taste test

Transparency and Credibility

There's a great food blog that I read. I used to read it with much more zeal than now, and that's the subject of my story. See a few ago I noticed a recipe for what amounted to a casserole made from a can. Had I drifted back in time to the 1950s? No, upon further review this was a post sponsored by "Campbell's Kitchen". I was shocked and yes even a little offended.

The problem wasn't so much the fact that they were accepting advertising from Campbell's, rather that now I didn't know which stories are advertising. For example, in this review of store-bought gravies (something I would not ever buy anyway, but I'm into taste tests of all sorts), Campbell's gravy got an honorable mention. Is that because it was actually tasty or because Campbell's slipped a little cash their way. There's really no way to know. Worst of all, nothing the author might say could prove otherwise because how do we know he's not being paid off to deny it. It's a horrible spiral of assumed deceit.

Beyond just a silly food blog, this is basically the same problem facing Congress. When a congressman takes campaign money from a person or company, and then later passes legislation that benefits that entity, how can we ever believe that the money didn't affect their decision? And even if the representative is being honest and trying their best, does the money subconsciously alter their behavior?

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Taste Test: Maple Syrup

For Christmas my aunt and uncle, with help from my sister, sent me a bunch of assorted items they picked up around town. One thing my sister picked up was a bottle of 100% maple syrup from Trader Joe's (which we don't have around here). I've been wanting to buy some real maple syrup for a while but thus far my wife has balked at the price which is at least 4 times as much as the corn syrup + artificial flavoring kind. The question then has to be, is the flavor worth the added cost? Naturally, a test test was in order.

Since flavors from pancakes, french toast, etc. can add to or mask the flavor of the syrup I decided to taste them on a spoon. I had about a teaspoon of each. Due to a risk of spilling the viscous liquid, I wasn't able to randomize the spoons but in the end it didn't matter much. The difference was readily apparent.

The artificially flavored syrup, this one from Great Value (Walmart store brand), was sweet and had a nice round flavor. I suppose I would describe it as maple although to that point in my life I had never tasted real maple flavoring. The Trader Joe's syrup, on the other hand, had an extremely rich set of flavors. There was not just one. There were a hundred flavors hitting my mouth at the same time. It was quite pleasant. It didn't seem quite so sweet. That's probably due to the corn syrup in the artificial syrup. It had some vanilla flavors, even some coffee flavors. The range was just extraordinary.

It's going to be difficult (to say the least) to go back to the plain stuff. I'm not sure how or if I can do it. This real stuff was, well, really good.


Taste Test: Diet Lemon Lime

For a while, 7UP was running a promotion on their website wherein they would send you a free can of Diet 7UP, Sprite Zero and Sierra Mist Free, so I filled it out and it arrived a few days later. The box came with a cute little instruction card which I found to be a little humorous. Basically they said to chill the drinks, pour them into cups and drink the Diet 7UP last. Well, that's a little less scientific than we do things around here, so we made up our own strategy.

We labeled three cups and filled each with a separate drink, all at room temperature. Then I closed me eyes and mixed them up really good. We tasted each one a few times before making our decisions. Only after we had finished did we look to see which cup was which.

Of the three, we didn't really have a favorite. They were all excessively sweet. Now, let me preface that by saying that neither Karin nor I drink much soda, and in fact sugar products are pretty rare around our house. I'm sure we're not the target audience of these drinks.

The one thing we agreed on was which one we liked the least. Would you believe it was the Diet 7UP? It was the sweetest of the three and the taste was just a bit off balance. It was very hard to discern much difference. The bubbles contributed there. The other two weren't disagreeable, but as I said none of them particularly struck our palates.

After drinking so much pop, I ended up feeling rather sick. I'm not inclined to purchase any of these drinks.


Test Test: Amano Chocolate

Who doesn't love chocolate, right? Well, my wife for one. She's sucrose intolerant (lacks the enzyme sucrase), so the sugar makes her sick. Can't say I blame her then. It's a good opportunity to try out some fancy chocolate when she's out of town. What can I say? I live on the edge.

I picked up some Amano chocolate over at Amazon. The shipping there was a dollar cheaper than direct from the site, so I went all cheapskate. I bought one each of the Madagascar and Ocumare. To my pleasant surprise it arrived the very next day (04/10). How's that for quality service!


Taste Test: Chocolate Sauce

Due to a slight mixup, we received a bottle of Hershey's Special Dark chocolate sauce. A week ago I had also made a bottle of Alton Brown's cocoa syrup, so I had a perfect chance to compare them. Incidentally, the dutch cocoa I used was also Hershey's.

I tasted them straight up, in spoons, at room temperature. I poured them out and handed them to my wife without telling her which was which. She gave them to me in random order. It wasn't hard to pick out which was mine though. It was the one with little gritty chocolate pieces. Whoops. I don't remember those being in there last week. Maybe I just couldn't taste it on the cheese cake. Or maybe they form while sitting in the fridge. I filtered it through a sieve, but maybe I need a finer mesh.

As far as the taste, the Hershey's tasted much sweeter. It was also less viscous, from the corn syrup no doubt. I think I preferred my own syrup as it had a much richer taste. For a Special Dark, I really expected more dark flavor. I wonder what the regular syrup is like.


Taste Test: Canned Tuna

I've always wondered the difference between tuna packed in oil and that packed in water. Actually I was in Twin Falls and I saw an episode of Ham on the Street where he promised to explain the difference. I unfortunately got a phone call or something before I got the answer. Well, I just had to find out for myself.

I purchased two cans of our normal brand, whatever the cheap Walmart brand is. Incidentally, we really dislike the Starkist tuna because it tastes way too fishy. I wouldn't be surprised if there isn't really any fish in the Walmart brand. Well, whatever.

The first thing I noticed is that the oil-packed tuna is really oily. Duh! Even after draining, it was just greasy. It had 6 grams of fat per serving verses only 1 gram in the water-packed. I suppose that's to be expected.

My aunt showed me a delicious way to mix tuna with mayo, celery and onion. She eats it on fresh baguettes. I love it. So that's what we did with it. I found that the oil-packed tuna didn't need as much mayo to get the same creamy texture. I debated about keeping the mayo amount the same or matching the texture. I ended up trying it both ways and really couldn't tell much difference, except in the appearance. An extra tablespoon of mayo is 11 grams of fat, so there goes all the savings of the water-packed tuna.

In the end, even with a blind test, neither my wife nor I could tell the difference. I could see the difference, but in my mouth they were the same. I think I'll stick with the water packed just because the oily tuna creeps me out, likely due to flashbacks of horrible food my college roommate used to make.


Taste Test: 2% Milk

There's a local dairy just up the road from my house, maybe a mile away. In the summer time it's quite a treat to go over there for a refreshing ice cream cone. Delicious stuff. They also, of course, have milk. I've been wanting to start getting my milk from there, for a few reasons. First, they're local and I always prefer to support that. They also don't use hormones and steroids on their cows. I prefer that as well, just like I would choose an organic apple if possible. But, as you can probably guess, their milk is more expensive than my standard Walmart brand milk. Would the switch be worth it? Scientific research to the rescue!

I acquired a gallon of 2% milk from both Reed's Dairy and Walmart. I like my milk as creamy as possible. How can I say no to cream? The answer is, I can't, of course. I poured about 2 ounces of each in small glasses each labeled on the bottom. Due to the opaqueness of the milk, I had no way to see the label. I then had my wife mix them up while I closed my eyes.

Visually I couldn't tell them apart. Both were white and milky, imagine that. They both smelled the same. It really all boiled down to taste, as you would probably expect give the extent the FDA has its fingers in the milk supply. Basically they tasted the same, but one had a creamier and richer flavor. It wasn't strong or overwhelming, but noticable. Unsurprisingly the creamier one was from Reed's Dairy.

I haven't fully contemplated the ramifications of this test. The taste was definitely enough that I could differentiate even on cereal or drinking with dinner. All things being equal, I would prefer the Reed's Dairy milk. The problem I find is that I don't really care to make a separate trip just for milk, especially considering how much milk we consume with 2 little tikes.

The solution might be home delivery. I'm just not sure how much it costs. I've asked each of the last two times I've been in for a price schedule but both times they've only had the out-of-town list, which is no help to me. Their website is a little pathetic in this regard as well. Until I find out just how much that would cost, it's a no-go for me. We'll see when I can finally find time to give a call over there during the day. Maybe Tuesday when I've got the day off. That's a good idea. Thanks, I thought so too. You're so smart. Oh, I know.


Taste Test: Cheerios

This test wasn't nearly so blind as many of my others have been. My apologies if your sense of scientific adventure is spoiled.

Here's the back story. My wife refuses to eat anything but Cheerios, but based on $$$ I bought a box of Walmart's off-brand toasted oats for the baby's snacks at church. Since we had them both, I ate a bowl of each.

The Cheerios were nice and cruchy. They have a balanced oat flavor with a nice after-taste. I prefer unsweetened cereals and these fit the bill nicely. They have good taste without being sweet.

The Walmart brand didn't have the same crunch. It's hard to describe, but even out of the box they just weren't as crisp to the tooth. Maybe a little stale tasting, but that's not quite the right description. The taste was pretty similar but wasn't as pleasing.

From then on we've been a Cheerios household. The baby even enjoys them more. Who'd have thought he had such discerning tastes?


Taste Test: Chicken Broth

This is the first in a new category which you may or may not have noticed, named Taste Tests where I pit two or more products head to head to see which is really the best. I've been doing this off and on for the last few years. My goal is to save money on no-name brands where taste makes no difference but spend the big bucks where it really does. Like when you buy butter instead of margarine, or shiitake mushrooms instead of button mushrooms. On with the show!

Yesterday I tried out a new (to me) recipe for tortilla soup. It turned out quite delicious by the way, despite my initial fears that it was lacking in the seasonings department. The calls for 4 cups of chicken stock or broth. We were at the dreaded Walmart picking up supplies and I couldn't decide whether to get the Swanson's or the Great Value (cheap Walmart brand). Since I needed two 14.5 ounce cans, I grabbed one of each.

To test I poured small amounts (since I needed the rest for the soup) into two small glasses. One had cute flowers on it so they were easy to differentiate. My wife warmed them up in the microwave since generally (always?) chicken broth will be eaten warm. I closed my eyes and she gave me the glasses one at a time.

The first one had a nice round taste. Not too much of anything, and certainly not too salty which was my primary fear. I probably could have enjoyed a bowl of that with some noodles and called it lunch.

The second had some good flavors, don't get me wrong, but my first reaction upon taste was "gimme the other one back". I took a few sips but couldn't identify what it was that I didn't like. It wasn't salt, that would have been too easy. The flavors just didn't marry well. The only way I can think to describe it is with music. Go play a nice C chord. That was the first sample. Now add an F#. That's the second one. You can still pick out the nice sound, but you would much rather it stop.

The result? The second was Great Value. I should have (and did) guess based on the package. Swanson's is just so much more appetizing. And we all know that old story about a book and its cover. "Don't eat a book or its cover. Have some Swanson's chicken broth instead."


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