Category Archives: Food

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

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/

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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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

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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Wakakusa Daifuku (若草大福) – Japanese sweet candy (product review)

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Introduction

As a I did research for each of my sweets reports, I discovered that there are a huge amount of other blogs reviewing many of the same products. That it itself isn’t a major surprise, but it got me thinking that if I really want to distinguish myself from other blogs, I need to work hard on not only top-quality, detailed reviews, but also on targeting new products or those that are not as popular yet in the mainstream.

My product selection this time, a Japanese confection from Adachi Sangyo, is an attempt to introduce a niche product to a wider audience. I’m hoping that those unfamiliar with ‘daifuku’ will be happy to learn about one more way to indulge in your craving for sweets.

Food products from other countries are always interesting. Not only do you get a unique flavor not found in everyday American foods, but you also get a unique set of ingredients that has potentially to be different, if not healthier, than typical ingredients used in domestic foods.

Nutrients / Ingredients

So what is a ‘daifuku’ anyway? It’s a traditional Japanese sweet existing for over two centuries which consists of a sweetened red bean paste (anko) wrapped by a layer of glutinous rice cake (mochi). They are in flattened sphere form, and these daifuku are small enough to fit in the circle made by my thumb and forefinger.

One bag contains 7 daifuku and each one is 16 grams (1 serving). Each serving is only 50 calories, but that hides the fact that over 80% of this product (13 grams) is sugar. The first two ingredients are sugar and starch syrup, the latter being made in a process similar to corn syrup where starch is converted to syrup. If that didn’t make you run screaming then the rest of the story isn’t quite as bad.

This product is pretty nutritionally barren, in both a positive and negative sense: no sodium, no fat, no protein, and no fiber.

The great thing is that the 3rd, 4th, and 5th ingredients are all made natural plants or grains – rice, red beans, and mugwort. The latter is a flowering herb whose extracts have been shown to inhibit a certain type of cancer cells in vitro. The name ‘Wakakusa’ means something like ‘young plant’ and refers to this Japanese mugwort (yomogi).

The package I bought contained an English translation of the ingredients and nutritional information along with the original text in Japanese. I was surprised to find that the original contained two ingredients not found in the English translation: coloring (Safflower and common gardenia ) and “flavoring”. I’m glad they decided to use natural coloring agents, but very nonplussed about the mysterious “flavoring”. Translation of this word (香料 “kouryou”)says it can refer to both natural and artificial flavoring.

Oddly, I couldn’t find the calorie count listed in the original Japanese text. Because of the omission with some ingredients in the translation I’m suspicious about this number.

Here is the full list of ingredients:

Sugar, starch syrup, rice cake powder, red bean paste, (japanese) mugwort, starch, trehalose, skim milk powder, antioxidant (vitamin e), coloring (from flowers), flavoring.

One interesting ingredient used here is ‘trehalose’, a sweetener that is roughly 45 percent as sweet as sucrose and a low insulin response. It has the nickname ‘mushroom sugar’ because it can be found in some mushrooms. I believe it is used here primary as a preservative since it is present in only a small amount.

Vitamin E is also used as a preservative to prevent oxidation and keep the food fresher. But for a product that is sold in a refrigerated section this seems unnecessary. Vitamin or not, I’d prefer less preservatives in my food.

Overall, the use of natural ingredients such a rice, beans, and mugwort are a great idea, but the extreme amount of sugar renders them practically useless from a nutritional point of view.

Flavor

Besides the light green color mixed with darker green colored spots, you’ll notice a fine powder covering the outside of each daifuku. This is most likely rice cake powder (or another type of flour) and is used to keep the confection from sticking to the little plastic wrapper containing it.

As you pick up one of the little daifuku, you’ll notice it has a gummy texture, and when you bite into it you are taken captive by the sticky, chewy sensation. That is the glutinous rice. Besides a moderate sweetness I don’t detect any other strong flavor in it.

When you reach its core there is a burst of extreme sweetness, as well as coldness, as your tongue savors the dark red azuki paste with its smooth texture. The contrast between the filling and the outer core is quite well balanced and keeps your senses busy.

I’m very familiar with azuki beans to the extent that I have made my own paste, so I quickly picked up on the subtle, but distinctive bean flavor of the filling. However, those less accustomed to this might just only perceive it as an ‘earthy’ taste. It doesn’t really taste like other beans (black, pinto, etc.), though the mashed texture is not too different.

Ironically, the mugwort (which the product was named after) didn’t have a strong taste.  I had the sensation of eating flowers/plants but with my a priori knowledge of the ingredients its hard to give an unbiased description of the flavor. For my future reports I’m considering eating the product before reading though the ingredients so I can have a more neutral impression.

As a side note, the packaging is very artistic and feels like more effort was put into designing it that many American sweets.

Price and Availability

I found these at a asian grocery store in south florida, and odds are you can find it at a similar place in your neighborhood.

Since these are somewhat of a specialty imported item, they are not cheap. For a bag of 7 the price is around $3-$4. I apologize for not keeping track of the exact price, I’ll check it next time I return to the store and update this entry.

You could probably buy it online but as an imported good the shipping would probably make it prohibitively expensive.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Nutrients/Ingredients: 5.0

Price: 6.0

Overall: 6.0

Summary

Great entry point into the world of exotic Japanese sweets, although the natural ingredients employed are offset by a load of sugar.

References

http://www.adachisangyo.co.jp/syohin/daifuku/index10.html

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

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

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%83%99%E3%83%8B%E3%83%90%E3%83%8A

http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%82%AF%E3%83%81%E3%83%8A%E3%82%B7

http://www.caloriecontrol.org/sweeteners-and-lite/sugar-substitutes/other-sweeteners/trehalose

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