Tuesday, February 06, 2007

More Gluten-Free Products reviewed

Having a limitted capacity to consume calories can be such a bother, especially when you have so many new gluten-free products to try out. I'm working my way through the various Enjoy Life samples that arrived last week as quickly as possible. Perhaps my progress is thwarted by the fact that once I open something I tend to finish it off before moving on to the next thing.

That was surely the case with the Cinnamon Crunch Granola and the "Not Nuts!" nut-free trail-mix. As I wrote in my previous gluten-free blog entry, where I gave a detailed account of each of these products, I really liked each of those, and since then I have finished off both. As with nearly any food products on the market, I don't quite agree with the "servings per container" stated an the packages -- since, the trail-mix claims 6 servings, and the Granola 7 servings. In reality, I got two hearty breakfasts out of the box of Granola and three snacks out of the trail-mix.

I don't know about you, but I have yet to meet anyone that really eats just "one serving" of most things labeled with supposed "servings per container" like this. Not to veer too much from the subject at hand, but have you ever seen how many "servings" are in a pint container of Haagen Dazs, or your favorite ice-cream? Usually it's 1/2-cup per "serving". Next time you want ice-cream, pack it into a 1/2-cup measuring cup and see how that serving compares to what you normally would eat. For me, that "serving" is looking a bit weak.

I just have to laugh at the notion that I could restrict my desire to eat wonderful tasting foods to what is recommended as a "serving" on the package. Now, for the sake of full disclosure, I'll admit that I do put an equally large effort into exercising so that I can eat more - all part of that "eat so I can exercise" and "exercise so I can eat" program I have going :) (so far it's working, and I still weigh within 5 pounds of my college graduation weight of quite a few years past.) Even with all this effort, there are realistic limits to how much I can consume in a day, which has slowed down my gluten-free foods evaluation. I did get to the next Enjoy-Life products finally...

Chocolate Chips reviewed

I have just tackled their Semisweet Chocolate Chips that are GF (of course) and dairy-free too; in fact they only contain: Evaporated Cane Juice, Chocolate Liquor, and Non-Dairy Cocoa Butter. They tasted just fine, and I began by eating them plain (as a snack of sorts) just to see how decent the chocolate was. I am a huge fan of chocolate in general, and these chips were plenty acceptable. The main difference compared to normal chips like Nestle's Toll House Semisweet Chocolate Morsels is that the Nestle's will contain milk fat. If you need to avoid dairy/casein, these Enjoy Life chips are certainly a good way to go - and, they are made in a dedicated facility and certified gluten-free and allergen-free.

But, let me get back to servings and such for a minute. My only complaint with the Enjoy Life chips has nothing to do with the quality of the product, but rather the quantity of the product per bag. Whereas many major brands of chocolate chips (like the Nestle Toll House ones) contain 12 ounces per bag - which is/was more or less a "standard" for bags of chocolate chips - the Enjoy Life brand has only 10 ounces per bag. I find this a bit annoying mainly because quite a few chocolate-chip cookie recipes will call for what is essentially assumed to be an entire bag of chips - i.e., 2 Cups, or a 12-ounce bag. Sure, it won't matter too much if you reduce the number of chips in your cookie recipe by 17%, but still, why does the bag have to contain less than the "normal" amount (12 ounces) just because it is GF/CF?

In all fairness though, I have noticed that manufacturers of mainstream baking chips have quietly been trying to shrink their packaging from 12 ounces, to 11.5 ounces, to 11, to... yep, 10 ounces! Although
Nestl├ęs traditional chips are still in a 12-ounce package, all their newer "swirled morsels" are 10-ounce packages, and their milk-chocolate morsels are 11.5, their PB/Choc combo is 11-ounces, and so on. So, the days of having a bag of chocolate chips be 12-ounces may be over as all the bean-counters running the show at these corporations decide to shrink packages in order to up profits (presumably without us noticing or caring). One would think that standardization of package-sizes, production-machine settings, box-sizes, etc. would save as much as reducing the amount of product in a pack, but what do I know. So, Enjoy Life isn't too far from the rest of the pack in not going with a 12-ounce bag.

One last point I noticed - Enjoy Life seems to use these dairy-free chips in their own "Not Nuts!" product if you want to see how they combine with other things in an unbaked fashion. And, they use them in their chocolate-chip cookies - which I will now discuss.


Chocolate Chip Cookies reviewed

My wife and I also each tried an Enjoy Life "chocolate chip cookie" - I put the product name in quotes because what we ate was certainly not a chocolate chip cookie per my definition. These cookies are part of their on-the-go cookie packs product line, and come with two cookies per package. So, we each tried one. And, though they were acceptable as a snack, they are definitely different from a "normal" chocolate chip cookie. This is a softer type cookie - there is no crunchiness like you will find throughout, or at least around the edges of, a traditional Toll House cookie; but, on the flip side, there is also no gluten, dairy, or cholesterol, and very little saturated fat in the Enjoy Life version.

Reviewing a product like these gluten-free chocolate chip cookies is difficult for me, especially when gluten-free desserts are my area of expertise. When I think of chocolate chip cookies, I think of the traditional Toll House variety that I remember eating from when I was a child all the way through my mid-30's when I had to go gluten-free. I still remember the "real" ones rather clearly, and this makes evaluating a chocolate chip cookie that is not just gluten-free, but also allergen-free, really rough.

Consider the fact that a traditional Toll House chocolate chip cookie recipe relies heavily on both gluten, eggs, and dairy to obtain it's distinctive flavor. In fact, I'd say that a lot of the flavor in a normal Toll House cookie is from the butter. A typical recipe will use 1 cup (yes 2 whole sticks of butter!) to achieve it's flavor, and such a recipe will yield 4-5 dozen cookies. So, when you are eating a Tablespoon of butter in every 3 cookies consumed (i.e., a Teaspoon of butter in each cookie!), the "real" chocolate chip cookie is bound to taste good!

So, Enjoy Life has to first remove this major component of chocolate chip cookies, and thus with it, they dramatically alter the flavor of what many would consider a "normal" chocolate chip cookie to be. If that wasn't enough, they must also remove the couple eggs you would normally use in the recipe. Now, certainly the result is bound to be healthier - no cholesterol for one thing - but the taste and texture is also quite different.

There is a noticeable taste from the date-paste used in the cookie. I am not used to dates in my chocolate chip cookies, and this just doesn't fit well for me. Likewise, a bulk of their sweetening comes from concentrated fruit juices, and this too plays with the flavor. The only real flour used in their glutenfree chocolate chip cookie formula appears to be Sorghum flour (a fine choice in my opinion), and it seems they use a bit of Xanthan Gum to help bind it all together.

To me (and my wife), the resulting taste and texture is just "OK". We both ate the entire cookie, which is saying something. I have had other GF cookie products I have just taken a bite from and pitched into the trash. This was certainly much better than that. But, in my mind, I can't help coming back to comparing this "chocolate chip cookie" with what I am used to a chocolate chip cookie being. We make GF chocolate chip cookies, and they taste very similar to the "real" thing - but then again, we'll use eggs and butter, granulated sugar, and a combination of flours (and, certainly no date-paste).

So, where does this leave me? I could eat these cookies for snacks, especially when traveling or at a conference or something where I want quick access to something guaranteed safe to eat, and where the pre-packaged on-to-go styling is advantageous. What I have not tested is how well they'd hold up if I threw them in a briefcase and had them bouce around in there for a week or two before opening the pack. If I have time to bake my own chocolate chip cookies, with the requisite eggs and butter I just can't help loving the taste of, that is what I would prefer. But, realizing that there are many people that can't or won't eat dairy and eggs, this product will probably be a welcome gluten-free / allergen-free product for many.


Cocoa Loco Bars reviewed

I also just recently tried the Enjoy Life coco-loco bars - and, though not great by any means, they are quite tolerable and I have eaten a couple of them now. I certainly do not look at these as being a chocolate brownie or a replacement thereof. They are definitely a "snack bar" as marketed, and remind me of an energy-bar type product. They definitely have cocoa taste, but there are competing flavors of date-paste and fig-paste in there also. I can detect the Sorghum flour texture and taste too, which is fine by me.

The bars have a hearty, chewy, firm texture with something that may be a bit surprising to anyone that is not used to rice flakes - and, that is the crunchiness and interesting texture of the brown rice flakes used in the product. This is going to be something you will probably either love, or hate. I have baked with the rice-flakes before, and even tried to create an oatmeal-free oatmeal cookie, whereby I used the brown rice flakes in place of rolled oats. The result was a cookie that, although it tasted very similar to an oatmeal cookie, its texture was quite different. I tried everything - soaking the rice-flakes in molasses/water for a day, and other techniques. In the end, I abandoned the recipe since my taste-testers (all being non-GF) could not get past the crunchy rice flakes, and to make them come out without such a different texture was just way too much work. Oddly, my father really liked them when I produced a batch that was just amazingly chewy and crispy all in one - but, he was the exception.

So, you'll have to tackle the Cocoa Loco bars knowing the texture is going to be different. The bars are vitamin-fortified, and would certainly make a great breakfast bar or snack bar when you need something in a hurry. Because they are dense and soft/chewy, they should hold up well if packed in a lunch or in your coat-pocket (don't worry - they are individually wrapped).

For the allergen-free folks, this bar is bound to be a hit. And, many others may like it too, but it is also bound not to appeal to everyone due to the texture and interplay of various flavors. My daughter (not GF), for example, tried it and didn't mind the texture but didn't care for the date/fig flavors (she does not like dates at all). I don't think you'll go too far wrong trying these knowing what to expect. Do not buy the product thinking you are about to eat a chocolate brownie or cookie or such - that is now what it is. Go into it thinking energy-bar or snack-bar with flavors of chocolate, dates, and more, and there's a good chance you will like it - especially if you read this review and the description sounds like something you want to try. I hope I captured the essence of the product here for you.


General Discussion

Aside from consuming all these Enjoy Life gluten-free products, I have been keeping busy with a few other things. The work on the jewelry (in the local college's jewelry-making class) continues, and I think my wife and I are making good progress after just a few weeks. Our metal-on-metal soldering technique has certainly improved, and we've completed some of our first pendants, brooches, and even earrings (though, no backs put on them yet). It's certainly been a fun learning experience thus far.

Also, a few days ago, my wife was in the office when my phone rang. In my absence, she took the call and was greeted by a lady who had recently found this gluten-free blog and tried some of our recipes. In particular, she was calling to tell us how much she was thrilled by the gluten-free brown honey bread recipe that we posted a while back! She baked the recipe, and not having the Pyrex dish we baked it in, tried the recipe out in two standard bread loaf pans - and the results were fantastic.

This lady went on to tell my wife how, although she has been gluten-free for a long time, she had just ran across our gluten-free blog and our recipes, and really loved how our breads were so much different from the usual recipes that had little or no fiber or nutritional value... she really like how we had used Buckwheat, Flax, Teff and such to make our breads more nutritionally complete as well as more flavorful.

Needless to say, my wife enjoyed hearing that her hard work is making others happy! I too was glad to receive such feedback - it's a great feeling of accomplishment knowing we've helped other Celiacs and gluten-free / wheat-free people in some way. Since I didn't talk to the lady, I didn't get a first hand chance to tell her thanks for calling and giving us such wonderful feedback; so, if you are reading this - thank you!

6 comments:

Lynn Barry said...

Outstanding analysis. Great news on the bread feedback. I love reading your posts. Although I am not able to try most of your recipes due to my long list of intolerances I sure love reading all about your daily happenings.
:)

Sheri said...

Great review.

And I am one that only eats a serving at a time - my stomach can't handle more. Unless it's my favorite meal in the whole world (which I still need to convert to GF-a weekend project, perhaps) - pork roast, sauerkraut, and bread and potato dumplings. Then I eat until I am sick LOL

Meesh said...

I am reading your blog while eating yet another gingersnap cookie from EnjoyLife. A great analysis of their products, I would like to try a chocolate chip cookie, nice and soft, lots of butter, yummy!

Mike Eberhart said...

I'm glad everyone enjoyed the analysis thusfar. Time to get to the next products in the pile.

Sheri: good luck converting that recipe, though I surely don't want you to eat til you're sick. I hope your stomach becomes more accommodative over time.

alisa said...

I wanted to find out if I may post or quote your Enjoy Life reviews with links (and credit) to your blog on our website?

We put together quite a lot of dairy-free and gluten-free reviews of food and books (I just had some Namaste Food muffins for breakfast!), but I really like the candid-ness of your reviews, and have not yet had time to make the rounds with Enjoy Life samples.

I can be reached at alisa at godairyfree.org. Regardless, thanks so much for the great blog!

Mike Eberhart said...

Alisa,

Absolutely feel free to quote my review(s) and link to my blog. As long as it's credited, that is pefectly fine by me and welcome.

And, if you want, you can certainly link to some of our gluten-free and dairy-free recipes, since there are a few of them on here including breads and pizza-crusts and more.

Thanks much for reading, and for the great feedback. Appreciated.