Blog Archives

Recipe for Ikea’s chocolate oat ball

One product I’ve reviewed on this blog that seems to be quite popular is Ikea’s chocolate oat ball. This is a wonderful delicious sweet and easily worthy of a candidate for my top 10 sweets.

I’ve received a comment asking for the recipe of a similar treat which was distributed at Ikea. I haven’t been to Ikea recently and didn’t pick it up when I was there, but when I sent an email to them I got a response with a PDF scan of the original recipe.

You can read the PDF here:

Chocolate balls recipe

Comparing the ingredients it’s clear it won’t taste exactly the same, but someday I hope to try it out. One great thing about homemade sweets is you can adjust the amount of sweetness to your taste.

If anyone makes this, please give me a picture and full report on the test!

 

References

https://sweetsreporter.com/2013/10/15/ikea-chocolate-oat-ball-with-coconut-sprinkles-sotsak-kakaoboll-product-review/

 

 

Store Review: Le Macaron French Pastries (Tampa, Florida)

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I stumbled upon the “le macaron” store in Tampa’s International Plaza mall on a recent family trip. In addition to various flavors of french macarons, there are also fine chocolates sold here. I don’t remember the exact prices, but each of these sells for roughly $2 dollars a piece. We purchased 6 macaroons and 4 chocolates (shown in the below pictures) for around $22.

I have only tried macarons once or twice in my life, but the ones at “le macaron” were pretty typical. The rose and raspberry flavors really tasted and smelled like the real thing, but it’s hard to say if that taste is made from “natural ingredients” or the real thing. The coffee-flavored macaron really didn’t taste too much like coffee, so I doubt there much, if any, real coffee present.

My biggest issue with macarons in general is that there is always some slightly odd flavor I can’t put my finger on, and that applies to these sweets as well. But if you like macarons I’m sure you’ll enjoy the one’s sold here.

The chocolates were very impressive visually, with everything from patterns in the likeness of leopard spots to shiny metallic balls. There was a variety of fillings, including caramel- and fruit-like. While I have to admit they were all tasty, I know a load of sugar when I taste it. Macarons are relatively rare in the world of sweets but chocolates are a dime a dozen, so they have to hold up to more scrutiny. The pretty designs and (typical) good flavor don’t win over the high price and high sugar content.

As for the ingredients, I wasn’t able to find anywhere the full ingredient list was published for either product. However, the company’s website (which is a franchise, interestingly enough) states all macarons are gluten free with no artificial flavors or preservatives. This puts them in the mid range of ingredient quality, but I wish they published the entire list. I couldn’t find any information about the fine chocolates.

Overall, I feel both product lines are mediocre, but they are tasty enough to try once, and the fine chocolates are novel enough to buy for a friend or family member as a gift. The Internal Plaza is a great shopping center with many stores and restaurants, so if you happen to be traveling in Tampa be sure to check it out, and maybe stop by “le macaron” while you are there.

References

http://lemacaron-us.com/

http://www.shopinternationalplaza.com/

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Product Review: Chox chocolate red wine

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On a recent family trip to Tampa I was looking for something sweet to drink, but without mysterious artificial flavors. I ended up trying Chox: “Fine Red Wine Infused with the natural essence of chocolate”.

Flavor

Fortunately this product had only a very slight taste of red wine, which is a big plus for me since I am not a big red wine fan. The sweet chocolate flavor really dominates the experience, although the texture is probably somewhat close to a red wine.

If you like Kahlua or other sweet chocolate beverages then you will likely love this, and the overall experience is quite similar.

Nutrition/Ingredients

I was attracted by the label which stated there are no artificial flavors, and think this the strongest point of this drink, especially when comparing to other sweet drinks like Kahlua which have who-knows-what in them. On the other hand, although everything in this product is ‘natural’, as with other instances of ‘natural flavors’, you really don’t know what is in the product. If this product actually listed everything used to make it I’d feel much better about it.

This product also contains sulfites, but from what I have researched they are present in a majority of wines, and have little effect on the body, so they are not much of a concern to me.

This product is imported from Holland. I’m not sure what type of impact this has on the taste or ingredients used, but it gives it somewhat of “exotic” feel from a marketing perspective.

Ingredients (as listed on package): Grape wine with molasses neutral spirits, dairy cream, natural flavors, and natural carmine color.

Alcohol content: 13.9%

Price/Availability

I bought this 750 ml bottle for $12.99 at a Publix in Tampa, Florida.

Ratings:   Flavor:  8.0  Nutrition/Ingredients:  6.0  Price: 8.0   Overall: 7.3

Summary

I was searching for a sweet alcoholic drink with no artificial flavors and some of the health benefits of wine. Turns out this fits the bill perfectly. I can’t speak whether a wine expert would enjoy this or not, but anyone with a sweet tooth who is looking for a little alcohol buzz should definitely try this product out.

References

http://www.thekitchn.com/sulfites-in-wine-necessary-or-100878

Product Review: Talenti Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip

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This is my fifth review of a Talenti ice cream, with two of my favorites reviewed here and here. This brand’s chic packaging is what initially caught my eye, but with my first bite I was hooked with each of the sweet, creamy, and natural flavors.

Flavor

This ice cream has all you could ever want – a strong, natural raspberry flavor backed by a creamy, sweet milk texture, and tiny chocolate chips to complete the picture.

I’ve mentioned this with many other ice creams as well, but this one especially tastes *really* good when eaten in a half-melted state, like when you scoop your spoon around the perimeter of the container, picking up only the most melted stuff. Focusing on eating the half-melted parts not only maximizes your enjoyment per bite, it also lengthens the time to eat a given amount of volume.

Nutrition/Ingredients

A single serving (1/2 cup, 104 grams) contains 230 calories and 24 grams of sugars. These are both somewhat higher than the average ice cream, but typical within Talenti’s lineup of milk-based ice creams.

This dessert has very natural and healthy ingredients, and is also gluten free, hfcs free, hormone free, vegetatian, and kosher. There are also no artificial flavors or colorings, or even “natural” flavors, the latter of which are present in a few other Talenti poducts.

Because of the calorie and sugar content I wouldn’t consider this a diet product, but the ingredient quality is top class. Some might point out that “sugar” (typical white refined sugar) is used instead of agave or some other popular sweetner, but based on my research there is not sufficient evidence to prove any of these sugars is significantly more healthier than any other.

Full ingredient list: milk, cream, sugar, black raspberries, chocolate, oil (coconut, soybean), dextrose, vanilla, carob gum, and soy lecithin.

Price/Availability

I bought this for around $2.99 at a Publix grocery store, half of its normal price due a weekly sale. For some reason I never see this flavor at my local Whole Foods Market, though it may be at others.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.5   Nutrition/Ingredients: 9.0   Price:  8.0  Overall: 8.5

Summary

Natural ingredients, great taste, and a reasonable price (even when its not on sale) make this a must try for any ice cream lover.

References

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

A galaxy of sweetness: comparison graph of ice cream calories vs. sugar

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For some reason I really enjoy making visual graphs from data, something which can give new insight into relationships hidden in the data.

I decided to apply this hobby of mine to ice cream, and came with the above graph. It shows calories on the horizontal axis, and sugars (in grams) on the vertical one. Numbers are measured against a single serving, which is typically 1/2 cup.

I have captured data for around 50 products across 7 different brands, and highlighted some of the points on the graph.

As expected, there is a general correlation between calories and sugar, since adding more sugar usually means adding more calories. However there are some cases like Haagen Dazs Peanut Butter Pecan, which has a lot of fat that contributes to calories, but not sugar. We also see the other extreme, Talenti Lisbon Lemon, where the main ingredients (besides water) are lemon and sugar, both which contribute to sugar but not to calories.

Product Review: Japanese Candy Bar “Choco Indulge Crunch” (チョコにがっつけパキッツ)

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I happened to find this product at the Morikami Japanse Museum & Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida, and decided to pick it up.

“Choco Indulge Crunch” is my own translation. Literally translated, the title is closer to “Indulge in Chocolate! Crunch”. The translated English packaging calls the product “Pakitz<Nuts & Crunch>”, but I like my translation better. For those curious, “Pakitz” comes from the Japanese  “パキッツ” which refers to the sound of something like a cracker crunching when bitten into.

This product is made by Glico, a Japanese company, and imported by JFC International Inc.

I want to take this opportunity to mention my other blog, “Self Taught Japanese”, where I have a series of articles aimed at Japanese learners of various skill levels. For those who are interested you check it out here: http://selftaughtjapanese.com/

Flavor

The two halves of this bar are each wrapped separately in sealed packs, which is a nice trend I’ve seen in other Japanese candies. One disadvantage of this, however, is that there is less actual candy that you would expect from the size of the package.

Like many typical chocolate bars, this product is separated into little rectangular nuggets which are connected together in a 3×4 array in each serving. The top half of each nugget is a ‘gaufrette’ wafer (see ingredients section below for details), with a mild taste and crunchy texture not unlike that used in many typical American cookies.

The bottom part is made from pretty typical sweet chocolate, which tastes as if it has a low cocoa count (around 50-60%). It has some small peanut slivers in it that give it a mild crunch. The picture on the front of the wrapper, shown in the picture at the top of this post, gives a good idea of what both parts look like.

This bar does an excellent job of fulfilling my requirement of two or more contrasting flavors and textures, and the end result is quite different than anything I’ve had before. If I had to compare, I’d say that it’s a distant cousin of the classic KitKat bar.

Nutrition/Ingredients

One serving is 25.5 grams and there are two servings per package. In one serving there are 140 calories (60 from fat), and 9 sugars. This is definitely below average for this type of product.

Unfortunately the ingredient list is quite long and contains a few suspect items, such as high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, acelsulfame potassium, ammonium bicarbonate, and artificial flavors. This product is clearly not marketed at those concerned with natural and safe ingredients. Ironically, the text above the manufacturer’s name says “taste and health” in Japanese.

The first ingredient is sugar and the second is ‘gaufrette’, which is defined online as “a wafer of crisply fried potato cut to resemble a small waffle”. However, if you look at the original untranslated ingredient list (in Japanese), it contains flour, starch, sugar, chocolate, vegetable oil, and salt as sub-ingredients of this item. The term “wheat cracker” is also used in the translated English text though it doesn’t taste like a typical wheat cracker to me.

This product also contains several types of nuts – peanuts, hazelnuts, and almonds, but they contribute more to texture than taste.

For the entire list (in English), see the image at the bottom of this post.

Price/Availability

I bought this at the Morikami Museum’s gift shop for only $3.00. Since this is an imported product I consider it a pretty good price, equal if not cheaper to something domestically produced. One reason for the low price is that the wafer portion is very light (filled with air) and so there is a bit of filler.

For those who want to learn more about the Morikami museum you can check out my review of it here.

Ratings:   Flavor: 7.0 Nutrition/Ingredients:  5.0 Price: 9.0  Overall: 7.0

Summary

This Japanese import candy has a unique texture and flavor, but several debatable ingredients make it hard to recommend to those who are concerned about the safety of the ingredients they consume.

References

http://www.morikami.org/

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gaufrette

http://www.glico.co.jp/pakitz/

http://selftaughtjapanese.com/

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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

Product Review – Financier Patisserie Brownie

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On the last night of my recent business trip to New York, I went searching again for a delicious, unique dessert to enjoy before I called it a night. After a long time searching through Grand Central Station, I finally settled on a brownie from Financier Patisserie, a company which sells traditional and signature French pastries since 2002. I have a soft spot for powdered cocoa on sweets which is one of the reasons this product caught my eye.

Flavor

This brownie has the flavor of typical soft, chewy brownie with a few nice additions. Fresh, crunchy walnuts give a mouth-pleasing texture, and the top layer of the brownie is covered with a sweet chocolate ganache. A third of the bar has an additional layer of cocoa powder on top, quite pure from its bitter taste. Finally, one corner is nicely ornamented with two small green things which seem like caramelized pistachios from their appearance and flavor.

Financier hasn’t exactly invented a new form of dessert, but they’ve made incremental improvements on a classic to make it that much better. Fans of traditional brownies will surely love this decadent item.

Nutrition/Ingredients

This product is sold alone without packaging and the ingredients and nutritional information is not made public, to my knowledge. Their website doesn’t say anything particular about ingredients (organic, natural, no colorings, etc.) so you can’t make any assumptions about what is used.

I’d guess there is a good amount of sugar in one brownie, maybe at least 20 grams.

Price/Availability

I got this medium sized brownie for $3.50 at Financier Patisserie in New York’s Grand Central Station, but there are several other locations of this patisserie around the city.

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

Summary

I highly recommend this supercharged, stylish brownie to everyone but those extremely picky about nutrition or ingredients, who might want to think twice before eating this.

References

http://www.financierpastries.com

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

Myx Fusions Moscato & Coconut Wine

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On a late night during a recent New York business trip, I was looking for something alcoholic to drink without resorting to products where there is no ingredient list. This product had nice bottle design, potential for great taste, and above all a fully disclosed ingredient list, so I decided to try it out.

I am not a big wine drinker, but a little research indicates that moscato wine is a popular white wine which is sometimes used as a “dessert wine” and typically has a pronounced sweet floral aura.

This is my first time drinking moscato wine, and also my first post to feature an alcoholic beverage.

Flavor

This drink has a light, sweet flavor, with subtle overtones of coconut. Usually when drinking a product with alcohol the question is how much can I bear the bad taste (including most beers), but this drink left me pleasantly surprised with its drinkability and practically no taste of alcohol. It really goes down smooth and I quickly polished off all four bottles in a few minutes.

Overall, I feel that both wine lovers and those with a sweet tooth will enjoy this well balanced beverage.

Nutrition/Ingredients

There is 140 calories and 17 sugars in a 187 ml bottle. Its hard to compare this since many alcoholic drinks don’t advertise these numbers, but they seem reasonable to me.

There are various research studies which claim either good or  bad effects of wine on health. I am not going to pick a side now, but for those that feel wine is healthy (in moderation) I suggest this product. It has 5.5% alcohol, a bit low for moscato wines, though it is in league with wine coolers which are conceptually similar to this drink.

Nutritionally, this product is much better (or at least less riskier) than those which do not list their ingredients of nutritional information. This is a wide majority, including personal favorites such as kahlua or Irish cream. Myx uses no artificial flavors or colors, which surely can’t be said about many other liquor products.

Natural flavors are present but since this is an alcoholic dream I’ll be a bit more forgiving. This includes the main coconut flavor since there is no actual coconut list. My biggest concern is the three preservatives used which could have negative effects on the body. Potassium sorbate, for example, can contribute to nutritional deficiencies by impairing absorption of nutrients in certain cases.

A nice plus is that much of the sweetness is achieved by grape juice and its concentrate, and sugar is only used in smaller proportions.

Full ingredient list: moscato wine, water, grape juice, grape juice concentrate, sugar, natural flavors, citric acid, carbon dioxide,  potassium sorbate, potassium benzoate, and potassium metabisulfite (to preserve freshness).

Price/Availability

This product is sold in 4 packs of 187 ml bottles. I purchased it from the Walgreens in Times Square (not your average Walgreens for those who are interested) for $11.99.

Ratings:   Flavor: 7.0   Nutrition/Ingredients: 6.0   Price:  7.0  Overall: 6.66

Summary

A nice sweet wine-based drink with healthier ingredients that many wine-coolers and alcoholic beverages out there. For lovers of wine and sweet alcoholic drinks this is a must-try.

References

http://www.newhealthguide.org/Potassium-Sorbate.html