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One product I’ve reviewed on this blog that seems to be quite popular is Ikea’s chocolate oat ball. This is a wonderful delicious sweet and easily worthy of a candidate for my top 10 sweets.
I’ve received a comment asking for the recipe of a similar treat which was distributed at Ikea. I haven’t been to Ikea recently and didn’t pick it up when I was there, but when I sent an email to them I got a response with a PDF scan of the original recipe.
You can read the PDF here:
Comparing the ingredients it’s clear it won’t taste exactly the same, but someday I hope to try it out. One great thing about homemade sweets is you can adjust the amount of sweetness to your taste.
If anyone makes this, please give me a picture and full report on the test!
Talenti Chocolate Coffee Chocolate Chip – company response on caffeine content and natural flavors query
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.
Thank you for the inquiry. We do understand your concerns regarding “natural flavors’ in our ingredients.
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.
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.
For this article, I’ll take a break from my usual review-style posts and try something different.
This sounds a little strange, but having eaten so many gallons of ice cream in my life, I feel like I’ve gotten “good” at eating ice cream. Sure, great ice cream tastes great no matter how you indulge yourself. But there are a few little tips I wanted to put in writing to give everyone just that extra edge in squeezing the most enjoyment and flavor out of every creamy bite.
Many of these are highly subjective, but I’m hoping that at least a few will work for you.
Let it melt – Nobody likes ice cream melted into a puddle of messy sugar, but I’ve discovered that eating half-melted ice cream really allows me to savor the flavor that much more. Scientific studies on this may be lacking, but these are my guesses for why this is so.
1) Cold is refreshing to a point, but as you cross the line to freezing the taste buds numb up and can’t do their job effectively. I remember reporting on something similar in my review of Lakewood Blueberry juice. I think its commonly accepted that some things with a mediocre taste (i.e. Beer) are more palatable when drank cold.
2) Whereas a solid will touch the tongue at a few points for a brief moment, the cool liquid of partially melted ice cream coats a large area of the tongue. With more surface area and more taste buds active, it’s no surprise there is more flavor perceived.
There are few tricks you can use to help melt your ice cream to the right consistency:
1) Use a metal spoon. Metal is a conductor so it will help to melt the cream on the way to your mouth. Using plastic will just help it maintain its current temperature.
2) Eat ice cream from the outermost layer, that which is against the wall of the container and will melt the fastest. Occasionally wipe off the outside of the container with a towel when it gets frosty, to promote melting.
3) Chop up the top layer of ice cream with your spoon, or just poke a bunch of holes in it. That will allow more exposure to the outside air and promote faster melting.
4) Do NOT try to leave your ice cream anywhere but the freezer for any period of time to try and melt it. The risk for returning to ice cream soup is too high.
Small spoon – Several years back I switched from eating with a tablespoon to a smaller sized spoon (slightly larger than a teaspoon). This taught me to really enjoy every ounce and prolonged the length of time it took to finish off a container. It will also tend to reduce the total amount of ice cream eaten.
Small container – The advantage of a small container is that its easier to set limits on how much you eat, which prevents over-eating and helps you enjoy what you eat. With one of those giant containers, its easy to break your “ok, just one more bite” promises, until you feel ready to explode. And while it makes economical sense to buy in bulk, the quality the ice cream is typically much worse compared to the smaller containers.
Less sugar – If you eat ice cream with high sugar content day after day, you are likely to get tired of it quickly. Lower sugar ice creams need something to fill that gap, leading to more nutrition, and your body will thank you.
Ice Cream > Mlik – Don’t stay confined to only milk-based creams. Try coconut milk, goat milk, or even rice-based. This is another way to get a wider variety of nutrition and not burn yourself out.
Use Toppings – If you end up buying an ice cream that is not what you expected, don’t be afraid to use toppings to make the taste a bit more to your liking. My favorite healthy topping are walnuts (broken into small pieces), cocoa powder and cocoa nibs. Adding your own whip cream adds a new dimension of texture to any ice cream. Pouring chilled Kahlua over ice cream is also nice once in awhile.
Know your ingredients – Reading through the ingredients list to know what you’re eating (either before or after you take your first bite) is a nice way to enrich your experience. It will help train your taste buds to look for certain subtle flavors.
Try it yourself – Try making your own homemade ice cream. That will give you a better understanding of some of the more mysterious ingredients (like ‘guar gum’) and also an appreciation of how difficult it is to make a great-tasting cream. I like to make variations of the same ice cream, putting less or more of a certain ingredient, and seeing how the end result is. When you fail at this trial-and-error process (as I have), just head to the nearest supermarket for some pro-made cream.
Eat when your stomach is happy – I’ve found that its hard to enjoy ice cream fully on a completely empty stomach because my body is craving nutrition. Conversely, trying to stuff my mouth when I’m already full isn’t smart. Eating a sweet dessert an hour or two after I’ve had a moderate meal seems to be the trick to maximum appreciation.
Hello, I’m the Sweets Reporter, thanks for reading!
With a nearly uncountable number of people on this planet addicted to sweet treats, why did I decide to dedicate some of my treasured free time to reporting on a variety of delicious, delightful sweet things?
Well, for starters I’m the type of person who almost always has something sweet at night before going to bed, and have been doing so as long as I can remember. In the last few years I also have been paying more attention to what is in the sweets I eat – for health reasons as well as just natural curiosity about what makes great flavor. And finally, I feel as if the “scientist” part of me – the tendency to analyze and report detailed observations – makes me a perfect candidate for a critic of sweets. Its even taken me to the point where I have tried making my own confections (ice cream, cookies, etc.) using experimental recipes.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey, where each stop is a flavorful concoction designed to delight the senses.
One more thing before we move onto the first sweets review. Having read my share of food (and other) reviews, I am quick to pick up on those who put a positive spin for commercial reasons. Though I don’t expect to focus on items which I don’t enjoy eating, for those I do decide to review I’ll be giving my thorough, honest take. Even my favorite sweets have drawbacks, and I want to give my readers an unbiased (well, as much as a human can be unbiased) commentary on things. In any case, I’ll do my best to convey my feelings to you as if you had just popped it into your mouth, senses savoring all the glory of its sweetness.