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Product Review: Justin’s Maple Almond Butter Spread

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Introduction

I’m a heavy consumer of Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter (which I reviewed here), but regardless of how healthy and tasty it is I need a break from it from time to time. I decided to try another product in this series, an Almond Butter sweetened with natural maple sugar.

Flavor

I hope you’ll pardon the cheesy turn of phrase, but I’m nuts about nuts. Essentially seeds from a plant which grow in a hard shell, these amazing creations of nature are one of the few things that have a rich, savory flavor in their unprocessed natural form.

Start with a paste made from dry roasted almonds and add maple sugar for an extra touch of sweetness, palm fruit oil for increased spreadability, and round off the taste with a pinch of salt, and you get a spread made in heaven.

I’m not going to attempt to explain the intricate flavors contained with almonds, but this product will surely appeal to anyone who likes peanut butter or eating raw almonds.

There is a surprising sweetness for the actual amount of sugar present. This is because maple syrup primarily consists of sucrose, whose sweetness lies between fructose and gluctose, and as a result is approximately twice as sweet as table sugar.

My only minor complaint is the ratio of oil is a bit high. When I spread a blob of this on my bread with a knife, sometimes it overflows onto my plate and this messiness isn’t desirable.

Nutrition/Ingredients

A single serving (two tablespoons) of this thick spread contains 200 calories and 17 grams of fat. As I mentioned in my hazelnut butter review, the problem with spreads is that its hard to meter how much you eat. If you’re not careful you can wolf down 1000 calories or more in a span of minutes. For those concerned about their weight it’s best to eat this in very small doses, but everyone else shouldn’t feel any guilt when eating this. With minimally processed natural ingredients, if you going to go overboard with calories and fat this is probably the safest way to do it.

There is a minimal 3 grams of sugars per serving, less than half found in Justin’s chocolate spreads. Interestingly, the “classic” version of this paste, containing no added sugar, contains nearly the same amount of sugars at 2 grams. If you find the maple overtones bother you, feel free to try the classic version. I’ve had it and its even stronger almond taste is superb.

There is 6 grams per serving which is a good amount, especially considering that you are likely to consume multiple servings in a single sitting. This is natural protein from the nuts themselves, not something added artificially.

Both almonds and maple sugar are packet with nutrients. Almonds contain Vitamin E, manganese, copper, Vitamin B2, among others, and are considered to be very heart-healthy. Maple sugar contains a large amount of manganese, zinc, and also contains substances called polyphenols that may help control blood sugar levels. It’s estimated glycemic load is less than that of table sugar and only slightly more than honey, though diabetics still need to be careful when eating it.

Palm fruit oil, a less popular form of oil, has its own set of potential health benefits including cancer prevention, immune system strengthening, and reducing heart disease.

Full ingredients list: Dry Roasted Almonds, Maple Sugar, Organic Palm Fruit Oil, Sea Salt.

Price/Availability

Like most of Justin’s products, this sells for around $10.00 per a 454 gram jar. When compared to everyday peanut butter this is quite expensive, but its competitive to other almond butters.  After all, this product is mostly made of almonds, which have a unit price roughly double that of peanuts. Justin’s peanut butter goes for a roughly proportional price ($6.00).

I usually buy this at Whole Foods but its also started appearing at Target and other stores recently. Its also available from the producer directly via their website, and packs of 6 are sold for a slight discount. Justin’s nut butters are also sold in single serving packs.

Ratings:   Flavor: 8.5   Nutrition/Ingredients:9    Price:7.0    Overall: 8.2

Summary

With a rich taste and packed with nutrients, I’m apt to call this the perfect snack food – if it weren’t for the high calorie and fat content. I consider this, along with the other products in Justin’s lineup,  to be the best available spreads judging from taste and nutrition content.

References

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

http://www.thenutbox.com/Nuts-s/1.htm

http://greenlitebites.com/2010/11/11/sweetener-comparisons-honey-agave-molasses-sugar-maple-syrup/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nut_(fruit)

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=20

http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/glycemic-index-for-sweeteners.html

http://diabeteshealth.com/read/2011/05/24/7158/maple-syrup-a-sweet-surprise/

http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/why-you-should-give-red-palm-oil-try

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Ingredient Math – estimating worst (or best) case for ingredient proportions

Have you ever wondered how much of a certain ingredient is really present in a sweet, or any food product?

You probably know that ingredients are listed on food labels in order or prevalence, with the most predominant ingredient first. You may have even known this was determined by weight. But in this article I will discuss a method to get an estimate for the maximum of each ingredient’s percentage of total weight – just by using the ordered ingredient list.

To derive this formula, lets start with a very simple example, a product with just “coffee and sugar”. Since coffee is listed first we know it has higher or equal amount of total weight when compared to sugar.

Is there anything we can do to determine about how much the first ingredient, coffee, is really in the product? The answer is no because coffee could be almost 100% to almost 0% of the total weight, with sugar filling in the remaining space. (Actually, there is a trick to determine the amount here since the second ingredient is sugar, which I’ll discuss later in this article).

But what about the sugar?

Well, if you think about it, there can’t be more than 50% sugar, by weight, since any more of that would mean there was more sugar than coffee, which we know is not the case.

So we’ve learned something important – that there is no more than 50% sugar in the product. This would apply to another second ingredient when there are two total ingredients.

What if there were three or more total ingredients? We would get the same result, because the other ingredients could be in trace amounts (practically 0%), so the “50% maximum for the second ingredient” rule would still apply.

What about the maximum amount of the third ingredient? Using the same logic you will see it cannot be above 33.3%, since any more of that would mean it is in greater proportion than the first and second ingredients. And for the forth ingredient you get a maximum, by weight, of 25%.

Turning this into a simple formula we get the following:

Maximum percentage of the Nth ingredient = (100 / N)

So for the 5th ingredient, you would get (100 / 5) = 20% maximum weight of that ingredient.

If you use formula along with the serving size you can determine the maximum weight of any of the ingredients per serving. Pretty handy if you want to minimize your intake of certain things.

If you want to take this to the next step, you can infer more information when one more more ingredients are a type of sugar. For example, if a product contains “coffee, sugar” and has 3 grams of sugar per 15 gram serving, then you know right away there is 20% sugar and 80% coffee in this product. Keep in mind that the grams of sugar listed includes any type of sugar, so if you have multiple ingredients which contain some type of sugar (even fruits) then the calculation gets a little trickier.

Besides knowing there is a certain percentage of sugar, you can use that to deduce information about other ingredients.

For example, if the imaginary product I just described had a third ingredient, say “coffee, sugar, vanilla”, then you would know that there is 20% or less vanilla because sugar is 20% or less. This assumes that there is no sugar in the vanilla, otherwise it would be harder to make any definitive conclusions.

Similarly, if you know how much protein is in each ingredient, you can figure out even more using the supplied protein in grams.

You can also leverage information about other ingredients to deduce additional information about the other ingredients. For example if a product had “milk, sugar, guar gum, vanilla”, you would know that the proportion of vanilla is much less than 25% since guar gum is typically used in relatively small doses. (I’ve tried overusing guar gum in homemade ice cream – its not pretty!)

I love thinking about food and ingredients from a methodical, logical point of view since it allows me to apply science to my everyday life.

References

http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064880.htm