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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

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

Whole Treat Organic Ice Cream Sandwiches – Product Review

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Intro

In my high school days there was a time when I frequently ate ice cream sandwiches – vanilla ice cream held between two chocolate cookies.  But it was just a passing craze for me, and many years have passed since I went on to other desserts.

Recently I discovered Whole Foods made their own “healthy” version of the traditional ice cream sandwich, so I decided to try them out.

Flavor

By far the most noteworthy thing about this product is the texture, which is pretty rare as desserts go. Neither the ice cream nor the cookie, both very sweet, are exceptionally tasty on their own. And yet together they make a perfect match – the dark cookies with their tough, chewy texture contrast well against the soft, pure white ice cream. The latter is always the perfect consistency, even when pulled straight from the freezer, thanks to rich cream being used as the main ingredient.

Temperature difference also plays a big role here in the enjoyment. The cookie, with its relatively low density and viscosity, tends to retain less of the coldness than the ice cream. Just as you are sinking your teeth into the cookie you suddenly hit gold and the sensation of chilled cream expands in your mouth – a refreshing surprise that repeats itself on each and every bite.

Ingredients / Nutrition

Each 60 gram, 89 mL sandwich contains 170 calories and 14 grams of sugar. These are on the low end of the scale, making this a perfect dessert for those counting calories, and the individually wrapped packs make it easy to limit yourself to one sandwich per sitting.

The perceived sweetness is actually quite intense, which is perplexing at first because of the low sugar content. However, this makes sense when you take into account the fact that the sandwiches are pretty small, and that sugar (in the form of organic dehydrated cane juice) is the second ingredient in both ice cream and cookies.

The ingredients, mostly organic, are generally healthy, with the possible exception of caramel coloring present in the cookie. Caramel coloring, depending on how it is made, can be a carcinogen (see references) and cause problems with allergies. I don’t know the exact type of caramel coloring used here as it isn’t specified on the package, but I feel that using a more natural coloring agent (possibly a beet-based one) would be healthier. I’ve sent an email to Whole Foods requesting more information about this, will update this post when I receive a response.

[Update: after a few days I got a response from Whole Foods stating that the vendor uses a Class 1 caramel color, which is the least controversial because it avoids using ammonium or sulfite compounds]

This product doesn’t have much going for it nutrition wise, with low levels of protein (3 g) and other common vitamins and minerals. A nice perk is that it is much more filling than many ice cream products, probably due to the flour used in the cookie.Also, organic cocoa is listed as the final ingredient for the cookie, which means there isn’t very much caffeine to worry about.

In fact, I just had one of these sandwiches to stave off my hunger before I go to bed.

Price and Availability

This product generally sells for around $4.99 from Whole Foods Market. With six sandwiches per pack, thats less than one dollar per each, quite inexpensive for an organic dessert.

Ratings

Flavor: 7.0

Ingredients/Nutrition: 7.0

Price: 8.0

Overall: 7.3

Summary

Tasty organic snack, great for times you want to eat light.

References

http://www.fatsecret.com/Diary.aspx?pa=fjrd&rid=2448532

http://www.cspinet.org/new/201102161.html

Lind Excellence Cocoa Bars Report – Serious Gourmet Chocolate

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Products Covered

Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 75% [Smooth Dark]

Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 85% [Extra Dark]

Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 90% [Supreme Dark]

Lindt Excellence Cocoa Bar 99% [Dark – Noir]

Intro

I remember eating Hershey’s Miniatures variety packs as a child, and how I would always go straight for the “Extra Dark” ones before they were snatched up by someone. Besides loving the flavor, there was always something attractive about the idea of “Dark” – this was the rich, “real” chocolate that made you somehow feel privileged to eat it, and anything else was just a faint ghost of chocolate.

It turns out I had underestimated what real dark chocolate was.

“Special Dark” has around 60% cocoa content, but this time I’ll be reporting on a series of products by Lindt which have 75%-99% cocoa (yes, that last figure isn’t a typo).

Everything about these Lindt bars – from the packaging and marketing literature to the flavor –  speaks of elegance and sophistication, in a way that other chocolatiers with less than 150 years of experience can’t imitate. Their own term of “gourmet chocolate” is quite fitting.

Flavor

Cocoa and Coffee have much in common. They both come from a dark-colored bean, have a significant amount of caffeine, and in natural form have a distinctly bitter taste.

As you would expect in these bars, the characteristic bitterness gets increasingly sharp the higher percentage of cocoa you have, and the mild sweetness fades out until there is nothing but a trace.

I’ll give my comments about each bar, broken down by cocoa percentage.

70%: By dark chocolate standards, this bar is sufficiently sweet and the bitterness of the cocoa is subtle. For those accustomed to other dark chocolate this should be a easy starting point to enjoy Lindt’s Excellence chocolate.

85%: Though the amount of cocoa increases by only 15%, the sugar content is less than halved. This results in a much more pronounced bitter taste. My personal favorite and most consumed of the four, I find the this perfect balance of bitterness and sweetness.

90%: I haven’t had the opportunity to sample this, but judging from the ingredients and cocoa content, it must be very similar to the 85% bar. I’d only recommend this for those wanting to attempt the 99% but need a more gradual transition.

99%: The ultimate, most hard core of this serious chocolates. I’ve only tried this once, and with only around 1 gram of sugar per serving, frankily it was just too bitter for me. Having said that, chocolate lovers should try this at least once.

There are several other competing bars with similar composition and cocoa content, but none of them have quite the same consistency or thickness.

Suggestions

In a recent article I had discussed ideas for how to eat ice cream, in particular the importance of the half-melted state. With dark chocolate, especially 85% and above, using the right “technique” is even more important to get the maximum enjoyment of the flavor and texture.

Breaking off a irregularly shaped piece and popping it in your mouth, quickly chewing, and finally swallowing. That’s the typical way to eat chocolate, which is unfortunate since it misses out on so much.

Instead, try to pop a large chunk of chocolate in your mouth, leaving it to rest on the tongue for a few seconds. The first time you do this you’ll surely be assaulted by the urge to bite down, so go ahead and give in. Now try again, holding it even longer on your tongue, until the chocolate starts to melt and soften. The longer you do this, the more you will start to savor the deep, rich flavor, quite different from a crude bite and swallow. When you do finally decide to bite down, fracturing the chocolate into several pieces which whirl around your mouth, you’ll notice the rough edges you felt before are now dulled and smooth on the tongue.

What’s happening here, in my interpretation, is that the digestive juices in your mouth are beginning to gradually break down the chocolate while your body warmth simultaneously melts it. It becomes easier to do this when you repeat it again and again. Beware of drinking liquids such as water mid-snack, which will ‘reset’ the chemistry in your mouth.

Try this once, and I bet you’ll never feel the same about dark chocolate again.

Ingredients / Nutrition

The 75% bar has only five ingredients: chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lechitin (emulsifier), and bourbon vanilla. The 85% gets rid of soya lechitin and upgrades everyday sugar to demerara sugar, a large-grain unrefined sugar. The 90% adds in some cocoa powder processed with alkali, and the 99% removes the vanilla beans from the 90% recipe.

The emulsifier used in the 75% bar serves many purposes, including reduction of sugar crystallization and helping the ingredients mix uniformly. It also contains choline, as essential nutrient, which studies have shown to have various health benefits.

Cocoa itself has a wide range of nutrients including antioxidants, serotonine, and many essential minerals, with a high concentration of iron. There are many studies linking chocolate to specific health benefits, including a recent one about preventing decline in aging brains (see references section).

For those of you who are sold on Cocoa’s health benefits, this set of products is perfect because of the high cocoa content. As a result sugar content is low, which is a health benefit in and of itself.

The biggest drawback of this product is cocoa does contain a somewhat high proportion of fat and a corresponding number of calories. But even if you gobble up an entire bar, you will only be getting roughly 500-600 calories. That’s not too bad considering it’s the in the ballpark of what you would get eating two servings (half a pint) of ice cream.

Another minor complaint is that these bars don’t really satisfy hunger at all for me (in the same way coffee doesn’t), so don’t eat them on an empty stomach. This applies to many other desserts as well.

See the below table for a nutritional comparison of the four products.

Lindt Excellence Chocolate Bars Nutritional Information

Caffeine

The Lindt FAQ online downplays the amount of caffeine in theirproducts, stating that dark chocolate generally has 20 mg of caffeine per 1 g of dark chocolate, and compares to caffeine in coffee which can typically be 80 mg to around double that.

However if you do the math you’ll see that eating a full 3.5 g bar results in around 70 mg by their estimates. For the higher concentration bars (85%, 90%, 100%) I feel this estimate is still too low since the amount of cocoa, and hence caffeine, is that much higher.

From my personal experience there have been several occasions when I had over half an 85% bar in the evening before bed, and it took me several more hours before I was able to fall asleep due to the caffeine in my system. To be fair, during that time I wasn’t consuming many other caffeine products so my body’s tolerance to this stimulant was low.

I’m not trying to say caffeine is evil here – just keep in mind that caffeine by any definition is a drug, whose effects can vary greatly depending on the dosage, and the state of your body (heavy coffee drinker, empty stomach, feeling under the weather, etc.). It can be used for positive impact (nice temporary buzz) or negative impact (sleep loss, jitters, etc.).

Price and Availability

The 70% and 85% bars can typically be found at most grocery stores, and of course online. For the higher concentration bars (90%, 99%) you might have to do some searching to find them in a brick-and-mortar store.

If you haven’t been to a Lindt store, be sure to check it out – the diversity of the various bars on sale is astonishing. The Sawgrass Mills mall is one of the places in South Florida where you can enjoy Lindt’s world of chocolate.

All but the 99% bar, which sells for $4.99, have prices of $3.85 on the official Lindt website. If you buy in bulk (12 bars) on some internet retailer sites (Amazon, etc.) you can get sub-$3 pricing for the lower cocoa content bars.

Ratings

(Note: these refer to the 85% bar)

Flavor:8.0

Nutrition/Ingredients:7.0

Price: 8.0

Overall: 8.3

Summary

If you’re looking to consume chocolate in its simplest, purest form, you can’t get anything better than this.

References

http://www.lindtusa.com/common/images/products/nutritional/392825_nutr.pdf

http://www.cacaoweb.net/nutrition.html

http://www.neurology.org/content/early/2013/08/07/WNL.0b013e3182a351aa.short?sid=63d90ba5-f304-4cfa-87b7-f16372acf474

http://www.lindtusa.com/info-exec/display/faq

Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino Blended Beverage – a true love/hate relationship

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Intro

There is almost no sweets from my college days that I still enjoy now in my 30s. Our subject this time, a sugary chilled drink, is one of the few that has passed the test of time and taste. It’s also very high on my list of guilty, unhealthy pleasures to quit. In that way I have a true love/hate relationship with this drink.

For those easily-addicted types with a sweet tooth, I highly recommend stopping here and moving on to my next report. It will save you innumerable calories and pounds.

Flavor

Chocolate chips, coffee, and milk, blended smoothly with ice, topped off with a very generous spray of whip cream, further layered with a criss cross of chocolate syrup. This is a good objective summary of the basic ingredients and flavor of this decadent dessert-lovers dessert.

Being a long time Java Chip junkie, I perceive things more as  succession of sensations and stimuli. First, the welcome chill as near-freezing liquid passes through a wide straw, into my mouth, through my esophagus into into my stomach. In passing, the sugar gives my taste buds a jolt and I start to feel the high coming on. Not long after the caffeine kicks in, sending me to a state of near-enlightenment – a true altered state of consciousness (*). Occasionally I use my straw as a spoon, scooping up swaths of fluffy whipped cream for a mild dairy intermission, or snipe up gobs of rich dark syrup for a burst of extra sweetness.

Alas, things aren’t always this blissful. A combination of badly trained employees and differing recipes makes this drink more like a roulette wheel of chance. The amount of caffeine, chocolate, ice, and mostly importantly how well blended the beverage is, varies considerably even within a single store. Around 20% of time it’s a perfect ten, and in rare cases the drink will get totally botched.

This reminds me of the time I glanced at the cafe counter and caught sight of a snowy white drink which had just been placed there. A moment later the barista said my Java Chip was ready. My eyes blinked in disbelief. When I asked the barista if he put coffee the drink, his returned answer put me in a state of shock.

“There is no coffee in Java Chip Frappuccino”.

Nutrition

A “grande” (medium) size is 16 ounces and, with whipped cream added, has the following key nutrition facts: 460 calories, 66 grams of sugar, and 110 mg of caffeine. The calorie count is comparable to two servings of ice cream, if not less, but the sugar concentration is a bit extreme. The caffeine is roughly equivalent to two shots of espresso.

Sometimes the problem nutritionally with foods is not with what they do contain, but rather than what they lack. It’s true that chocolate, coffee, and milk all have benefits according to nutritionists, but there isn’t much here to supply the body with needed vitamins and minerals. My gut confirms this when I down these 16 sugary ounces on an empty stomach. Hunger is suppressed for a short time but then renews with even greater vigor, leaving me starving with a stomach full of junk my body doesn’t need.

Sugar and caffeine are both strong stimulants in the right dose, and while this drink is good for a quick pick-me-up, I can’t help but feel that frequent usage has the chance for adverse long-term effects. Another problem with this drink is that the full ingredient list isn’t published, which means there is bound to be all sorts of scary things like artificial flavor in the syrup used.

Which is why I do plan to kick the Java Chip habit. Eventually.

Price and Availability

The “grande” size goes for $4.25, which isn’t too bad for a dessert of this type. Those of you watching calories can go for the “tall” 12 ounce size, but with a price of only 50 cents less its a hard sell. There is also a “light” version for the same price with roughly half the number of calories, but I haven’t tried it.

These are available at Starbucks Cafe, or at Barnes & Noble Bookstores Cafe. I tend to use the latter, which may be why I have had such an inconsistent experience.

Ratings

Flavor: 8.0 (varies between 4.0 – 10.0 depending on the person making it)

Nutrition/Ingredients: 4.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.3

Summary

A serious drink loaded with enough sugar and caffeine to keep you up for hours. Not recommended for anyone too concerned about nutrition.

References

http://www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/frappuccino-blended-beverages/java-chip-frappuccino-blended-coffee#size=11002666&milk=67&whip=125

(*) This sort of sensation is a good (though slightly exaggerated) account of what I felt when drinking this product until recently. Since I started drinking coffee on a daily basis several weeks ago, my caffeine tolerance has increased so my body responds less readily to the stimulation.

Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter – spread made for royalty

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Introduction

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

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

Flavor

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

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

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

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

Nutrition / Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serving Suggestions

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

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

Price and Availability

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

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

Ratings

Flavor: 9.0

Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.0

Price: 6.0

Overall: 7.6

Summary

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

References

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

justin2

Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss Chocolate Walnut Brownie (non-dairy ice cream)

Coconut Bliss Chocolate Walnut Brownie

Introduction

For my first review I’ve decided on a frozen dessert which is one of my recent favorites. This is something that I’ve savored several times in the last month and plan to continue on doing for the foreseeable future.

When I think back on the ice cream I used to eat in high school and compare that to what I have been enjoying the last few years, its amazing how different they are – especially regarding the ingredients used. But this is only a natural consequence of putting more consideration into what I eat. For ice cream I typically use three types of information when deciding on the healthiness of the product: calories, sugar, and the ingredients themselves, as well as a few others which I give less weight to (protein, container size, etc.). Though everyone has their own opinions on what is really ‘healthy’, I subscribe to the theory that generally ‘natural is better’.

Enough of the historical aside. Let’s move on to the juiciest, most mouthwatering part of any of my reviews, the discussion of flavor.

Flavor

First of all, I’d like to give a heads up to all the ice cream addicts who have eaten only milk-based ice cream (like me until recently). This is unabashedly a coconut milk based product, with some other important ingredients I’ll talk about in the ingredients section below. So of course there will be differences between this and dairy-based ice creams. For those willing to take a step out of their limited world of dairy ice cream, a little open mindedness will go along way to quickly accustoming to these differences.

One of the key differences is the texture when frozen. When compared to standard ice cream it seems finer and crumbles/flakes quite easily. But once it is in a half-melted state, the creaminess factor goes up a notch, though not quite reaching that of milk-based creams. All things being considered, the creaminess and overall mouthfeel of the base, crafted by a delicate balance of coconut, water, and guar gum, is quite impressive.

But the real killer here is the flavor – a deep, complex taste that lingers on the palate long afterwards. The base cream, it’s richness derived from a good helping of cocoa, is complimented nicely by a generous helping of crunchy walnuts and sweet chocolate brownie chunks. I can’t put it any better than the marketing quip on the front of the package: “A Devine Treat for Chocolate Lovers“.

The only issue I have with the flavor is that there is a mild chalky aftertaste. Its the same I get after eating walnuts by themselves, which marks them as the culprit here. Their crunchy contribution to the overall texture is nice but I wouldn’t mind sampling a version of this product without the nuts.

Ingredients and Nutrition

This dessert does an excellent job of satisfying those choosy about ingredient quality. Most ingredients are organic, with a subset declared as Fair Trade. Apart from the walnuts and the brownie morsels, the base is made from only six ingredients.  There are other products on the market with less ingredients (ex: Haagen-Dazs “Five”), but their ingredients are generally not Organic nor this rich. It is vegan friendly with no dairy, soy, or gluten, so the number of people who can safely enjoy this ice cream goes far above any typical milk-based cream.

The ingredients are also very natural, with no artificial flavors or colorings. Thankfully, my personal pet-peeve “natural flavors” is not present either. “Natural flavors”  is a general category for any flavoring which is derived from natural (animal or plant) sources. “natural” is great and all, but I’m turned off by the lack of details about what was used (could be tree bark for all you know) and that it may be heavily processed. I avoid products with this usually, though if the taste is right I can make an exception. 

The sweeteners employed are both natural and well known – agave syrup and coconut sugar. The debate on which sugars are truly healthier is far from settled but I think it’s safe to have a mixed diet of typical powdered white sugar and other variations like these which are more natural with less processing. The Vanilla extract used is also natural, with no artificial “Vanillin” used.

Calories (per 95 g serving, ¼ of container) are 250, par for the course here. Sugar is 15 g per serving and happens to be one of the reasons I decided to try this out. Compared to other products which can have approximately twice the sugar, this is surprisingly low, especially considering the rich flavor. This can be attributed to the fact agave syrup has a higher sweetness per gram than normal table sugar. Agave syrup is generally valued for its relatively low glycemic index, and less processing compared to some artificial sweeteners.

As with most ice creams salt content is low (2% of recommended daily intake). A nice bonus is a per-serving iron amount of 15% of daily intake, compared to a much lower percentage in many other products (many have 0%).

Price and Availability

Price is $6.49 with tax (bought around 9/15/13). 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 I picked it up.

Ratings (out of 10)

  • Flavor: 7.5
  • Nutrition/Ingredients: 8.5
  • Price: 6.0
  • Overall: 7.3

Summary

Great organic coconut ice cream with an excellent taste, average calorie count, but less sugar content than many other similar products. Not cheap but an exotic item definitely worth trying.

References

http://coconutbliss.com/coconut-bliss-products/chocolatewalnutbrownie