Saturday, May 10, 2014

Compare Foods for Appearance, Texture and Flavor

This week's food lab required the sampling and evaluating 3 brands of 3 different types of food. It was a useful exercise in putting each of my senses to work as I assessed the different attribute of these items. You may find some of the information helpful as you make your future purchases.

First, I evaluated 3 brands of Strawberry all-fruit (no sugar) spread.

Food Product
Strawberry Spread-
Polaner All Fruit, Strawberry
Slightly red (under ripe strawberry), glossy, translucent
Clarified, loose gelled, smooth, almost no seeds, spreads easy
Sweet then tart, strong strawberry smell, bright contrast with peanut butter on toast
Strawberry Spread-
St. Dalfour Strawberry 100% Fruit Spread
Deep red, less glossy, fruit fibers are noticeable, clumpy
Sticky, fruit clung to itself, seedy, with pulp texture, clumps when spread
Tart then sweet, can taste grape flavor, faint fruit smell, mellow when paired with peanut butter on toast
Strawberry Spread-
Smuckers Strawberry Simply Fruit Spread
Fully red, slightly translucent, glossy
Less clarified, smooth, gelled, slimy with very few seeds, spreads smooth
Tart then sweet, strawberry flavor present, mild sweet smell, tart when paired with peanut butter on toast

I went into this experiment only having tried Polaner, so I assumed that every "all-fruit" spread would be exactly alike. Wrong! Polaner and Smuckers were very clarified, strained, and allowed only very little seeds in the spread. Polaner smelled the strongest of strawberry, but almost like strawberry candy, instead of a real strawberry (which may be from the "natural flavoring" that they add). St. Dalfour looked more like rich, ripe strawberries, stewed down with gelatin added, however, it is sweetened with grape juice and dates, so the strawberry flavor was much more subtle, and the grape flavor shown through. Smuckers was sort of the middle of the road, not overly pungent, with a light strawberry smell. The label says it uses fruit syrup, which leaves a gaping whole for wondering what types of fruit. Polaner was the least expensive at $2.39, Smuckers was $2.49 and St. Dalfour was actually on sale at $3.69. 

My pick? I actually liked St. Dalfours. Maybe it is because I could actually see strawberries in it. Perhaps because it was very mellow, yet sweet.

Next, Salsa...

Food Product
Newman’s Own Medium All Natural
Dark red, fiberous, chunky, speckled with spices, thinner liquid base
Scoopable, gritty, fiberous, chunky in liquid base with softer vegetables
Spicy, tangy, slight burning, umami smell and flavoring robust
Chi-Chi’s Medium Thick & Chunky
Bright red, more visual texture of vegetable chunks, no runny liquid base
Thick, firm vegetables, scoopable
Predominant tomato taste with heat that enters after a few seconds, strong tomato/pepper/onion smell
Casa Mamita Medium Chunky
Glossier finish, bright red, thicker base with chunks of vegetables
Medium amount of base vs. vegetable chunks, tomato fiber noticeable, scoopable
Strong tomato with very little heat towards the end, most bland variety with a sharp acidic smell

In all honesty, I prefer fresh salsa. Cooked salsa seems to lose some crispness. Anyhoo, of the three that I tested, Chi-Chi's is the only one that does not contain any sugar in the ingredients, although it did seem a bit sweet (they also show "natural flavoring" on the label). Newman's Own had a more robust, earthy taste, but the vegetables were very soft (not my cup of salsa). Casa Mamita is Aldi's brand, and I tend to pick this up for my kids to munch on with rice or on baked potatoes, but when comparing it to the other brands, it really does not have any nice heat that the other "medium" varieties have. Newman's and Casa both have a small amount of sugar (it is lower on the ingredient label), but I really prefer the varieties that contain no sugar.

My pick for best flavor? Newman's. Best Texture? Chi-chi's.

Finally, Pasta Sauce...

Food Product
Traditional Pasta Sauce-
Bright red, blended, smooth, liquefied, herb speckled
Soupy texture, slightly grainy, pureed texture, left thin coating on pasta
Lightly herbed flavor, smooth tomato flavor, slightly sweet, sharp contrast to pasta
Traditional Pasta Sauce-
Deeper red, more green herbs present, more concentrated, most texture of all
Bits of onion and tomato, thicker tomato base, left thick coating on pasta
More herb taste to compliment the tomato, some sweetness, rich umami flavor when paired with pasta
Traditional Pasta Sauce-
Bright red, gritty appearance, very few herbs present
Medium thinness, onion bits, slightly gritty
Strong onion (perhaps onion powder) flavor, pungent onion flavor when paired with pasta

This was a great item for to test. In a perfect world, I would make my own sauce. In reality, my very busy teenage boys eat their weight in pasta each week. The best I can do is find the brands that have the highest quality possible, because, after all, tomatoes are a vegetable.

I was most disappointed in Hunt's traditional pasta sauce. The consistency was that of tomato soup or maybe even thin ketchup. When added to pasta, it only lightly coated. Even more disappointing, high fructose corn syrup was a leading ingredient in the sauce. This was certainly a no-go for me. (Note: the Hunt's Garlic and Herb contains NO HFCS, however, the consistency is still very thin).  Classico surprised me, because, frankly, I rarely purchase it. It was the best in flavor and richest in consistency which coated pasta well. Barilla, a common sauce in my house, simply did not compare well with Classico. I had not noticed just how pungent the onion flavor was in their sauce until I compared it with the others. Certainly not a great pick.

So, you have now been on a food lab field trip... now wasn't that fun, kids?!


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