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Barney Butter Almond Butter (Crunchy)

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I saw this almond butter at Whole Foods and decided to try it out. I’m a big fan of Justin’s almond butter and was curious to see how this product would differ. (I reviewed Justin’s maple almond butter here.)

Flavor

Though the ingredients are exactly the same, this almond butter is very different from Justin’s almond butters. First of all, it’s crunchy which large chunks of almond strewn throughout. Not only does this give if a very different texture, but it reminds me of white chocolate chip cookies which is a big plus.

The base itself is a single light brown color, whereas Justin’s products are a mix of various shades, giving them a sandy appearance. Barney Butter is also much less oilier, which can be a positive or negative depending on how you look at it: spreadability vs over-greasiness.

Even though the sugar amount is exactly the same as Justin’s maple butter, I felt Barney Butter’s almond butter to be significantly sweeter.

All in all a great taste!

Nutrition/Ingredients

Each serving is 2 tablespoons (32 grams) and there are about 9 in the jar. There are 180 calories per serving, with 140 of those from fat.

In a serving there is also 80 mg sodium (3% of DV), 3 grams of sugars, and 6g of protein.

With no artificial flavors or colors, no preservatives, and no mysterious “natural” flavors, it can’t get much more natural than this. To top it off, evaporated cane juice and sea salt are used instead of their common counterparts. Yes, whether these are actually healthier is in debate, but if I had a choice I would pick these over their more common variants.

Full ingredient list: Dry roasted almonds, evaporated cane juice, palm fruit oil, sea salt.

Price/Availability

I bought a 10 ounce (284 g) jar of this at Whole Foods Market for around $4.99.

Ratings:   Flavor: 9.0    Nutrition/Ingredients: 9.0   Price:  8.0  Overall: 8.66

Summary

A great way to get natural protein and all the other nutrients that come packed in almonds, along with a wonderful taste. Highly recommended for those looking for an upgrade for their plain-jane peanut butter.

References

http://www.barneybutter.com/products/category/barney-butter-crunchy/

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Product Review: So Delicious Mocha Almond Fudge Almond Milk Frozen Dessert

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Flavor

This ice cream has a very different flavor that is hard to put into words, especially if I force myself to not cheat and use the ingredients list as a reference. The best I can do is call it a nutty sweetness, punctuated with many small almond pieces – just enough to strike the perfect texture balance. There is a fudge sauce which winds to and fro within this creamy confection, but doesn’t seem to have much of a unique taste to it. Its nothing like any milk- or coconut-based frozen dessert.

I haven’t had almond milk yet, but will have to try it sometime so I can determine if that is what lends the strongest taste component to this frozen dessert.

Though a foreign flavor at first, if you take a few partially-melted spoonfuls you will soon find yourself yearning for more.

I don’t really detect much coffee or chocolate taste, but the well thought out mixture of ingredients results in a complex flavor that is more than the sum of its parts.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In a 85 gram, 1/2 cup serving (four total in the package), there is only 160 calories and 10 grams of sugars. The calorie count is much lower than Talenti’s ice creams (rough average 200) and many of Ben & Jerry’s (rough average 250), though it’s right in league with So Delicious coconut milk based frozen desserts. The amount of sugars is also very low, nearly one-half to one-third that found in many other frozen desserts or ice creams. At first I was clueless on how they can achieve such a great perception of sweetness with only 10 grams of sugars. Then when I read through the ingredient list I discovered erythritol – a nearly zero calorie sweetener which is also utilized in other sugar-free ice creams to add sweetness.

Erythritol is 50-60% as sweet as table sugar, does not cause cavities, and only effects blood sugar (if at all). Sugar alcohols have gotten bad press because they can intestinal problems, such as nauesa, in large quantities. However, erythritol is claimed to have a less chance of these side effects compared to other sugar alcohols, and they are frequently reported only in doses over 50 grams.

I emailed So Delicious and though they would not disclose the exact amount of sugar alcohol employed, I was told that there is less than 2%. This works out to be at most around 2 grams. To reach 50 grams dosage it would take 25 servings, or over 6 packages of this frozen dessert. Clearly there is little health concern, and I feel in this case erythritol advantages outweigh its weaknesses, especially if your diet does not contain any other products with this sweetener. Having said that, I think those who haven’t had sugar alcohols before should take it slowly – don’t eat a whole carton in one sitting.

Tapioca syrup is listed as the sweetener present in the highest amount. It is made from the cassava root and is said to be a healthy alternative sweetener which is GMO and pesticide free.

Fiber is 5 grams per serving. Protein is 2 grams per serving, a good bit lower than many other milk-based products which have easily have 5-6 grams.  But honestly, nobody is going to be choosing which dessert they eat purely based on protein content. And while we are on this topic, even the difference between 160 and 250 calories is pretty minor. Even though its 40% more, for those eating only one or two servings it’s a very small fraction of most people’s daily calories. Having said that, if choosing between two ice creams that both taste great, I’ll usually choose the one that is lower in calories and sugar.

Besides my usual pet-peeve “natural flavors” (present in both the fudge sause and the base), there isn’t too much that bothers me in the ingredient list. Water, used a base in both the almond milk and the fudge sauce, helps to keep the calorie and sugar amount down.

Full ingredient list: ALMOND MILK (WATER, ALMONDS), ORGANIC TAPIOCA SYRUP, FUDGE SAUCE [DRIED CANE SYRUP, WATER, ORGANIC COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), TAPIOCA STARCH, NATURAL FLAVORS, ORGANIC CHOCOLATE LIQUOR], ALMONDS (ALMONDS, COTTONSEED OIL, SALT), CHICORY ROOT EXTRACT, DRIED CANE SYRUP, ERYTHRITOL, PEA PROTEIN, NATURAL FLAVOR, COFFEE, CAROB BEAN GUM, GUAR GUM, KOSHER SEA SALT, MONK FRUIT.

Price/Availability

I just purchased mine for $5.99 at Whole Foods Market, where I recently noticed it in the frozen section.

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

Summary

This almond-based frozen dessert has a unique, delicious flavor that’s addictive. I highly recommend trying some to bring variation and nutritionally round out your ice cream “diet”, especially to those who eat mostly milk-based products.

References

http://www.sodeliciousdairyfree.com/products/almond-milk-frozen-desserts/mocha-almond-fudge

http://hbmag.com/tapioca-syrup/

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

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

Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter – spread made for royalty

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Introduction

I’ll continue in the same vein as my last review and report on another of my sweet favorites. This one is a spread, typically used to complement something like bread, a bagel, or a crepe, but its heavenly flavor is far from secondary – more like the main event.

Speaking of spreads – In my college days I was addicted to the well-known Nutella hazelnut spread. Several years later, after I had weaned myself away from that sugary goodness, I discovered Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter. In many ways it was the healthier version of Nutella, so I decided to try it. I’ve never looked back since.

Flavor

It’s a bit difficult to describe the taste for those who have never tasted a hazelnut butter before, but I’ll try my best. It has a deep nutty flavor, not unlike peanut butter, with subtle roasted overtones. In this spread, the hazelnuts strike a harmony against rich cocoa and the sublime sweetness of cane sugar. Compared with everyday peanut butter, it has a high-class ambiance to it, almost as if it was made for royalty.

Let me try to convey how yummy this stuff is in another way. Its addictive, very addictive. I’d feel a bit too guilty eating this straight out of the jar so I always spread it on something, usually bread. But bread itself can be quite filling, so I actually have caught myself more than once trying to eat a small dinner just to have that many more slices of bread in the evening, layered thick with “Justin”.

It’s aroma is nutty and buttery rather than chocolaty, as should be expected since there is a much higher proportion of nuts than cocoa.

After eating this product quite frequently for a year or so, my only gripe regarding flavor is that the texture is very inconsistent. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to get the best experience each time. When it’s overly oily, give a long, vigorous mix to balance out the oil more evenly. When its extra dry (as it was last time I bought it), mix in a few tablespoons of walnut oil. The flavor doesn’t change appreciably, but the increase in spreadability is well worth it, enabling better control over the amount used and less chance of tearing the bread.

Nutrition / Ingredients

As I alluded to in the introduction, this is an upgraded, healthier version of classic Nutella spread. That means a whole lot less sugar (approximately one third of Nutella’s), and much more hazelnuts.

One of my simple tests for healthiness is the number of ingredients. This passes easily, with only eight ingredients, and half of those are organic. Evaporated cane sugar, more natural and less processed, is used in place of commonplace refined white sugar. Add to that a touch of natural sea salt, produced by the evaporation of seawater. There are no vague terms such as “natural flavors”, and nothing artificial is used.

For a single serving (2 tablespoons), there are 180 calories and 7 grams of sugar. The problem with spreads is that its very hard to judge the amount being used, especially if applied with a knife (as opposed to a spoon which is no small feat). I’ve noticed if I’m not careful I can easily exceed a serving *per slice of bread*, and its no wonder once after a few weeks or eating a few of these slices a night I gained a few of pounds. The good news is if you can get yourself to spread thin you’ll healthier while still enjoying the rich, nutty flavor. You’ll taste more of the bread as well, or whatever you are spreading on.

For those who really want to count their calories, you can buy the single serving packs. I tried this a few times, but kept running into the problem of trying to squeeze out every last ounce, rather than enjoying my snack. More waste produced means this isn’t an environmentally friendly option either.

With the low amount of sugar, where do all the calories come from? Well, it turns out that nuts are extremely fatty. Having said that, If it came to a choice of calories from nuts as opposed processed like corn syrup, I’d pick the former. Hazelnuts also naturally pack a good amount of protein (4 g per serving here), which is a nice extra.

One minor nitpick is that sometime around 2012 they added a significant portion of almonds to their formula.  Though I easily adjusted to the subtle change in flavor, the purist in me was frustrated by this recipe modification. I went so far as to send the company an email requesting why. Here is an unmodified excerpt of their polite response, which didn’t take too long to get back to me.

“We were getting a ton of feedback that it was just too hazelnutty. Since our chocolate spreads contain 70% nut and others contain only around 10% nuts, people just weren’t used to the robust hazelnut taste. We cut in almonds to round out the flavor.”

Serving Suggestions

Odds are whatever base you choose to ornament with this spread, the sweet, nutty flavor will overpower it. This transforms mediocre breads, which would otherwise be left to go stale, into delicious desserts. But why not be health conscious and choose a quality bread with natural ingredients?

I recommend Whole Food’s “Prairie Bread” which has a diverse mix of nuts and seeds. It’s slightly stiff texture makes it ideal to help defend against tearing when using a bottle of “Justin” that happens to be a little low on oil. This combination is sweet enough to be called a desert, yet is much better nutritionally than most other sweets I eat.

Price and Availability

This spread can be found in places like Whole Foods, Target, as well as online for $8-$9. This price is undeniably hard on the wallet, but I’m apt to forgive considering hazelnuts are typically very expensive compared to other nuts.

I happened to pick up my last two jars at around $6 on sale in Whole Foods. Unfortunately that deep of a discount is quite rare.

Ratings

Flavor: 9.0

Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.0

Price: 6.0

Overall: 7.6

Summary

A chocolaty nut butter whose addictive taste is offset by a high price tag and a minor problems with inconsistent oil content. Much healthier than some competing products, this product must be consumed in moderation to reap those benefits.

References

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

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