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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

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Store Review: Royce (Japanese Chocolatier)

One thing I have become slightly disappointed lately is the state of the various chocolate producers and their product lineups. While there are a few companies, such as Green & Blacks, which make a variety of creative, tasty chocolate products, there are countless other companies that put up a big marketing show for run-of-the-mill chocolate without any special characteristics (flavor, ingredients, etc.) . I don’t know how some of these companies can stay in business with so many competitors putting out nearly identical products. My guess is that most of it comes down to marketing and connections, and as long as a company can hook a niche market they can survive for some time.

Near the end of a recent business trip, I happened to be browsing through New York’s Bryant Park, searching for food and sweets in the many stores in the park and in the nearby area. I walked by one store and as I peered in through its window some very unique chocolate caught my eye. Not just the stylistic packaging, thin square boxes with monotone coloring, but the chocolates themselves were something I had never seen before. There was a dark-chocolate looking one covered with powdered cocoa, and a green one covered with something that looked like green tea powder. Unfortunately the store was closed at the time (it was sometime after 8pm on a weekday), but I decided I would research this place and come back later. The name “Royce” was easy to remember if I associated it with “Rolls Royce”.

When I got back to my hotel and did a bit of research I discovered Royce was a high quality Japanese chocolate maker, established in Sapporo in 1983. Their Japanese name is pronounced something like “royz”. That explained the green tea chocolate – the Japanese really love their green tea. The company’s website said there was only stores available in the US, and both were in New York. Lucky me! I decided to head there the next day, which was my last opportunity to shop before returning home.

Getting there was a bit tricky since I got off at work at 6pm and they closed at 7. I ended up taking the Metro and having to run through the city until I arrived around 6:30pm with just enough time to browse.

The store is set inside a building with others, such that a double entrance is required to get inside. The actual square footage of the place was very small, but with a sparse design they somehow managed to make it feel much bigger. There was a large shelf against one wall with various products on display, and a long square table in the middle. Everything was very modern, very bright, and very clean. Essentially, very Japanese. If you check out this link, you can see their other store to get a feel for the design used. (Interesting linguistic note: one word for ‘beautiful’ in Japanese is ‘kirei’ which also means ‘clean’)

Upon closer inspection, the middle table contained both products I had seen in the window, “Nama Chocolate Bitter” and “Nama Chocolate Maccha”. Both were only $18 which I considered cheap for these rare and unique products. I felt even better about this price after I heard from one of the saleswomen that they do not sell their products online. (Note: I did find at least two of their products sold on Amazon, but they were by third parties and had very high markups of over 200%. Here is one.)

After taking in the beauty of the store for some time, I become concerned when I realized the middle table was actually refrigerated, and when I asked one of the saleswomen she said the products will last 7 hours outside a refrigerator, and 11 hours inside a special bag which they provide free of charge. Unfortunately my hotel didn’t have a refrigerator, so these wouldn’t do for a souvenir to bring home to the family. It would be a waste of money to buy and eat only a few myself before throwing it away, so I decided on skipping these altogether. I was given a small sample of the bitter one which had an amazing flavor, something like light fudge with cocoa powder. A second sample which I couldn’t refuse was one of their marshmallow products. It was surprisingly tough but had a taste like nothing I’ve had before.

In retrospect I feel a bit stupid, because although the products displayed in the window were not in a refrigerator, the product name “nama” means “raw” in Japanese, so I could have of guessed refrigeration was required.

I ended up purchasing two other products which didn’t require refrigeration. I haven’t tried these yet but planning on tasting and reviewing soon.

Summary

A very unique chocolatier only available in New York – highly recommended for anyone who considers themselves a consumer of high quality, high class chocolates.

Note: They are working on opening a third store, and one of the other stores was closed for construction, so be sure to check their website before heading over.

References

http://royceconfectusa.com/

http://royceconfectusa.com/locations/

Perugina Milk Chocolate With Cappuccino Crispy

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On a recent business trip to New York, I searched a few grocery local stores for a new sweet treat to taste. I wanted a taste of coffee without too much caffeine so I decided on this product. This is the first time I have seen a product by Perugina, an Italian company established in 1907,  so I thought it would be an interesting experience.

I’ll quote a sentence from the marketing quip on the back of the  package:

“You will be transported into a dream world of flavor, culture, and passion for delicacies that is genuinely Italian.”

Flavor

Everything from this product, from its appearance to its taste, seemed like a ripoff of the classic ‘Nestle Crunch’. Nestle Crunch has been around since 1938, but I’m not sure if Perugina’s product was first of not. If I had to guess I would go with Nestle Crunch being first. Ironically Nestle purchased Perugina in 1988 – I wonder how this affected their recipes.

My biggest beef with this product is that there is practically no coffee flavor, its overpowered by all the sugar packed in. The ingredient list also is consistent with this since coffee is listed after sugar.

This one of the times when I will probably not finish the entire bar and it will end up in the trash can. To be fair, its also one of the times I didn’t pay attention to the ingredients before purchase.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In a 40 gram serving (2.5 total servings) there is 220 calories and 19 grams of sugars.  This is pretty typical for chocolate bars with a low percentage of cocoa. It isn’t listed on the package, but from the taste and amount of sugars I would say roughly 30-40%.

Because of the high sugar content (listed first on the ingredient list) and low cocoa content, I can’t recommend this chocolate from a nutritional perspective. One surprise is that crisped rice is used in Nestle Crunch, whereas this product has modified food starch and wheat maltodextrin replacing that.  The presence of artificial flavors really puts the nail in the coffin for this chocolate.

I have no idea what part of this product is “genuinely Italian”, since both the flavor and ingredients are quite generic. I guess this company still gets shelf space since it has been around for over 100 years (and has the backing of Nestle), but if they want to stay competitive they should try new recipes with more unique flavor and healthy ingredients.

Full ingredient list: Sugar, milk, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, cappuccino crispy (nonfat milk, sugar, coffee, modified food starch, wheat maltodextrin), milkfat, sunflower lechitin, artificial flavor.

Price/Availability

I got this for $4.99 at Cafe Hestia near Grand Central Station in New York.

Ratings:   Flavor: 6.0   Nutrition/Ingredients: 5.o   Price:  7.0  Overall: 6.0

Summary

With a load of sugar, very little chocolate and hardly any coffee taste, this product is a major letdown. If you are a bug fan of classic chocolate like Hershey’s you might enjoy this, otherwise pass it up for more healthy, refined chocolate.

LaLoo’s Deep Chocolate Goat’s Milk Ice Cream

lala 

When I first saw this product around a year ago, I was attracted by it’s unique packaging and high price. I didn’t know much about goat’s milk and frankly was a little hesitant, but decided to take the plunge for a new sweet desert experience. It was glad I didn’t chicken out because I ended up discovering a great product!

Flavor

Its funny because fundamentally I shouldn’t like this product. Several years back I got tired of all plain vanilla and chocolate ice creams, and recently tend to gravitate to things which have nuts, chocolate chips, or something else to provide a balanced contrast of flavors. But there is something special about this which makes me always want to come back for more.

Texture-wise this ice cream is very similar to typical cow’s milk ice cream, and that is no surprise given these two milks are similar in composition. It’s very creamy and doesn’t get hard in the freezer, so I can eat it right away after pulling it out, whereas some other non-milk based products have odd textures or require waiting to get soft enough to enjoy.

When I take in a mouth full of this ice cream my first thought is of plain old chocolate ice cream. But as it sits in my mouth, I begin to notice two things. First, the chocolate (listed 3rd on label) tastes a little stronger than some other brands. I want to describe it’s taste as “refined” or “elegant”, but I think there is some bias on my side since I know the chocolate comes from a name brand chocolate maker (Scharffen Berger). Also, the goat milk adds a new dimension with some subtle flavors not present in typical ice creams. Some describe goat milk as extra sweet, or salty, but I find these words don’t really mean much to me. Just try it yourself and you might just get hooked like I did.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In a 90 gram serving there is a 160 calories and 15 grams of sugars. The sugar content is quite low compared to many milk-based ice creams, and comparable to many coconut milk-based ones. The calorie content is also much less than average compared to both other types of products. For comparison I’ll present a brief table with values for a few other products, adjusted by weight.

  • LaLoo’s deep chocolate        => 177 calories / 17 grams of sugars
  • Ben & Jerry’s chocolate therapy  => 250 calories / 23 grams of sugars
  • Publix premium chocolate             => 205 calories / 21 grams of sugars
  • Talenti double dark chocolate      => 210 calories / 25 grams of sugars
  • So Delicious german chocolate    => 212 calories / 16 grams of sugars

Protein is moderate, at 5 grams per serving.

Unlike many other products which are made with unnamed chocolate, this one utilizes Sharffen Berger chocolate, whose chocolate bars you have seen in the grocery store. Scharffen Berger is a chocolate maker founded in 1997 in San Francisco, and was “the first American ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate manufacturer in over 50 years,” according to their website. I haven’t done any direct taste comparison of their bars and can’t say for certain they do anything special compared to other chocolate products, but for chocolate fanatics this is a nice bonus and might have some nutritional benefits as well.

Speaking of nutritional benefits, the main advantage of this product is that is contains goat’s milk instead of the typical cow’s milk found in ice cream. It is claimed that goat’s milk has a few benefits over cow’s milk. For example, it is less likely to trigger allergies, easier to digest, and more friendlier to those who are lactose intolerant. It is also reported to be closer to human breast milk.

I can’t say conclusively that goat’s milk is better than cow’s milk, but in the vein of getting a wide selection of different types of nutrients, I suggest trying to add goat milk products to your diet a little at a time.

This product has only 11 ingredients, and of those the only one that I would consider debatable is carrageenan, used for it’s thickening properties (among other things). I’ve spoke about this briefly in another post (here) but I wish was not used in ice cream products.

Full ingredient list: Goat Milk, Sugar, Scharffen Berger (processed with alkali) semi-sweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, lecithin, vanilla), Egg Yolks, Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Carrageenan.

Price/Availability

This ice cream is quite hard to find. The only place I have seen it sold recently is the Whole Foods Market in Fort Lauderdale (info here), selling at $6.99 for a pint (473 mL).

I remember seeing it for a bit more a few months ago, though I don’t remember the exact price. It was somewhere in the range $7.99 to $8.99. In any case I’m glad they dropped the price. Even $6.99 is quite expensive considering you can get many coconut and milk-based desserts for a dollar or two cheaper. But, given goat milk ice creams are quite rare (I don’t know of any others), it is fair for this to have a certain premium.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.5   Nutrition/Ingredients:8.0    Price:  7.0  Overall: 7.83

Summary

This goat milk ice cream, natural and delicious, is a great vacation away from your average milk-based ice cream. It’s a little pricey, but its unique flavor makes up for that.

References

http://www.laloos.com/flavors.php

http://www.laloos.com/images/nutritional_Deep_Chocolate.jpg

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/fortlauderdale

http://www.scharffenberger.com/our-story/history/

http://www.eatlifewhole.com/2013/06/goats-milk-vs-cows-milk-is-there-a-difference/

http://www.mtcapra.com/benefits-of-goat-milk-vs-cow-milk/

Product Review: Organic Nectars Cashewtopia Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato

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Did you know gelato made from cashew nuts existed?

Until recently I didn’t either. In fact, if it weren’t for me going out of my way to find unique desserts in order to have material for my reviews, I probably would have never tried Organic Nectar’s Cashewtopia Chocolate Hazelnut gelato.

Packaging

One of the reasons I had not been interested in this product is the packaging, magenta and black text against a plain white background, didn’t really appeal to me.  This design could be said to succeed in the sense of differentiating the product line from competitors, but it feels too sterile to me, almost like a medicine bottle design.

My other issue with the package design is that there is just too much text. There is over 10 lines of text no the front, and the back is even worse, with a very long description of how healthy this product is for you. Reading this, we learn that this gelato is sweetened with coconut and agave syrups, made in-house by the same company which are also sold as separate products. It makes me happy to know they are using two natural sources of sweetness, and the fact the sweeteners are self-produced means they probably have greater control over their quality. But it also annoys me since they are not-so-subtly advertising their own products in both the long descriptive text and the ingredients list below.

The thing that got me thinking about the design of this product was the “org” abbreviation for “organic”, used several times on the label. As it was the first time I had seen this particular shortening, it took a few seconds to register, especially because the full word “Organic” is used elsewhere in the ingredient list (it so happens this is only for their self-made syrup and nectar). After thinking about it for some time I finally realized that the only reason they abbreviated to “org” is because they ran out of space with such a cluttered and over-verbose design.

I was able to get the needed information from the package, but I just wish they had conveyed it in a more elegant and minimalistic way.

Flavor

To be honest, the flavor is very… lets just say different that what I was expecting. The hazelnuts scattered throughout are small and irregularly shaped, but they have a nice crunchy texture in the mouth. The problems is with the base itself, which has a strong sweetness that tastes somehow odd to me, and tastes quite unlike cashews. I’ve had a dessert which contained a high proportion of agave (Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss, Chocolate Hazelnut fudge), but in that product the sweetness was toned down. Here, its more in-your-face, and just tastes different. I’m not sure how to explain it – a effect caused by cashews, some difference in the plant or processing of the agave, or possibly some other minor ingredient.

It’s not that I hate the taste, just that its strange and hard to get accustomed to. Even the scent is very unusual and has some overtones not present in coconut, agave, or cashews.

Having said that, I’ve been able to eat over half a pint so far, and will likely finish it up in the next few days. The only question is will I buy this again, hoping to get used to it for the sake of the nutritional benefits, or stay with frozen desserts which are more my taste.

Nutrition/Ingredients

The marketing quip on the label is correct in that this gelato has (slightly) below-average calories, with 160 calories in a 85 gram serving. My mini database of ice cream figures has about 170 calories as an average figure for this serving size. Sugars is 16 grams which is also a bit below average, though the sugar is from two natural sources (coconuts and agave) so it may be healthier than some frozen desserts which use only table sugar.

Protein is suspiciously low at 2 grams per serving. Cashews apparently have 5 grams of protein per 28 grams worth of total weight, and from that you can infer there is a relatively small amount of cashews in this product (my calculations estimate 8-10%). Just because they are listed first doesn’t mean there is necessarily a huge amount of it present.

Nutritionally this product is great, with a wide array of natural sources, some of which are thought to have many beneficial health effects, such as coconut and cashews. There is no added sugars, no artificial flavors, and no artificial colors. For those trying to avoid certain foods, everything is dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, gluten-free, vegan, and certified organic and kosher.

My only concern is the “org chocolate hazelnut flavor” ingredient, listed last. It seems to indicate something besides actual chocolate or hazelnuts, similar to the “natural flavors” category I despise. I had an exchange with an employee of Organic Nectars over email and was told the organic flavorings are only 0.025% of the total weight, “composed of NON-GMO carriers, as well as flavoring components comprised of  one or more of the following: Natural extracts of plant origin, (from vegetables or fruits), Essential Oils (from vegetables, fruit or spice sources) and essences of plant origin (from fruit primarily).”

As with other companies, they won’t tell you what’s in their ‘secret sauce’, but its nice they have limited the possible components and the proportion used in the product. Honestly I don’t understand how anything present in such a small dose (0.025%) could have any effect on the taste, but I clearly have more research to do in this area so I can learn how these “natural flavors” are made and influence the overall taste.

Full ingredient list: raw org cashews, purified water, Organic Nectars AgaveLight (raw organic agave syrup), org hazelnuts, org gum acacia (nutritional acacia sap fiber), org agave inulin (nutritional prebiotic fiber), org raw cacao powder, Organic Nectars PalmSweet (organic evaporated coconut palm nectar), org virgin coconut oil, org safflower oil, org raw cacao butter, org guar gum (nutritional jaguar plant seed fiber), org arrowroot, pink crystal salt, org chocolate hazelnut flavor.

Price/Availability

I bought this at Whole Foods for around $7.49, quite expensive for a pint. I understand premium/specialty products have justification to keep their prices high, but in the long run I feel this product only has a chance to succeed if they lower prices to a more reasonable level.

Ratings:   Flavor:  5.0 Nutrition/Ingredients: 9.0  Price: 6.0   Overall: 6.7

Summary

This gelato is a Jekyll/Hyde to me – amazing nutritional potential but the weird sweetness that dominates the flavor is hard to ignore. I recommend waiting until the price drops to $5-$6 and then try it yourself, or one of the company’s other flavors.

References

http://www.organicnectars.com/products.html#

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

Ikea chocolate oat ball with coconut sprinkles (SÖTSAK KAKAOBOLL) – product review

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Introduction

[Note: I have taken a break from this blog to focus my energies on my new blog, which is about learning Japanese language. Please check it out here if you are interested: http://selftaughtjapanese.com ]

This one of the rare times where I tried a product without any prior knowledge of its ingredients or nutritional information. These chocolate balls were sitting on display (openly without packaging) in Ikea’s cafeteria, and I couldn’t help myself from tasting one.

I was very delighted by this  unique confection and have made a habit of having one every time I visit this wonderland of furniture stores.

I’ll set the tone for this review with an an excerpt of marketing material I received from Ikea.

“In a coffee-loving country like Sweden, the “fika”, or coffee break, is a treasured part of the day. And Swedish fika traditions hold that coffee should be served with seven small cakes and sweet biscuits.”

Flavor

The first time I picked up these chilled chocolate balls I was surprised at its weight, hinting at the massive amount of delicious things packed inside.

There is a strong sweetness and rich chocolate flavor, but the complex texture of this product is what really makes it so special. I struggle to find a way to describe its hearty composition.  It’s almost like someone dug deep into the earth and pulled out a crumbly chunk of slightly oily, chocolaty soil, When you chew through the middle of the ball there is sort a gritty sensation which is a treat for the jaw, somewhere between crunchy and chewy. There’s also a strong chocolate scent to complete the taste experience.

At the time I had no idea how they crafted this magnificent texture, but when I read through the ingredients later I discovered that oats where the main contributor, with help from wheat flour, egg powder and baking soda. Irrespective of the nutritional value of this product, I consider this a masterpiece of cookie design.

If you take big bites you’ll polish off one of these in no time. Try to nibble small morsels one at a time for maximum enjoyment.

The coconut sprinkled on the outside of the ball added little to the taste or texture. I even broke off a piece of the crumbly inside, without the outer layer of chocolate coating and coconut rasp, but it tasted the same. To be fair, without the coconut sprinkles I think the appearance of the product would be naked and bland. If nothing else it hints at the texture inside.

The only thing preventing me from giving this a perfect flavor score is that the taste is so rich, its difficult to enjoy more than one in a sitting. It does go perfect with milk, however.

Nutrition/Ingredients

Each ball weighs in at 40 grams and packs 195 calories. For a small desert that’s quite a punch, but the calories/weight ratio is comparable to other similar candies. Take Ferrero Rocher’s Hazlenut chocolates where one serving (three balls) contain 220 calories for 41 grams. There are 13 grams of sugar which is reasonable for this type of product (compare to 15 grams in the same Hazlenut chocolates).  Regardless of these figures, If I was trying to cut down on calories and sugar, I would pick Rocher’s product because the smaller ball size, with less density of ingredients, means I can spend more time enjoying them.

There isn’t much nutrition here, with only 2 grams of fiber and protein, and practically no vitamins or minerals. That’s OK with me, since I don’t expect much nutrition for a dessert of this type.

When I had first discovered this product in Ikea’s restaurant, I didn’t realize it was also sold in packs of six, so I sent an email to the company requesting ingredient information. After a little persistence, I finally got the detailed list which I’ll excerpt here unmodified:

Oat flakes (27 %), margarine (vegetable oils, water, salt, emulsifier [E471], natural flavouring, antioxidant [E330]), sugar, chocolate flavoured coating (12 %) (sugar, vegetable oil, fat reduced cocoa powder [15 %], emulsifier [soya lecithin], stabilizer [E492]), crumbs (sugar, oats [25 %], margarine [vegetable oils, water, salt, emulsifier (E471), antioxidant (E330), natural flavouring], wheat flour, egg powder, raising agents ­[E500ii, E450i, E503ii]), inverted sugar syrup, coconut rasp (2.5 %), fat reduced cocoa powder (1.6 %), flavouring, colour (E150a), water, preservative (E202). May contain traces of milk and almonds.

Its nice that  27 % of this product is oat flakes. Unfortunately there are several ingredients I try to avoid – margarine, flavoring (one is ‘natural’ while the other is likely artificial), an antioxidant (citric acid), preservative (potassium sorbate) and coloring (caramel color, class I – the least risky of the four classes).

With practically no nutrients and a handful of potentially harmful ingredients, this product should never be eaten for the purpose of nourishing the body.

Price/Availability

These chocolate balls are sold in Ikea stores as singles (for roughly $1.00 each) and in packs of six for $2.29.

I am considering making a homemade version of these chocolate balls myself someday, so I was very delighted to find that Ikea has a free handout available which contains a recipe for this product. Surely it will not taste exactly the same, but it has less ingredients and will likely be much healthier. This is probably the first time I’ve seen a store do this (except for places like Publix which stand to make a profit from ingredient sales) and I’m very impressed Ikea went out of their way to do this.

Ratings:   Flavor: 9.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:5.0    Price:8.0    Overall: 7.3

Summary

A delicious, unique desert which should be sampled once by any sweet tooth. Be careful about getting addicted since it lacks nutrition and contains several suspicious substances.

References

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/20229025/

http://www.myfitnesspal.com/food/calories/ikea-chocolate-covered-oat-balls-with-coconut-sprinkles-31372721

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Three Sisters Cocoa Snapz rice cereal – product review

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Introduction

I like to eat cereal every morning with my family before I go to work. It’s a good way to start the day especially when I can’t always predict when I’ll have time for lunch. To keep things from getting boring, we try to change up the cereal every few days to something different.

I had reviewed Three Sister’s Honey Puffs rice cereal in a previous blog entry (see first reference below), and I decided to try out another of their cereals. As you’ll soon find out, these two cereals have a great deal in common.

This cereal is pretty much a “healthy” version of Kellogg’s Cocoa Krispies, meaning its supposed to be healthy though in some ways it isn’t much different.

Flavor

This cereal is made of puffed rice, made with a similar process as puffed wheat in Honey Puffs. This gives it a light fluffy texture, and the added advantage of higher surface area without too much volume. In other words, you are eating a lot of air, and as a result you take in less calories, sugar, and nutrients (per spoonful) that you would otherwise if it wasn’t puffed. You could call this a health food in that sense (much like puffed rice cakes), but I actually think of it more as a way for the producer to save money on materials and sell a large bag of cereal with a good percentage of that empty space.

It has a moderately sweet chocolate flavor, which is appetizing but not quite what I am looking for in a cereal. The sweetness catches your intention while you are eating but sometime later you realize you really haven’t eaten that much food (at least if you eat a small bowl like I do) and are likely to get hungry earlier than if you ate a more wholesome breakfast.

Both the flavor and texture is nearly identical to Cocoa Krispies.

Nutrition / Ingredients

In a single 29 gram (3/4 cup) serving, there are 120 calories which is standard for this type of product. Sugar is 13 grams, a bit on the sweet side.

There isn’t much nutrition in this product, with no fiber, practically no protein (1 gram per serving), and less than 10% of most common vitamins and minerals. Sodium is nothing special at 150 mg, which is 6% of daily intake.

Because of the lack of substance and nutrition, I feel this is really not the best way to get your day started, unless of course you supplement it with other foods higher in nutrition.

The ingredients are so-so, with caramel color, and natural flavor as negative marks in my book. The full list is as follows:

Rice, Sugar, Coconut oil, Cocoa (process with alkali), Contains 2% less of: salt, caramel color, natural flavor, reduced iron, zinc (zinc oxide)

When comparing this to Cocoa Krispies, as you might expect both the ingredients and nutritional information is very similar. Calorie count is virtually the same (120 calories for one 31 gram serving) and sugars is actually a tad less in the “less healthy” version, at 12 grams. The other funny thing is that Cocoa Krispies has much more vitamins and minerals (compare 25% DV of vitamin A and C to 0% in Cocoa Snaps).

I remember writing something similar for the Sugar Puffs review – but I’ll repeat it here. If a cereal really wants to be billed as “healthy”, it should reduce sugar and add some more nutrients. This cereal actually has less nutrients and more sugar! (I’d like to point on here that some believe that vitamins and minerals added artificially are not easily absorbed by the body and have little to no value)

There are a few areas where Cocoa Snapz is healthier than its predecessor. Natural flavor and caramel color is used instead of malt flavor, artificial flavor, and BHT (a preservative). The last of those has particularly scary, with some research pointing to cancer-inducing effects in animal experiments. I’m not convinced it is truly harmful but if a cereal can stay fresh enough without BHT that is clearly a better way go.

Price and Availability

Available exclusively from Whole Foods. I purchased mine for $3.99. There are 396 grams in the package.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Nutrition/Ingredients: 6.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.66

Summary

A cereal that closely copies Cocoa Krispies flavor while making it more healthy in some areas (no preservatives) and potentially worse in others (less nutrients, slightly more sugar). If you are a fan of Krispies I recommend trying this, otherwise I would search for a heartier cereal with more nutrition.

References

https://sweetsreporter.com/2013/10/02/three-sisters-honey-puffs-product-review/

http://threesisterscereal.com/product/cocoa-snapz/

http://www.ricekrispies.com/products/cocoa-krispies-cereal

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/two-preservatives-avoid

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Talenti Coffee Chocolate Chip Gelato- Product Review

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Introduction

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

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

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

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

Flavor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients / Nutrition

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the full ingredient list:

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

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

Price and Availability

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

Ratings

Flavor: 9.5

Ingredients/Nutrition: 7.5

Price:7.5

Overall: 8.16

 

Summary

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss Mint Galactica ice cream – Product Review

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Introduction

This is my second product report of a Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss product, the first being of Chocolate Walnut Brownie flavor. I’m a big fan of that ice cream so I thought I would experiment with another flavor.

I’ve had my share of mint ice creams: Bryer’s mint chocolate chip was one of my favorites as a boy, and recently I’ve enjoyed Talenti’s Mediterranean Mint on a handful of occasions.

I was won over by this product’s great name (could it be because I’m a fan of Science Fiction?), even before I tossed the pint into my shopping cart. If I gave a rating for naming, I would surely give this a 10/10.

Flavor

The base cream has a strong coconut flavor, more so than other makers’ coconut ice cream I’ve tasted, and the mint is very much in-your-face. These two flavors mesh well and make a great foundation for an excellent taste experience.

But this ice cream falls short to deliver a strong counterpoint which serves as a contrast, like a picture with a well defined foreground and background. In my previous review, there was a nice contrast between the sweet chocolate coating and the (somewhat) crunchy cookie part.

The chocolate flakes are supposed to serve that role, but until I ate this I didn’t realize the true difference between ‘flakes’ and ‘chips’. Chips are cube shaped and flakes are, well, similar to well-known corn flakes where they have a large, irregular surface area, but are extremely thin. My problem with this shape is that they appear large and tasty, but when you taste them there is practically no substance. As a result they don’t influence texture or taste much. I included a close-up picture of the flakes at the bottom of this post for reference.

After several servings of this I might get used to these flakes and understand their contribution better, but at present I just feel like there this product is just too hollow and lacking depth.

Another minor disappointment is that this ice cream is white, not colored green like some other mint-flavored creams. Of course I’m against using artificial colorings, but apart from that I feel the color has a psychological effect of emphasizing the mint flavor and making it taste all the more refreshing. To me, plain white signifies vanilla, which is at odds with the actual flavor here.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to say this coconut ice cream is that bad, its just that when compared to  similar products it falls short. In fact, I am enjoying eating it while writing this report.

Nutrition / Ingredients

A 1/2 cup serving (97 grams) contains 15 grams of sugar, below average for ice creams, and 240 calories which also on the low side. There are 3 grams of fiber and 2 of protein.

Nutritionally this ice cream is very similar to the previously reviewed Chocolate Walnut Brownie, except that here we have much less Iron (4% vs 15% DV), one-fifth the salt (10mg vs 55mg), and a few other minor differences.

The base ingredients are also similar between these two products, and everything is organic. Of course there are no brownies or walnuts, which have been replaced by peppermint extract and coconut cream, the latter being an ingredient I haven’t seen used before. The chocolate here is in flake form as opposed to be mixed into the cream itself.

I have been researching the health effects on various types of sugar, and apparently some professionals believe that agave isn’t especially good for the body. The high amount of fructose contained in agave makes it resemble the dreaded “high-fructose corn syrup”. I plan on doing some more research on this critical topic and eventually would like to write a detailed post with my results, but for now I’ll just say that there is disagreement on how healthy each type of sugar really is. I personally still prefer agave to standard sugar, but because of the uncertainty I’ve reduced my ingredients/nutrition rating of this product from 8.5 to 8.0.

Price and Availability

This typically sells for around $6.49 with tax. This a bit pricey for those on a budget, but not unexpected, considering this is a non-dairy specialty product.

There a only a few places that I know of in South Florida that sell this, one is Whole Foods Market which is where it happened to be on sale for roughly one dollar cheaper.

Ratings

Flavor:6.0

Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.0

Price: 6.0

Overall: 6.6

Summary

Nice healthy ice cream with natural ingredients, but the flavor may be a little underwhelming for those who are used to other mint creams.

References

http://coconutbliss.com/coconut-bliss-products/mint-galactica

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-truth-about-agave

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