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Talenti Gelato Simply Strawberry

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I am not the biggest fan of strawberry-flavored products but when my wife saw this for the first time in the frozen section, we had to try it out. I have always felt alliteration is an important technique used in product naming, and this is another of Talenti’s products where it is employed, along with others like “Lisbon Lemon” and “Coffee Chocolate Chip”.

Flavor

The flavor of this ice cream is in keeping with its name: all you taste is strawberry mixed with milk. Within creamy texture there is occasionally a gritty sensation as you chew on fibrous parts of a whole strawberry, though they are quite subtle so you might miss them.

As this ice cream doesn’t have any mix-ins such as chocolate chips or nuts, it feels a little incomplete to me. And while I do enjoy eating fresh strawberries, much of the enjoyment comes from their juicy, almost meaty texture which doesn’t really translate here.

Nutrition/Ingredients

One serving is 1/2 cup (104 grams) which contains 170 calories, 60 of which are from fat. There is 24 grams of sugars, a bit higher than many other company’s products, but on the low end of the Talenti line (23 – 36 grams). The calorie count is also near the low end for other milk-based Talenti products, although the water-based ones (for example Roman Raspberry) can be as low as 110.

Except for the “natural flavor”, which fortunately is listed last, I don’t have any issues with this ice cream’s ingredients. There is only eight and the rest of them are well known substances. For those of you who don’t commonly read ingredient,s you may not be familiar with carob gum. It’s used as a thickening agent and also goes by the name “Locus bean gum”.

Though I typically scoff at natural flavors, the taste of this ice cream is so… well “simple” that I feel it really doesn’t need any additional mysterious flavor. I’m not sure what they added but I definitely can’t taste it.

The thing I love about Simply Strawberry is that strawberries are used in a higher proportion than sugar, which gives this product its great natural strawberry taste.  I checked Bryer’s Natural Strawberry as a comparison and this also have the same order for the first four ingredients. Ben and Jerry’s Strawberry, however, had more sugar than strawberries.

In any case, with the high amount of real strawberries, its reasonable to expect some of their nutritional benefits when eating this product.

Full ingredients list: Milk, strawberries, sugar, cream, dextrose, carob gum, vanilla, natural flavor.

Price/Availability

I purchased this at Publix for $5.99 where it had just appeared on the shelves recently. I checked and this flavor has been out for some time in other places.

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

Summary

The simplicity of Simply Strawberry is both its best strength and worst weakness. I feel that major fans of strawberry should try this out once, but for the rest of us the lack of a deep or complex flavor limits the enjoyment.

References

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

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

http://www.breyers.com/product/detail/113864/natural-strawberry

http://www.foodfacts.com/NutritionFacts/Strawberry/Ben-Jerrys-Strawberry-Ice-Cream-1-Pint/17314

Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan ice cream

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Introduction

I typically don’t eat Haagen-Dazs ice cream, but since it was buy one get one free I decided to try their Butter Pecan flavor, which was one of the lower sugar choices in their lineup. It’s not that there is anything wrong with this brand per se, but Haagen Dazs feel very generic to me in that it has been around as far as I can remember and isn’t marketed as being particularly healthy or different. I guess being around since 1961 you could call it a ‘classic’ ice cream company. Having said that, I’ll try to put aside my biases aside when reviewing this product.

Flavor

This ice cream tastes like your typical butter pecan, except that it it has a very strong cream flavor. I’ve made ice cream myself and used a large proportion of heavy cream (which contains 36%-40% milk fat) and it tasted similar.

My problem with this product is monotony – in both appearance and flavor. The brown pecans set against the plain white aren’t particularly visually appealing, but more importantly the flavor of the thick, creamy base isn’t different enough from the sweet pecans (which aren’t exactly crunchy), and as a result I get tired of eating this ice cream quickly. To put it another way, this ice cream lacks balance between two opposing flavors and textures. If I was tasked to improve the flavor, first I’d make the base lighter, possibly adding some other mild flavor and natural food coloring. Then I’d add more pecans, using larger ones if they exist, and possibly removing or reducing the butter from the pecans. Yes, I realize this would make the flavor less “butter pecan”, but the butter flavor and the cream flavors are too close for my taste.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In a 100 gram serving there is 300 calories, slightly higher than the average of other Haagen Dazs ice cream products I’ve looked at, but very high if you compare to some other companies such as Talenti and So Delicious desserts. Sugar content is a bit below average with 17 grams per serving

There is a nice portion of protein with 5 grams per serving, but the fat per serving (22 grams) is off the chart – its literally the highest I have seen in recent memory and helps to explain why the flavor is so heavy. I checked a few other brands and their versions of butter pecan all had less fat, with Bryer’s butter pecan containing less than half fat per serving (roughly 10 grams). Personally, I value overall number of calories more than fat content, but as I mentioned those are quite high as well.

The full list of ingredients are: cream, skim milk, sugar, skim milk (lactose reduced), pecans (pecans, coconut oil, salt, butter [salt, cream]), corn syrup, egg yolks, salt, vanilla extract

In spite of my problems with high calories, fat, and taste, the ingredients in this ice cream are actually quite healthy, as least as far as ice creams go. There are no preservatives, no artificial colorings, no artificial flavorings, or even natural flavorings.  In fact, there aren’t any thickening agents such as guar gum either. Though I don’t consider this latter category to be necessarily unhealthy, I almost always prefer less ingredients, especially ones that are not everyday items I would use in the kitchen.

Some may spot “corn syrup” and associate that with “high fructose corn syrup”. While its true they are both made from corn, plain “corn syrup” contains more glucose as opposed to fructose, which is sweeter. While there is some research showing high amounts of fructose are harmful to the body if consumed frequently, some people maintain that these sugars all have similar effects on the body. After all, fruits naturally contain fructose (as well as gluctose and fructose), and table sugar is roughly half glucose and fructose.

Price/Availability

This sells all over but typically can be bought at Publix for around $4.69.

Ratings:   Flavor: 5.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:7.5    Price:8.0    Overall: 6.8

Summary

A high-fat, high-calorie ice cream with reasonable ingredients that is worth a try for fans of butter pecan, but I found its heavy cream flavor a little too much.

References

http://www.haagendazs.com/Products/Product/2449

http://candy.about.com/od/candybasics/a/creamguide.htm

http://nutrition.about.com/od/grainsandcereals/f/fructosesyrup.htm

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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Ice Cream Hacks: How to get the most out of your ice cream experience.

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For this article, I’ll take a break from my usual review-style posts and try something different.

This sounds a little strange, but having eaten so many gallons of ice cream in my life, I feel like I’ve gotten “good” at eating ice cream. Sure, great ice cream tastes great no matter how you indulge yourself. But there are a few little tips I wanted to put in writing to give everyone just that extra edge in squeezing the most enjoyment and flavor out of every creamy bite.

Many of these are highly subjective, but I’m hoping that at least a few will work for you.

Let it melt – Nobody likes ice cream melted into a puddle of messy sugar, but I’ve discovered that eating half-melted ice cream really allows me to savor the flavor that much more. Scientific studies on this may be lacking, but these are my guesses for why this is so.

1) Cold is refreshing to a point, but as you cross the line to freezing the taste buds numb up and can’t do their job effectively. I remember reporting on something similar in my review of Lakewood Blueberry juice. I think its commonly accepted that some things with a mediocre taste (i.e. Beer) are more palatable when drank cold.

2) Whereas a solid will touch the tongue at a few points for a brief moment, the cool liquid of partially melted ice cream coats a large area of the tongue. With more surface area and more taste buds active, it’s  no surprise there is more flavor perceived.

There are few tricks you can use to help melt your ice cream to the right consistency:

1) Use a metal spoon. Metal is a conductor so it will help to melt the cream on the way to your mouth. Using plastic will just help it maintain its current temperature.

2) Eat ice cream from the outermost layer, that which is against the wall of the container and will melt the fastest. Occasionally wipe off the outside of the container with a towel when it gets frosty, to promote melting.

3) Chop up the top layer of ice cream with your spoon, or just poke a bunch of holes in it. That will allow more exposure to the outside air and promote faster melting.

4) Do NOT try to leave your ice cream anywhere but the freezer for any period of time to try and melt it. The risk for returning to ice cream soup is too high.

Small spoon – Several years back I switched from eating with a tablespoon to a smaller sized spoon (slightly larger than a teaspoon). This taught me to really enjoy every ounce and prolonged the length of time it took to finish off a container. It will also tend to reduce the total amount of ice cream eaten.

Small container – The advantage of a small container is that its easier to set limits on how much you eat, which prevents over-eating and helps you enjoy what you eat. With one of those giant containers, its easy to break your “ok, just one more bite” promises, until you feel ready to explode. And while it makes economical sense to buy in bulk, the quality the ice cream is typically much worse compared to the smaller containers.

Less sugar – If you eat ice cream with high sugar content day after day, you are likely to get tired of it quickly. Lower sugar ice creams need something to fill that gap, leading to more nutrition, and your body will thank you.

Ice Cream > Mlik – Don’t stay confined to only milk-based creams. Try coconut milk, goat milk, or even rice-based. This is another way to get a wider variety of nutrition and not burn yourself out.

Use Toppings – If you end up buying an ice cream that is not what you expected, don’t be afraid to use toppings to make the taste a bit more to your liking. My favorite healthy topping are walnuts (broken into small pieces), cocoa powder and cocoa nibs. Adding your own whip cream adds a new dimension of texture to any ice cream. Pouring chilled Kahlua over ice cream is also nice once in awhile.

Know your ingredients – Reading through the ingredients list to know what you’re eating (either before or after you take your first bite) is a nice way to enrich your experience. It will help train your taste buds to look for certain subtle flavors.

Try it yourself – Try making your own homemade ice cream. That will give you a better understanding of some of the more mysterious ingredients (like ‘guar gum’) and also an appreciation of how difficult it is to make a great-tasting cream. I like to make variations of the same ice cream, putting less or more of a certain ingredient, and seeing how the end result is. When you fail at this trial-and-error process (as I have), just head to the nearest supermarket for some pro-made cream.

Eat when your stomach is happy – I’ve found that its hard to enjoy ice cream fully on a completely empty stomach because my body is craving nutrition. Conversely, trying to stuff my mouth when I’m already full isn’t smart. Eating a sweet dessert an hour or two after I’ve had a moderate meal seems to be the trick to maximum appreciation.

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