredient list: ice cream mix (cream, milk, sugar, corn syrup solids, nonfat dry milk, locust bean gum, guar gum, mono & diglycerides, carrageenan), water, maltose, sugar, rice flour, green tea and pasteurized egg whites.
I bought this at a local asian grocery store in South Florida for around $8.00.
Though the packaging contains the words “ice cream” in Japanese script (アイス クリーム), the product is actually made within the USA by a company called “Sweet Novelty Inc” based in California.
Ratings: Flavor: 8.5 Nutrition/Ingredients: 7.0 Price: 7.0 Overall: 7.5
Though a little pricey, each of these frozen mochi balls is packed with a strikingly sweet green tea flavor inside a gummy mochi shell. I highly recommend it for green tea lovers, or anyone looking for a new way to experience ice cream.
Product Review – Whole Foods Coffee Ice Cream
I’ve eaten most of a carton of this product in several sittings, but each time I just can’t get past the odd texture. If you’ve read my other ice cream reviews, you’ll know I am a big fan of creamy texture (heck, who isn’t?). Unfortunately, eating this ice cream right out of the freezer, or even 5-10 minute later, gives an unappetizing rough, icy texture. I even tried to break up the cream into tiny pieces with my spoon to facilitate the melting process, but that was only partially effective. After around ~20 minutes of waiting for it to melt, I finally got one spoonful of something I’d consider partially creamy.
If this was my first taste of a coffee ice cream I might be OK with this, but I’ve had at least two others that are much, much tastier and creamier (Talenti’s Coffee Chocolate Chip and Three Sister’s Milk Coffee). The taste itself in Whole Foods coffee ice cream is only so-so, with a strong element of coffee and milk, and a weak sweetness.
I think the problems with texture, as well as taste, stem from not enough sugar being used. Though I appreciate the effort to try and reduce sugar for health reasons, this reminds me of some experimental batches of ice cream I’ve made in my time.
This ice cream has only 180 calories in a single serving (1/2 cup, 90 grams). That’s near the low end of ice creams of this type.
Sugars are only 13 grams. This is very low compared to Three Twins milk coffee, which has 17 grams. Its also lower than most other ice creams out there, by a large margin.
With only six ingredients, and no artificial flavorings or colorings, it does get much more natural and simple than this. Two differences between the Three Twin’s product and this are the order of the coffee and egg yolks (they are reversed), and the lack of vanilla extract in Whole Food’s product.Full Ingredient List: Pasteurized milk, pasteurized cream, cane sugar, egg yolks, and carob bean gum.
I got this for around $4.99 at Whole Foods Market.
Ratings: Flavor: 5.0 Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.0 Price: 7.0 Overall: 6.67
Any points this product gets for healthiness and natural ingredients are cancelled out by a completely non-creamy texture and mediocre taste.
Product Review: Three Sisters Multigrain Berry Multigrain Shredded Wheat Cereal
Like some of Three Sister’s other products (including this one that I reviewed), Multigrain Berry does a great job at preserving the taste of a classic cereal (Post Frosted Shredded Wheat). For those who haven’t had this before, each bite is a bundle of shredded wheat with a sweet frosting coating. The rough, chewy texture is quite enjoyable and gives your jaw a workout. The addition of fruit flavoring adds a nice taste which is not present in Post’s basic shredded wheat.
Serving size is 1 cup (55 grams) and there is about seven per package. In one serving there is 190 calories (only 10 from fat), 6 grams of fiber, 5 of protein, and 11g of sugars. These stats are all pretty much the same as Post’s version, which is not much a surprise considering the near-identical flavor. However, as this product is marketed as the “healthier” version of that, I wish they had at least a little less sugar, or more fiber/protein.
The ingredients are generally natural and safe, though its disappointing there is no real Blueberry or Pomengranate, rather some mysterious “natural flavor” to simulate their taste. I wish companies which claim to make healthy products would use fruit, not some substitute.
The ingredients here win out over many competitor’s products, which use either artificial flavor, artificial color, or BHT as a preservative.Post’s Frosted Mini Wheats “with a touch a fruit in the middle” is one such product that uses all three.
Multigrain Berry uses all fruit & vegetable extract/juice for coloring, and Vitamin E instead of BHT as a preservative. There is still some debate on whether BHT increases or decreases cancer risk, but my feeling is that Vitamin E is generally safer as a preservative.
For those who don’t know what ‘Triticale” is, it’s a hybrid of wheat and rye which can give yield improvements and allow growing in different conditions. It also has more protein than wheat. It is well established as a feed grain, but its use in cereal is relatively new.
Ingredients: Whole Great Wheat, Sugar, Whole Grain Oats, Whole Grain Triticale, Whole Grain Barley, Blueberry Pomegranate Bits (dextrose, palm oil, corn flour, natural flavor, citric acid, fruit & vegetable extract [for color]), Gelatin, Natural Raspberry Flavor, Vegetable Juice (for color), Reduced Iron, Freshness Preserved with Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols)
We got this for $3.99 for two at Whole Foods on a special promotion. Usually its $3.99 for one.
Ratings: Flavor: 8.0 Nutrition/Ingredients: 7.0 Price:8.0 Overall: 7.6
This cereal mostly lives up to its goal of making a healthier version of Frosted Mini Wheats. Fans of that type of cereal are highly recommended to try this.
Justin’s White Chocolate Organic Peanut Butter Cups [Limited Time Only]
I’m a huge fan of Justin’s products because of their great taste and natural, simple ingredients. I reviewed their Chocolate Hazelnut spread and their Maple Almond Butter spread previously.
These peanut butter cups consist of a white chocolate shell surrounding a peanut butter filling. Honestly, I usually prefer dark or semi-sweet chocolate to white, but the buttery flavor of white chocolate fits well with the earthy peanut butter taste.
The peanut butter filling seems like the same mixture they sell as a separate product, with a smooth, rich flavor and no strange overtones.
Justin’s also sells milk chocolate and dark chocolate versions of this product which are also quite tasty. What I really like about this set of products is that they are easy to eat on the go and make portion control easy.
One serving is two cups (40 grams), and contains 180 calories, 17 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.
These cups pack a hefty sweetness in a small package, but after all they are considered a candy and meant to be eaten only a pack at a time.
As with Justin’s other products, the ingredients are top class and are all organic, all natural, with no artifical/natural flavors or colorings of any sort. They are also fair-trade which means buying this product helps farmers in developing countries build sustainable businesses, another thing which should make you feel good about this product.
Ingredients: Organic White Chocolate (Organic Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Whole Milk Powder, Organic Soy Lecithin, Organic Vanilla), Organic Peanuts, Organic Evaporated Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Palm Fruit Oil, Organic Vanilla Flavor, Sea Salt.
According to Justin’s web site, these are only available via Whole Foods Market for a limited time. I have only seen them in the stores very recently, so I guess they are intended for the holiday season, possibly for a “white christmas” concept.
Ratings: Flavor: 7.5 Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.5 Price: 8.0 Overall: 8.0
These sweet peanut butter cups are a great healthy snack with ingredients you don’t have to fret about. Be sure to try a pack or two before they stop production.