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Perugina Milk Chocolate With Cappuccino Crispy

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

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

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

Flavor

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

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

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

Nutrition/Ingredients

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

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

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

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

Price/Availability

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

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

Summary

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

Ice Cream – weight vs volume

In several of my previous blogs I had adjusted by weight (expressed in grams) when comparing across ice cream products. While the amount of weight per serving is an important value and in comparing using it gives useful information, in reality we eat ice cream by volume, not weight. When you scoop up some ice cream the real limiting factor is volume, in other words size, because ice cream will never be heavy enough for you to care about a spoonfuls worth of weight.

For this reason I’ll try to stick to comparing against volume in future posts. Originally I had started comparing using weight because I noticed this different across ice cream producers and thought it translated to different volumes, so it would be the most fair way to compare. However I was wrong – most ice cream/frozen dessert companies use a standard serving size of 1/2 cup, which yields 4 per pint.

Here is a sample of average weight per 1/2 cup serving for a few ice cream companies:

  • Talenti: 100 grams
  • Haagen Dazs: 100 grams
  • So Delicious Coconut Milk: 85 grams
  • Bryers: 66 grams

So how can the weight be almost double for the same volume? The basic ingredients, coconut/cow milk and sugar, shouldn’t differ too much in weight and the minor ingredients are in a lower proportion and have only a small effect on the total weight. The answer may be a little surprising to those who haven’t researched how ice cream is made:

Air.

Believe it or not air bubbles are actually a necessary component of (tasty) ice cream. If you want to see what I mean, you can try an experiment which I accidentally did the other day. Move a small portion of ice cream into your refrigerator and wait a few hours until it melts into liquid. Then transfer it back to the freezer and wait a few more hours. It will re-freeze but much of the air (and ice crystals) will be gone, so the texture will be ruined. Also you will see the volume is reduced. If you own an ice cream machine you’ll know that its primary purpose is to continually spin the cream so that these air bubbles form.

If you go back and look at the table above again, you might be upset since Bryer’s is essentially filling their ice cream with air. I found a great post which discusses this practice and does some research to discover the cheaper the ice cream the more air is puffed in. You can find it here.

Some might declare we need to stand up to ice cream producers and force them to stop saving money by giving us air-filled ice cream, but I would disagree. At least for a company like Bryer’s that produces great-tasting ice cream, I don’t think there is any reason for them to change. Personally, I have gravitated to more dense ice creams in the last few years, but I have no problem eating some Bryer’s now and then, albeit in small portions.

Besides a cheaper price to the consumer, there are other advantages to adding air – less calories and sugar content. But be careful, since a much larger container size (gallon vs a pint) means you are likely to gobble up more per sitting. You could also argue there is less nutrition, but most people don’t eat ice cream primarily for nutrition.

Regardless on how you judge things, I believe in transparency – consumers knowing what is really in the products they buy. This includes air, which is not listed on the label as an ingredient.

Product Review – Talenti Gelato Peppermint Bark

 mint

If you have been reading my blog you’ll know I’m a big fan of Talenti gelatos, having reviewed their products here and here. One of my favorite flavors is Mediterranean Mint, but I have eaten that so many times and felt like getting something new to review. I selected Peppermint Mark because I thought it would likely taste similar, while giving me the opportunity to try a new product.

I didn’t quite understand the naming until I did a Google search and discovered “peppermint bark” was a traditional candy consisting of peppermint candy (candy cane, etc.) pieces embedded in a ‘bark’ of white and dark chocolatess. I have never eaten it so cannot say whether it is a fitting name. The base ingredients are pretty much the same, but I can’t see how the texture is even close.

Flavor

This gelato has an extremely fresh mint taste, backed up by a nice portion of irregularly-shaped chocolate chips strewn about. The experience of eating this pure white cream is quite different from the light green colored Mediterranean Mint because of the color difference, but the actual test is very similar. As I said in the intro, this pretty much lines up with my expectations. The only difference  I detected was a slight graininess in the texture (maybe that is supposed to represent the ‘bark’), but it could be my imagination. Until I try these two back-to-back I won’t know for sure.

Nutrition/Ingredients

In a 100 gram serving there is 240 calories, slightly above the average of other Talenti gelatos which is roughly 210-220. This is clearly not something you should eat frequently when counting calories. There is 26 grams of sugar,  on the low side of Talenti ice creams (Sea Salt Caramel is a whopping 36 g), but a little excessive for my personal health guidelines. Both of these values are very close to Bryer’s mint chocolate chip ice cream, when adjusted by serving size weight, so there is nothing too unusual here.

This product has a few qualifications that make it available to a wide group of people: vegetarian, gluten free, HFCS free, hormone free, and kosher.

There are only 11 ingredients and all natural ones at that. Above all I am very impressed that there is no ‘natural flavors’, because that was present in their Mediterranean Mint flavor. The other differences between these two is that Peppermint Bark has added vanilla and oil (coconut and soybean), and peppermint extract is used instead of fresh mint. The latter explains the color difference between these two products.

Because of the natural ingredients and fresh taste, this is now my 3rd favorite Talenti gelato, after Coffee Chocolate Chip and Caribbean Coconut.

Full ingredient list: milk, sugar, cream, dutched chocolate, dextrose, oil (coconut, soybean), peppermint extract, vanilla, carob gum, soy lechitin

“Dutched chocolate” refers to chocolate processed with alkali, which gives it a browner color and milder taste. Its a pretty common process though I rarely see it listed as “dutched”, but rather as “processed with alkali”. Strictly speaking this is a “unnatural” process that I would like makers to avoid, but it’s a minor nitpick and not sure if how the replacement of natural chocolate would affect the flavor.

(Meditteranean Mint ingredients:  milk, sugar, cream, chocolate, dextrose, natural flavors, fresh mint, carob gum, soy lechitin)

Price/Availability

I purchased this ice cream at Publix grocery store for around $5.99 and haven’t seen it at any other stores in my area. The packaging is marked as “Limited Edition” so eat it while you can, but it seems to have been around since at least December 2012, making the odds of it suddenly disappearing less likely.

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

Summary

This gelato is a mint-lovers delight with nothing unnatural and would be perfect if not for the excessive sugar and calories hidden within.

References

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

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

Rickland Orchards Greek On The Go Mango Granola Bites

 greek

I recently came back from a family trip to Tennessee, where I enjoyed the beautiful fall colors – fiery red, bold orange, and luscious green. Living in South Florida there isn’t much feeling of the changing seasons, but when you head north it’s really a different world. I was thinking of creating a blog post about some of the things I saw there, including the very memorable “Rock City”, but decided against it since I want to keep my blog relatively focused on sweets, at least for the time being.

I looked through one of the local grocery stores ice cream sections there, but didn’t see much that caught my eye. There was a few brands that were new to me but most were sold in large one gallon containers, which typically aren’t in the class of ice cream I like. Some brands I was familiar with back home, such as Ben and Jerry’s, didn’t have too many unique flavors there either. That’s one of the disadvantages of globalization – wherever you go things are more or less the same.  Of course, I didn’t do a thorough survey and had I checked out a few other stores I might have seen a wider selection and some more things I wanted to taste and review.

I did stop by a Ben and Jerry’s store which I may briefly review in another post, but for this post I’d like to focus on a sweet product I bought literally at the last minute. I picked it up in on a whim at one of the Nashville airport’s many gift shops.

Flavor

The appearance of these little white balls is a bit surprising at first glance. They look like a homemade gum ball, so when you pop one in your mouth you might be thinking “is it really OK to eat this?” No worries though – as your teeth sink into the soft yogurt coating you soon realize this has little in common with a gum ball. The texture of the coating is not a perfect sphere (hence the “homemade” part), but rather lumpy, as if it was a Frankenstein made of a bunch of smaller pieces. Not the most appealing first impression, but as with most sweets the taste and texture are paramount over the appearance.

The yogurt coating is very much like that on your average granola bar, like Nature Valley’s yogurt bar, except there is a very strong mango flavor infused into it. To be honest I am not a big mango fan (which may have caused me to be extra sensitive to the flavor), but I can see this being delicious to mango lovers so I won’t count it against the product. There is a certain chewyness which reminds me of a protein bar (in a good way), probably because of soy protein isolate contained within.

The inner core of the balls is made up of granola, which has a pretty underwhelming crunch to it. I think a little more snap would improve the overall taste experience. As with the coating, I wasn’t too satisfied with the appearance of the granola portion. It was too mashed together without any visible granola pieces (oats) or other recognizable elements.

My biggest disappointment is that both the inner and outer portions look very different from the packaging illustration, where the granola oats are well-defined and coating is much smoother and even.

Because of my feelings towards mango I won’t say I’m eager to purchase this again, but both my wife and son really enjoyed these sweet, crunchy bites.

Nutrition/Ingredients

One pack contains roughly 36 bites, and a single serving is defined as 9 bites. In a serving there is 190 calories, 80 from fat, and 15 grams of sugars. Though far from being a diet product, these values are pretty reasonable. There is 3 grams of fiber and 5 of protein per serving.

Although there is a mild yogurt taste and actual yogurt is used in the ingredients, it isn’t enough for me to recommend this product for those looking to get the health benefits of yogurt. See another of my reviews where I talked about this here. From the ingredient list we can see there is a higher proportion of sugar, vegetable fat, and skim milk powder over yogurt. Same thing with mango – there is enough of it for a taste, but not enough to count as eating fruit for health reasons.

The ingredients used are generally healthy and natural, with the exception of “natural flavors” which is pretty common in products of this sort. I’m a little curious why they added soy protein isolate which could turn some people off from this (being a more heavily processed ingredient), but the extra protein and flavor is a plus for me. Sugar and fructose syrup aren’t my favorite ways to sweeten something up and ideally I’d prefer a less processed form like agave, but because there is still debate on which sugars are healthiest this is a very minor point. I wonder how the taste would change if they reduce thed amount of these sugars and upped the proportion of brown rice syrup and honey, which are already present. I’m guessing the current ratios were chosen mostly for cost reasons.

Full ingredient list: Greek yogurt coating [sugar, vegetable fat (shea butter, palm oil, palm kernel oil), skim milk powder, dried greek yogurt, soy lecithin, natural flavor, citric acid], oats, mango bit [fruit (mango puree, apple puree), sugar, fructose syrup, rice flour, vegetable fat, natural flavor, pectin, citric acid], soy protein isolate, honey, canola oil, chicory root extract, natural flavors, brown rice syrup, water, tapioca starch, calcium carbonate, gum acacia, probiotics: lactobacillus acidophilus.

Price/Availability

I got this at the Nashville airport but according to their website it’s available at a variety of store chains, including Target and Winn-Dixie. I paid $5.99 but odds are this will be at least a dollar or two cheaper when purchased outside of an airport. For example, I saw this for around $4.00 on this site. I’ll give my numerical rating for price based on the latter since its not fair to the product to use the airport giftshop’s price.

Their website also supports direct purchase, which is nice.

I was a little annoyed the company’s website didn’t list this flavor, but that can be excused by the fact it is a relatively new product, at least according to the “New” label on the corner of the package.

Ratings:   Flavor:  7.0  Nutrition/Ingredients: 7.0    Price: 8.0   Overall: 7.33

Summary

Although the appearance is not that attractive, I’d still recommend this product for anyone who likes mangos and yogurt coating. Granola lovers might want to stay away since the granola portion lacks a certain crispness and definition.

References

http://www.amazon.com/Rickland-Orchards-Greek-Mango-Granola/dp/B00CLHXEP8

http://www.ricklandorchards.com/products#granola-bites

http://www.smartpowders.com/rickland-orchards-greek-on-the-go.html

LaLoo’s Deep Chocolate Goat’s Milk Ice Cream

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

Flavor

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

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

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

Nutrition/Ingredients

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

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

Protein is moderate, at 5 grams per serving.

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

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

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

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

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

Price/Availability

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

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

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

Summary

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweets Review: So Delicious Dairy Free Coconut Milk Mint Chip Frozen Dessert

Having reviewed another So Delicious product (here) as well as another brand’s coconut milk mint chip (here), I decided to write a review for So Delicious’s Mint Chip. As with their other products in this lineup, this is a dairy-free, soy-free frozen desert which has a coconut base, sweetened by agave syrup.

Flavor

As you might expect from the name, this frozen dessert has a fresh, minty coconut base with a nice amount of chocolate chips dispersed throughout. The mint overpowers the subtle coconut flavor, probably because there is no whole coconut used, only coconut oil and cream. For those not accustomed to coconut-based frozen desserts, it tastes sort of like a dulled down, diet version of a normal milk-based desert. In some sense it is, because of the lower calorie and sodium content.

My biggest problem is that there isn’t really anything special or unique about the flavor. It loses hands down to the same company’s German Chocolate, whose succulent caramel and pecan pieces really make for a great taste experience. There is something strange about the Mint Chip’s texture, a lack of creaminess almost to the extent of being gummy. When I opened the sealed package the ice cream was in an odd shape with a little tornado shaped hole in the middle, almost as if it had partially melted and than refrozen. That could explain why the texture is so funky, or it could be due to the proportions of the gums that are used.

Just as with Luna & Larry’s Mint Galactica product, a balance of contrasting flavors is lacking. While this rival product does have a smoother texture, Mint Chip has the advantage of having larger sized chunks of chocolate with richer flavor. Overall I rate these two products’ flavors on the same level.

Even though I didn’t love the flavor of either coconut-based mint-flavored desert, it’s not that I dislike all minty desserts. There are some milk-based ones I do enjoy such as Bryer’s Mint Chocolate Chip and Talenti’s Mediterranean Mint. Both of these have much more sugar and calories, so its not entirely fair to compare them to the coconut versions. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to review one of these products sometime in the near future.

Nutrition/Ingredients

As is with many companies, the products in a set all have similar nutritional information and ingredient makeup. This product is no different and has much in common with the same company’s German Chocolate frozen desert.

In a 85 gram serving (four total in the container) there is 170 calories, with 80 of those from fat, and both figures are lower than many milk-based deserts. Protein is low compared to most milk-based ice creams at only 1 gram per serving, although fiber is quite high at 6 grams, thanks to the chicory root extract. Sugar is only 13 grams per serving, well below average compared to most milk-based ice creams, but comparable with other company’s coconut-based products, such as Luna & Larrys.

This product’s ingredients have a few key differences from the German Chocolate flavor. One is that it has significantly less ingredients thanks to the omission of caramel sauce, which contains a few undesirables like carrageenan and sodium citrite. Because of this I would say Mint Chip is arguably more healthy that German Chocolate.

In addition, Pecans and shredded coconut are not present in Mint Chip, and are replaced by chocolate liquor. For those who didn’t know (I didn’t until I looked it up), chocolate liquor is pure cocoa mass in liquid form and has nothing to do with alcohol. (According to Dictionary.com, “liquor” has a secondary meaning “any liquid substance”)

At first I thought the “mint flavor” listed on the label meant something which tastes like mint (either artificial or natural in origin), but doesn’t necessarily contain natural spearmint or peppermint. I checked with the company and they said this simply means “peppermint extract”, so it is the real stuff after all. I wish they would just list it an extract (as is done by Luna & Larry’s) since it sounds much better and leaves no room for doubt.

I slightly prefer the ingredients of Mint Galactica to this product because the former contains entirely organic ingredients, while Mint Chip has only two (organic coconut cream and organic agave syrup).

Full ingredient list: ORGANIC COCONUT MILK (WATER, ORGANIC COCONUT CREAM), ORGANIC AGAVE SYRUP, CHOCOLATE FLAKE [DRIED CANE SYRUP, COCONUT OIL, COCOA (PROCESSED WITH ALKALI), CHOCOLATE LIQUOR, VANILLA], CHICORY ROOT EXTRACT, CAROB BEAN GUM, GUAR GUM, MINT FLAVOR.

This product is certified gluten free, as per the small icon printed on the top of the carton.

Price/Availability

I bought this for $5.99 at Publix, though it is sold at many other supermarkets.

Ratings:   Flavor: 6.0   Nutrition/Ingredients:  8.0  Price:  7.0  Overall: 7.0

Summary

This is a no-frills mint flavored coconut frozen desert with chocolate chips. It has healthy ingredients and moderate calorie/sugar levels which urges me to recommend it over most milk-based ice creams. However, So Delicious’s German Chocolate is much better tasting and has a similar nutritional profile, so you might want to consider going with that instead.

References

http://www.sodeliciousdairyfree.com/products/coconut-milk-frozen-desserts/mint-chip

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

coconut1

Company response: Caffeine content in Haagen Dazs Green Tea Ice Cream

I recently got a response back from an email query sent to Haagen Dazs with regards to the amount of green tea and caffeine in their green tea ice cream product (which I recently reviewed here).

They were tight lipped on the exact amount of green tea in the product, classifying it as “proprietary information”, but they did respond about the caffeine content:

“there is approximately 25 mg of caffeine per ½ cup serving which is considered 1 serving.”

Haagen Dazs website lists how they use Japanese matcha tea for this product, and according to the energyfiend website, matcha has roughly 70 milligrams of caffeine in 1 cup (8 fluid onces) of tea. This can be twice to three times of that found in other green teas, depending on the company and brewing length. One reason matcha has a high caffeine content is because the whole leaf is present, ground up, instead of just brewing it as other green teas.

Since matcha should be the only ingredient with any significant amount of caffeine present, we can use the above information to get a ballpark figure for how much green tea is in this product. It works out to be roughly one-third cup  (1 teaspoon of matcha powder) in a single serving, and almost one and half cups in the entire package (one pint). This is useful information for those trying to make their own homemade ice cream with a similar flavor.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate to a huge amount of tea, so those looking to reap the health benefits of green tea would be better off keeping to matcha tea, or mixing in extra matcha powder into your ice cream.

References

http://www.energyfiend.com/caffeine-content/matcha-green-tea

http://www.energyfiend.com/caffeine-content/green-tea

Product Review: Julie’s Organic Gluten Free Vanilla Sandwich Cookies

I really like Whole Treat Organic Ice Cream Sandwiches (reviewed by me here), so I thought I would try out a competitor’s product to see what it had to offer.

Before I even put these sandwiches into my cart I was impressed with the packaging, which has a flowery, elegant design overlaid onto a tall tube shape (think a mini version of a Pringles can). It sure beats the Whole Treat packaging which is  homely, down-to-earth, and just looks cheap. Some of this may have been intentional on their part, though.

Flavor

This sandwich is made from two discs of chocolate, as opposed to the Whole Treat one which is made of two rectangular-sized ones. Julie’s also makes a rectangular one according to their website, but I don’t remember seeing that in the store.

When comparing these two sandwiches, Julie’s sandwich does everything bigger and thicker than its Whole Treat rival. For example, the total weight is roughly 20% more, and the ice cream in the middle is significantly thicker.

The cookies have a similar texture to Oreos, but somehow seem to crumble in my mouth before I’m expecting them to, leaving behind an almost grainy sensation. I prefer the Whole Treat sandwiches texture which is is bit softer and moister, and allows your teeth to really sink in. The cookie itself also has a very pronounced sweetness backed by a milder saltiness.

When I got to the ice cream within, I felt the thickness was a bit extreme. I’d even go as far as saying it made it difficult for me to fully appreciate the flavor. I either could force myself to bite off the full berth of the sandwich, which was more than I was comfortable with, or nibble away at it with multiple bites which was similarly awkward. On the other hand, the competitor’s thickness seemed just right and allowed me to eat it naturally without even thinking about it.

The ice cream flavor itself has a nice robust milk flavor to it, but again I felt it was a bit on the sweet side and too thick with cream.

This is without a doubt a delicious desert, but judging from taste alone I prefer Whole Treat’s product by a wide margin.

Nutrition/Ingredients

One sandwich weighs 74 grams and contains 200 calories, 90 of them from fat. There are 18 grams of sugars, 3% DV of sodium, and 3 grams of protein.

These figures are all very close to the Whole Treat sandwiches when adjusted for serving size, an interesting fact because my overall impression of Julie’s sandwich was that it was sweeter and higher in calories. This is likely because of the 20% difference in overall size, as well as the width of the sandwich.

Though there are many similarities and both have generally natural ingredients, I prefer those in Julie’s sandwiches for a few reasons. First of all, in addition to being organic the cookies are gluten free, through the use of rice flour instead of normal wheat flour. According to Wikipedia, about 1 in 133 people in developed nations have an allergic reaction to gluten, which can be very serious. Because of this, this product is available to be eaten by a larger audience which is always a good thing. I’ve even heard stories of people who have minor gluten allergies that don’t realize it until later in life, so you might want to try experimenting with gluten free foods and see if you body reacts better to them.

Second, there is no caramel coloring. It’s true that Whole Treat’s coloring is in class I, the least risky of the four classes, but no coloring is always better in my book. There is also a few natural starches used, tapioca starch, corn starch, and potato starch, which may add a little more vitamins and minerals.

Finally, cocoa is listed much higher, at 5th place compared to 11th place for Whole Treat, and therefore likely to be in much higher concentration. This gives the consumer a better chance of reaping cocoa’s many potential health benefits. I think some of the black color comes from this, and possibly some from the starches used.

Full ingredients list:

Organic Vanilla Ice Cream – Organic milk, and cream, organic cane sugar, organic tapioca syrup, organic vanilla extract, organic tapioca starch, non-gmo soy lecithin, guar gum, locust bean gum, xantham gum.

Gluten Free Chocolate Cookie – Organic rice flour, organic unsalted butter, organic cane sugar, organic eggs, organic cocoa, organic corn starch, organic potato starch, baking soda, organic vanilla, sea salt.

Price/Availability

I purchased this at Whole Foods for about $6.99 and haven’t seen it anywhere else locally. However their web site search tool says there are a few other places nearby, such as Vitamin Hut and Simply Natural, which carry their products.

Considering Whole Treat’s product gives you more total product (6 x 60  = 360 grams vs. 4 x 74 = 296 grams), the price is a bit expensive. To be fair, Whole Foods can save money distributing its own products so some amount of price difference is not unexpected.

Ratings:   Flavor:  6.0  Nutrition/Ingredients:7.5    Price:  6.5  Overall: 6.6

Summary

These are large ice cream sandwiches that taste great and are composed of organic, gluten-free, and natural ingredients. Though I would rate it’s ingredients slightly lower overall, I prefer the taste of Whole Treat’s competing ice cream sandwiches for their light, easy-to-eat experience.

References

http://www.juliesorganic.com/ice_cream_sandwiches/

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

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Product Review: Haagen Dazs Green Tea Ice Cream

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

Green tea has been used in China since at least 2737 BC, and also has been drank for hundreds of years in other Asian countries including Japan, Thailand, and Korea. It is sold both as a beverage and as a treatment for a variety of medical ailments. Green tea is made from the same plant as everyday black tea, Camellia Sinensis, but there are major differences in how the plant is processed and grown. For example, green tea is processed with methods such as oven-drying or steaming to minimize the oxidation and fermentation. Also, certain types of green tea are made from tea plants grown in shade, including “matcha” which is the type of tea typically used for green tea ice cream (and also happens to be the same tea used in the Japanese tea ceremony). Because of these things, green tea has a very different taste and nutritional profile than other types of tea.

Grocery stores usually sell green tea from a few brands, though some of them are very diluted. If you want real green tea, try ordering some at an authentic Japanese restaurant (buffets that also serve Chinese food don’t count), or even better buy powdered matcha green tea at an Asian supermarket and mix it yourself. The flavor is very bitter, but tea lovers might just fall in love at first sip.

Green tea ice cream has been made in Japan for at least 100 years, if not longer, and has been sold in the US since the late 1970s. When it was first introduced there was some manufacturers using artificial flavors instead of real green tea powder, but that has declined greatly since. However, as I discovered recently when trying some green tea ice cream in a local Asian buffet, there is still some around that tastes nothing like green tea and shares only the deep green color.

Although many ice cream companies make green tea flavored products, in typical (non-Asian) grocery stores where I live it is pretty hard to find one on the shelves. We were lucky to discover a store recently that sold Haagen Dazs’s version, so we picked up a pint right away.

Flavor

This ice cream has a simple, creamy milk flavor with a good balance of cream that gives a nice texture without being overly fatty. If you have tried the same company’s vanilla ice cream you’ll find the texture is almost identical, which is no surprise considering the ingredients are mostly the same.

The attractive green color hints at the green tea hidden within, and there is a definite authentic green tea flavor. But in all honesty, it’s more of an aftertaste – the milk flavor dominates the experience for me.

Being a fan of green tea, I wish there was much more used. Of course, this would make the flavor significantly more bitter and possibly scare away all but the most hardcore green tea lovers.

Overall, the flavor is better than any I’ve eaten in a restaurant, but not quite as good as the homemade version we made at home. For those interested, you can simply add matcha green tea powder to a standard vanilla ice cream recipe and it should turn out great. You can even mix it into a store bought vanilla ice cream, though you have to make sure the ice cream doesn’t completely melt in this process and run the creamy texture. In our case, we added a good amount of green tea powder which may be why I am slightly disappointed in the flavor of this product. Having said that, the rest of my family loves this ice cream so maybe I’m just overly picky about the flavor.

Nutrition/Ingredients

A single 102 gram serving contains 250 calories, which is about average for Haagen Dazs ice creams, but slightly higher than some other companies. Sugar is also pretty standard at 19 grams per serving.

There is 5 grams of protein per serving, a value typical of milk-based ice creams.

My favorite thing about this ice cream is that there is only 5 ingredients: cream, skim milk, sugar, egg yolks, and green tea. There is a few others made by Haagen Dazs (such as coffee) and I really appreciate their simplicity and lack of mysterious or unnecessary ingredients like colorings, natural flavor, or thickening agents. This fact alone puts this ice cream above over half of the products out there.

The other benefit of this is the green tea itself. It contains flavonoids and catechins, and research points to a large number of health benefits ranging from increased brain function and increased physical performance, to lower risk of certain cancer types and heart disease. Though further research on these nutritional benefits is still needed, some of the existing studies show impressive results. For example, a study of over 40,000 Japanese people showed that those who drank 5 or more cups a day were much less likely to die in an 11-year period.

The only catch is that, with green tea listed last on the label and a very mild green tea taste, the actual amount of green tea is probably very small. I sent an email to Haagen Dazs asking about the amount of green tea present and will write another blog post when I get the result.

Price/Availability

I bought this at Publix for around $5.00.

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

Summary

A very flavorful ice cream with simple, natural ingredients, and a taste of authentic great tea. Unfortunately for me its a bit lacking, and may leave some wishing for a slightly stronger concentration of green tea.

References

http://www.haagendazs.com/Products/Product/2781

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

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

http://voices.yahoo.com/the-difference-between-black-green-white-tea-7215974.html?cat=5

http://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-green-tea/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16968850

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Product Review: Organic Nectars Cashewtopia Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato

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Did you know gelato made from cashew nuts existed?

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

Packaging

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

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

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

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

Flavor

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

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

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

Nutrition/Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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

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

Price/Availability

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

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

Summary

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

References

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