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Product Review: Ben & Jerry’s Frozen Yogurt Chocolate Fudge Brownie

froyo

This ice cream is from the “FroYo” series which takes popular Ben & Jerry’s flavors and turns them into frozen yogurt with reduced calories and fat. I had reviewed the ice cream (non lowfat) version of Chocolate Fudge Brownie here, and this time I thought I would review the lowfat one. It’s great when you want a deep, rich flavor without quite as many calories.

Flavor

This dessert tastes very similar to the ice cream version. Spongy brownie pieces float in a sea of rich, gooey chocolate, saturated with sugary goodness throughout.

I’m sure if did a direct taste comparison where I alternated between spoonfuls of these two products I would be able to taste the difference more clearly, but eating it normally the FroYo doesn’t taste anything like “low-calorie” or “low-fat” – which is a good thing. The main difference is that the texture is more icey and less creamy. It’s midway in between eating normal ice cream and Italian ice (the latter of which has no milk and only water as its base).

The first time I tried this I didn’t taste any of the yogurt flavor. I tried it again, paying close attention, and was able to detect yogurt very subtly, more as an aftertaste than anything else. More on this below.

Nutrition/Ingredients

For a single 104 gram serving there is 180 calories, slightly below average for an ice cream of this type. Consistent with the “lowfat” branding, there is only 2.5 grams of fat. Compare these figures to the normal Chocolate Fudge Brownie – 270 calories and 12 grams of fat – and you’ll see a huge difference.

For those of you who are more concerned about sugar intake than calories (which I sometimes am), this product isn’t too great. There is a whopping 25 grams of sugar, only 2 grams less than the standard less-healthy version. I’d wish they would have reduced it a bit more, but I guess the characteristic flavor would be ruined if they took out any more sugar.

Protein amount is typical at 5 grams, and fiber is 2 grams a serving.

As I mentioned above, this product has only a tiny hint of yogurt taste. I checked on what “frozen yogurt” really means, and it looks like besides containing yogurt, it is also typically more tart, and lower in fat due to milk used in place of cream. Comparing ingredients against the normal ice cream version, we can see that both contain skim milk and cream. However the FroYo version contains more skim milk than cream (order on label 2nd and 9th, compared to 3rd and 1st on the ice cream version). So this frozen yogurt does contain less fat, although it is not particularly tart.

Technically this product can be placed in the “frozen yogurt” category because of the presence of yogurt powder (11th place) and yogurt cultures (20th and last place). However, because of  the small amount of these ingredients, which is reflected in the taste, I wouldn’t really consider this a true “frozen yogurt”. It looks like Ben & Jerry’s is just using the “yogurt” nomenclature to associate nutrition and health, and as a result sell better. I can’t say whether the yogurt cultures have any nutritional benefit or not, but they in are such small proportion I doubt that is much an effect, if at all. I’d prefer B&J’s either drop the yogurt branding and remove the little yogurt that is present, or increase it so this dessert can honestly be called a “frozen yogurt”.

Another trick they use to make this product lighter is using water as a filler – it’s listed as the #1 ingredient and is the main reason for the texture change I discussed previously. I think this is generally a great idea for health-conscious frozen desserts, and when done in moderation doesn’t destroy the flavor.

I’ve listed both versions’ ingredient list below. If you compare you’ll see that except for the yogurt, milk/cream, and water differences, they are very similar.

FroYo version (this product):

Water, Skim Milk, Liquid Sugar (Sugar, Water), Corn Syrup, Sugar, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Wheat Flour, Corn Syrup Solids, Cream, Cocoa, Nonfat Yogurt Powder, Egg Yolks, Butter (Cream, Salt), Eggs, Egg Whites, Locust Bean Gum, Salt, Vanilla Extract, Sodium Bicarbonate, Yogurt Cultures

ice cream version:

CREAM, LIQUID SUGAR (SUGAR, WATER), SKIM MILK, WATER, SUGAR, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), WHEAT FLOUR, COCOA POWDER, EGG YOLKS, BUTTER (CREAM, SALT), INVERT SUGAR SYRUP, WHOLE EGGS, EGG WHITES, GUAR GUM, SALT, CARRAGEENAN, VANILLA EXTRACT, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, SODIUM BICARBONATE.

One final difference is that the FroYo version does not contain carrageenan, a substance used as a thickener/stabilizer. It turns out there is some research that indicates carrageenan may be involved in tumor promotion, though I don’t think there is any definitive proof for this yet, and currently it is considered as a safe food additive by the FDA. Nevertheless I’d rather do without it if I have a choice.

Price/Availability

This product is available all over the place. I purchased it for $4.69 at Publix supermarket.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.0  Nutrition/Ingredients:7.0    Price:8.0    Overall: 7.6

Summary

This doesn’t stand out as a particularly healthy choice, but when compared against the less healthy non-yogurt version it’s much lower in calories and fat, and still boasts a rich, sweet taste. Once you switch to FroYo I doubt you’ll find the need to return to more fattening ice cream.

References

http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/our-flavors#product_id=650

http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/our-flavors#product_id=611

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

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

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Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan ice cream

bp1

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

Do you believe in Nutrition?

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I doubt it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talenti Coffee Chocolate Chip Gelato- Product Review

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

Flavor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients / Nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the full ingredient list:

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

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

Price and Availability

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

Ratings

Flavor: 9.5

Ingredients/Nutrition: 7.5

Price:7.5

Overall: 8.16

 

Summary

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what about the sugar?

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

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

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

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

Turning this into a simple formula we get the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

Nonni’s Biscotti Cioccolati

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Introduction

I’ll admin I’m pretty new to the world of biscotti. I’ve known about this italian cookie (whose name originated from a Latin word that means “twice cooked/baked”) for many years now, but my first opportunity to try one was when we decided to buy one for our son. That was a different product that was sold in single packages, but since he enjoyed it so much we searched for a healthier product. Nonni’s Biscotti Cioccolati is what we ended up discovering.

As you likely already guessed, “Cioccolati” means “Chocolate” in Italian.

Flavor

As is typical of biscotti, these are elongated, finger shaped cookies. Nuts adorn one side and a strip of chocolate the other. While both almonds and walnuts are used according to the ingredients list, the nuts were so finely chopped and so sparse that they practically had no effect on the overall texture or taste. This contrasted greatly with the picture on the box (shown above) where the nut size, amount, and placement was much more favorable. I checked the few cookies remaining in the package and some of those looked better than the ones I had eaten, but none looked quite as good as the product photograph.

I had two of these cookies before writing this report, and one of them was much crisper and firmer than the other, more what I would expect from a twice-baked product. I’m not sure what happened to the  spongy one. Maybe there was a small hole in the packaging which let air in and accelerated staleness. If you are accustomed to super-crispy biscotti, you might be disappointed with this product.

The mildly sweet cookie base, whose flavor brings to mind a cake, is balanced by a sweet, thick layer of chocolate. This was the most generous helping of chocolate I’ve experienced on a Biscotti, and as a result I I don’t think I’ll ever to be enjoy other brands with less chocolate the same.

There was a minor aftertaste which bothered me, or should I say undertaste since it sort of hid underneath the basic flavors. I don’t think it is inherently bad, but it somehow reminded me of another food product which was unhealthy. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is though.

Ingredients / Nutrition

A single cookie has  110 calories and 9 grams of sugar. For a fairly large cookie whose length is about a inch longer than my middle finger, those aren’t bad figures. Most people will tend to nibble a little at a time, so one cookie can go a long way in terms of time and enjoyment.

Theres not much to write home about regarding nutrition, with 2 grams of protein, 1 of fiber, and 4% or Iron. Clearly this cookie wasn’t made to replace a meal but nobody’s trying to pretend it does.

There are around 20 ingredients which isn’t too bad for this type of product. You can compare to my recent review of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Brownie ice cream, which had nearly the same number. There are no artificial flavors, and real vanilla is used instead of the artificial vanillin, which is a nice touch. There is the mysterious “natural flavors” but thats pretty common practice for this type of product. The rest of the ingredients are pretty much standard-fare, with the exception of anise seeds which raised an eyebrow. I’m guessing they use it to improve texture.

As a side note, Nonni’s logo contains the phrase “Authentic Italian Family Recipe” and their website claims they have been using the same recipe for almost a century. However I somewhat doubt that chocolate was used back then, at least in such a large proportion. In any case, the cookie base seems like it might very well be authentic, but I’m no biscotti expert.

Also its interesting to note that their website claims they are the most popular selling biscotti on the market. Aside from the minor texture inconsistency, I’m not surprised.

Price and Availability

I got mine at Publix for around $3.00 for a 8-pack. These are also available online at places like Amazon. For less than 50 cents a cookie, they are a great deal! I called my local Whole Foods and they didn’t carry this product, unfortunately.

Ratings

Flavor: 8.0

Ingredients/Nutrition: 7.0

Price:8.0

Overall: 7.66

Summary

Great tasting biscotti cookie with reasonably natural ingredients and a sweet coating of chocolate. It’s not going to win any awards for nutrition, but its a must-try for fans of biscotti or Italian food.

References

http://nonnis.com/products/cioccolati/

http://www.amazon.com/Nonnis-Biscotti-Cioccolati-8-Count-Boxes/dp/B000G7WWW6

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Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream – Product Review

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Introduction

In my college days, Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie was my go-to ice cream when I had a rough week or had accomplished something noteworthy and deserved a reward. Though I would never attempt this at my age, in those days I would just sit down and polish off an entire carton in a matter of minutes.

I generally try to gravitate towards less sweet products, but there was a half price sale at Publix so I had an excuse to pick up a pint of this.

In spite of my nostalgic attachment to this product, I’ll do my best for an unbiased review.

Flavor

This ice cream is about as sweet, rich, and decadent as you can get. As you come across the brownie pieces, your teeth sink into spongy cake with an even deeper sweetness (if that is even possible). When I eat this my “avoid too much sugar” angel on my shoulder has to keep quiet or else I can’t enjoy myself.

I love how the base ice cream itself is so thick and gooey. It would work fine on its own even without the brownie bites inserted.

This ice cream also tastes colder on the tongue than most others I have tasted, possibly because it is so dense an can hold a low temperature better than others. One reason for this is a high concentration of water.

Ingredients & Nutrition

A 105 g serving (1/4 of the container) contains 270 calories, which is significantly above average for the ice creams I typically enjoy.

I’ll just let the cat out of the bag – Chocolate Fudge ice cream contains way more sugar than anyone health-conscious would ever consider consuming, a whopping 28 grams per serving. But the fact this ice cream is so bad for you is what makes it so tasty, and why it’s perfect for special occasions when you feel you deserve it. Just make sure you eat no more than half of the carton at a time!

Other nutrients are mediocre, with 5 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, 15% DV of iron and 10 %DV of calcium.

There are around 20 ingredients, which is no surprise because typically brownies require several ingredients on their own. Also, this product isn’t marketed as a healthy ice cream so there’s no reason for the producer to try and reduce the ingredient count. Ingredients of note are liquid sugar (#2), water (#4), and cocoa (#6). There is also three egg ingredients (egg yolks, whole eggs, and egg whites) present.

While Ben & Jerry didn’t go out of their way to use ingredients thought to be ‘healthier’ such as agave syrup instead of plain sugar, its nice to see there are no artificial flavorings or colorings. There is no ‘natural flavor’ either.

One minor annoyance I have with this product is the ingredients for the base ice cream and brownie bites are not separated as is done for other products. I have a feeling  the thick texture of the ice cream base is due in part to egg yolks, but I can’t tell for sure since eggs are also typically used in brownie baking.

The brownie bytes make this ice cream very filling so it can be enjoyed even when you’re hungry. Regardless of the state of your stomach, you’ll get a huge sugar rush after this.

Price and Availability

This is available in many different grocery stores, from Publix to Target to Walmart, for roughly $3.79 for a one pint container.

Ratings

Flavor: 9.0

Ingredients&Nutrition: 6.0

Price: 8.0

Overall: 7.66

Summary

This ice cream is perfect for when you want to go overboard and just totally enjoy yourself – at the cost of a massive amount of sugar intake. Not recommend for frequent consumption.

References

http://www.benjerry.com/flavors/our-flavors#product_id=611

Three Sisters Honey Puffs – Product Review

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Introduction

Sugar.

I live a conflicted life – I yearn for sweet treats while simultaneously scrutinizing them for sugar content. Sugar is also the topic of this blog, albeit indirectly.

As I studied my sugar intake I began to realize there is enormous amounts of it in some unexpected places, especially in breakfast foods. Everyone knows donuts are quite sugary, but when you turn a careful eye to other foods such as yogurts, and even many cereals, the sugar really comes out of the woodwork.

Our product this time is in that very category, a strongly sweetened breakfast cereal made by Three Sisters company (not to be confused with “Three Twins”, the ice cream producer). A great thing about this company is that they purchase wind-generated credits proportional to the electricity used to make their cereals, a nice aid to sustainable energy.

Flavor

This cereal is made of sweetened wheat grains, puffed with heat in a process much like popcorn. Both flavor and composition is very similar to Post’s Super Golden Crisp, which it’s clearly modeled after.

I think you probably already saw this coming, but the sweetness is a little too heavy for my taste, especially when eating this as my first meal of the day. The puffy texture is pleasant, but it seems a tad airier than Post’s classic cereal, at least as far as I can remember.

If the overt sweetness doesn’t bother you, you will likely find this cereal quite delicious. My young son loves this and eats it up, sometimes asking for seconds.

Ingredients / Nutrition

One serving (27 grams or ¾ cup) contains only 110 calories, a typical value for cereals. Unfortunately sugar clocks in at a whopping 15 grams. Sure, if you only have one serving this isn’t a massive amount, but the amount of sugar per weight is very high, surpassing many ice creams!

With minor amounts of minerals, this product is nutritionally unimpressive, with only 2 grams of protein and zero fiber. There is low salt (65 mg), and no fat or cholesterol, but that doesn’t make up for the lack of  nutrition.

Ingredient composition isn’t anything special either. Here is the full list:

Sugar, Wheat, Corn Syrup, Honey, salt, Caramel Color, Soy Lechitin, Citric Acid, and Sodium Acetate.

Three out of four of the top ingredients are used for sweetness. With a name like “Honey Puffs” you would expect honey to be the most prevalent, but instead its disappointingly last, and thereby in a much lower proportion that the other sweeteners. Corn Syrup, while not nearly as bad as its evil brother High Fructose Corn Syrup, is nevertheless made from processed corn and something I think we all have had too much of in our diets.

Caramel Color is another undesirable item which I discussed in one of my recent posts. Effects on the body vary depending on the process used but coloring is never a plus unless its from something completely natural.

Sodium Acetate is a common flavoring agent (it gives the characteristic taste to salt and vinegar chips), which supposedly has no major health drawbacks. Having said that, I prefer they would use something a bit more natural, like plain old salt.

Above all my biggest problem with this cereal is that it isn’t much different than the classic cereal it is clearly based off, Post’s Super Golden Crisp. Ingredients are very similar, though there are some minor tradeoffs like less salt (40 mg) and non-zero fat (.5 g). To make matters worse, Honey Puffs actually has *more* sugar than Super Golden Crisp. Give me a break!

I think making a healthy version of a not-so-healthy classic is a great idea, but I wish they would set themselves apart by a wider margin.

Price and Availability

Available exclusively from Whole Foods. I purchased mine for $3.99, though recently they had a sale for buy one get one free.

Ratings

Flavor:6.5

Ingredients/Nutrition:5.0

Price:7.0

Overall:6.2

Summary

Cereal with too much sugar and not enough nutrients to make a well-balanced breakfast.

Related Products

I recommend the Honey Oaties cereal from the same company, which contains more fiber and much less sugar.

References

http://threesisterscereal.com/product/honey-puffs/

http://www.postfoods.com/our-brands/golden-crisp/original

Somersaults Dutch Cocoa (crunchy nuggets baked with sunflower seeds & toasted grains)

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Introduction

This time we’ll focus on a healthy snack food which I recently discovered. Unlike many of the others I’ve reported on so far, it stands pretty well nutritionally on its own. Being in cookie form makes it easy nibble in the middle of work, in bed, or anytime the munchies strike.

Another thing I like about this product is the manufacturer is focused exclusively on making sunflower seed based snacks, and only has five products to date.

Flavor

As soon as I pulled one of these cookies from the pack with my thumb and pointer finger, I was surprised by it’s tiny size and odd appearance – the manufacturer clearly favors substance over style. Popping it into my mouth, it’s firmness was another surprise, not quite tough enough to achieve ‘rock’ status, but definitely harder than I expected. However after a few bite-sized chunks, I quickly got used to the crunchy texture and began enjoying the process of breaking each cookie into smaller and smaller fragments in my mouth. This is another product where the texture takes importance over the flavor.

The flavor itself is quite mild, a mixture of chocolate and nuttiness well blended together, accompanied by a light sweetness. I wouldn’t say there is much of a sunflower seed taste, though as far as I remember sunflower seeds are more about the texture of the seed and saltiness than any particular taste that stands out.

Ingredients / Nutrition

One serving of 14 pieces (30 g, or roughly 1/6th of a 6 ounce pack) contains 140 calories which is reasonable given how filling these little nuggets are. Sugar is also on the low side, with only 4 grams per serving. This is around half that in Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut butter, which is already low in sugar. Sodium is also low at 140 mg (6% DV), and there is a good amount of fiber – 3 grams which translates to 12% of daily recommended value. There is a modest amount of protein as well, with 6 grams per serving.

Sunflower seeds contain a wide variety of nutrients including amino acids, Vitamin E (10% DV), and cholesterol lowering phytosterols. They also are top rank in the nuts & seeds category, based on Whole Food’s ANDI score, which measures nutrient density (“Aggregate Nutrient Density Index”). In case you’re curious, sesame seeds are #2 which coincidentally are also present in these cookies.

There are 13 ingredients, with the top five as follows: sunflower seeds, wheat flour, sugar, organic evaporated cane juice, and cocoa powder. A key point here is that sunflower seeds are #1 on the list – these are not something thrown in just to add a appearance of healthiness, they are the most prevalent ingredient. Cocoa as the fifth ingredient is also a nice bonus.

My only major gripe is the presence of “natural flavors” in the ingredient list (as #11, but still). As mentioned in other reports, I am uncomfortable with this since I don’t know exactly what I am eating, only that it’s “natural”. It could be made from tree bark for all I know. I’ve sent a request to Somersaults Snack Company for more information about what “natural flavors” contains, will update this post when I receive a response. This ingredient does contain the text “(milk)” next to it, but It’s not clear if that means only milk is included or if milk is just one of the things used.

Update: I received a response from Somersaults regarding their natural flavors. I’ll excerpt part of their response, unedited:

The natural flavors in our Dutch Cocoa are: butter and brownie. So while there isn’t explicit butter or brownie ingredients inside the product, natural derivatives used to make these products can be found in Somersaults. 

Price and Availability

These are available directly from the producer’s website in .5 oz , 2 oz, or 6 oz bags. The current prices for these are very reasonable at $0.71, $1.70, and $3.59, respectively. You can also buy in bulk for a discount. Supporting direct sale in a variety of sizes like this is pretty impressive, and the first time I’ve seen this for a product. There is even an option on the site to sign up for recurring delivery and save an extra 10%!

I purchased my 6 ounce bag from Whole Foods Market for around the same price as above.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Ingredients/Nutrition: 8.5

Price: 8.0

Overall: 7.8

Summary

Dutch Cocoa Somersaults are a sunflower seed-based snack with a mild flavor and can fill you up pretty easily with their natural ingredients. Great for anytime you hunger for some nutrition but don’t have time for a proper meal.

References

http://www.somersaultsnackco.com/?event=enjoy.cocoa

http://shop.somersaultsnackco.com/Dutch-Cocoa/p/SOM-DCOCOA

http://www.somersaultsnackco.com/?event=enjoy.powerofseeds

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunflower_seed#Nutritional_value

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/healthy-eating/health-starts-here/resources-and-tools/top-ten-andi-scores#nuts-and-seeds

Artisana Organic Raw Cacao Bliss – The coconut lovers’ spread!

artisana

Intro

A majority of the products I’ve reviewed in this blog up until now have been longtime favorites of mine, something I’ve enjoyed for months if not years. Those reports were a lot of fun to write, but I’m running out of ammo. If I am going to keep updating this blog at the same rate, I’m going to have to adventure out and try new things. It will be a great experience for me to see what else is out there in the world of sweets, and I hope some of you readers can learn about some products you hadn’t heard of it, or hadn’t had a chance to try.

My last review was partially in this category, but the subject this time, Artisana Oganic Raw Cacao Bliss, was chosen just so I could have something interesting to report on.

I wasn’t able to find out the official date this product was released, but I just noticed it on the shelves of Whole Foods Market a few weeks back, so it may be somewhat new.

Flavor

I could just state the flavor is a mix of coconut and cacao, which would be quite correct, but that much you could easily guess just from the product name.

In all fairness, I come a background of heavy “Justin” (Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter) use, so I can’t help but compare initially. Texture wise, cacao bliss is much more oilier with a finer consistency, almost what I would describe as grainy. Due to the lack of nuts this product is less ‘meaty’ than nut-based spreads.

What really hit me in the face, so to speak, was how *coconutty* this spread is. I’m a big proponent of coconut-based ice cream, but I’ve never been overpowered by the coconut flavor there; it’s always secondary to the other flavors. In this product it’s really exposed, with the cocoa flavor taking a back seat.

My first reaction wasn’t too rosy, but after I finished my slice of bread and rested a moment, I realized I wanted some more. So I worked my fingers and squeezed every last drop of this coconut-heavy spread into my mouth, and to my surprise was already liking it more. I have the feeling I’ll learn to love it as I eat more of this product, and learn to stop comparing it to other spreads.

Ingredients / Nutrition

In one 33.7 gram pack there are 177 calories, a value on par with similar spreads. Sugar is very low at 3 grams, nearly half that of my beloved “Justin”.

There all only five ingredients, all Organic: Coconut Butter, Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Agave Syrup, Cacao, and Cacao Butter. Many will be happy to hear this product is both vegan and free of sugar cane sugar, and it should satisfy even the pickiest health fanatics. I’d like to note that the term “raw” is a bit vague, and most if not all of the ingredients here have at least some processing.

Although the protein content (2 grams) is a little lower than nut-based spreads, both coconut butter and coconut oil are known for a wide array of health benefits.  For example, they can increase metabolism, reduce cholesterol, and help maintain proper weight. 

Unfortunately in the world of nutrition there is always another side to things. Coconut oil is a saturated fat and hence should be limited a small portion of total calories due to potential increase in heart disease risk. So as with most things, eat this in moderation.

Price and Availability

This product is sold in 1.19 ounce (33.7 gram) packs, either individually or in sets of 10. I bought a single pack from Whole Foods for around $2.00, though if you look around you can buy a pack of 10 for as little as 1.67 per pack online (see references).

It’s also sold in 6 packs of 227 gram jars, for roughly 20% cheaper than buying the 33 gram packs.

Ratings

Flavor: 5.0

Ingredients/Nutrition:8.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.66

Summary

Healthy chocolate spread which is great for coconut lovers.

References

http://artisanafoods.com/raw-organic-cacao-bliss-single-serving

http://artisanafoods.com/products/cacao-bliss

http://www.wholesomerepublic.com/artisana-organic-raw-cacao-butter-1-19-oz-10-squeeze-packs/

http://www.vitadigest.com/groc-870001000923.html

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/surprising-health-benefits-coconut-oil

http://www.12minuteathlete.com/coconut-butter/

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/coconut-oil-and-health