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Product Reviews

Gourmet News & Views

May 2006

 

 

5.30.06


Event Watch: Taste of Korea 2006 in NYC.
Lovers of Korean food and those who would like to learn more are in for a real treat. For two weeks, the 3rd U.N. Korean Food Festival will take place at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City, where one of Korea’s most internationally renowned chefs, Mr. Gi Ho Yim, will be cooking up improvised versions of traditional Korean fare for a grand feast. Raised by a family famous for traditional medicine in Korea, Chef Yim specializes in incorporating natural ingredients into his dishes, using food as a source of natural medicine for the body. 

The 3rd U.N. Korean Food Festival will be held from June 5 to 16, Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.at the United Nations’ Delegates’ Dining Room located at First Avenue and 46th Street. For more information, visit Tour2Korea.com.

U.S. and Mexico: The Two Largest Bottled Water-Drinking Countries. According to the new 2005 Global Bottled Water report from Zenith International, a leading beverage consultancy, the global bottled water market advanced by 4.7 percent at 163 billion liters in 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available. This was significantly below the hot-weather-assisted 9.6 percent uplift recorded in 2003. However, 2005 growth is expected to rebound, taking global consumption over 173 billion liters. Zenith predicts bottled water consumption will reach 217 billion liters in 2009.

Of course, there are different reasons for drinking bottled water. In America and other industrialized countries it’s a luxury: we prefer the taste of purified, spring or mineral water to our local tap water. In third-world nations, it’s often a necessity because local water supplies are not safe (yet poor people can’t afford to buy water). Let’s take a look at who’s drinking the most bottled water.

  • The United States and Mexico were the two largest national markets in 2004, with China and Indonesia likely to push water-loving Italy back to fifth place by 2008.
  • Western Europe was the largest consuming region in 2004, with a 25.9 percent share.
  • Asia/Australasia is the fastest growing region, accounting for 24.5 percent of 2004 global volume, and forecast to overtake Western Europe in 2005.
  • Still water continues to pummel sparkling water, reaching 83 percent of total volume in 2004.
  • Bulk sizes above 10 liters have risen to a 35 percent overall share.
  • Across the world, consumers are increasingly turning to bottled water as it becomes more accessible and as the health and hydration benefits become more widely accepted.

For more information, visit ZenInternational.com.

New Product Watch: MooBella Ice Cream Machine. Want your ice cream flavor custom-made, on the spot? You’ve got it! Driven by a series of touch-screen menus MooBellaand the press of a few buttons, the MooBella self-serve ice cream machine flavors, aerates and flash-freezes a dairy base that results in a fresh 4.5 ounce scoop of made-to-order ice cream in 45 seconds. Customers, or “ice cream designers,” have the option of choosing from premium and light varieties in 12 flavors, with the option of mix-ins like chocolate chips, Oreo-type cookies, M&M-type candies, peanut butter cups, and walnuts. The flavors are chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, coffee, mocha, black raspberry, pistachio, banana, butter pecan, caramel, cake batter and maple. The suggested price of one scoop, in a cup, is $2.50.  For those who aren’t getting enough Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip (a great flavor, by the way), this could be a godsend. On the other hand, caveat emptor: there are no refunds on that Pistachio Peanut Butter Cup.

The Moobella machine churned out scoops at the National Restaurant Association’s annual show from May 20 to 23 at McCormick Place, Chicago, where over 70,000 restaurant and hospitality industry types are on the lookout for the latest foodstuffs and equipment. The machine is also being tested at locations around the company’s home base, the Boston area, including Brandeis University, Boston Children’s Hospital and the Hotel Marlborough. If you’d like to see a MooBella in your neighborhood (or if you’re very wealthy with a large kitchen, or want to provide MooBella as an employee benefit), visit MooBella.com.

Mix-ins are a labor-intensive business on a custom-basis. If Moobella is a success, customized, self-serve ice cream can be available anytime and anywhere.

Ben & Jerry’s Sells Ice Cream Cones. The news here is not that Ben & Jerry’s sells cones, but how and where. The company is now selling an all-natural waffle cone pre-loaded with their two top-selling flavors, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Cherry Garcia, in supermarkets and convenience stores. The first packaged cones available with super-premium ice cream, the cones are available nationwide in a multi-pack of three cones with a suggested retail price of $3.99, and in a single cone package for $2.19.

Vosges Paprika Truffles. If you’re looking for something a little more luxurious than MooBella and Ben & Jerry’s, Vosges Chocolatier has just introduced 85% cacao truffles rolled in sweet Hungarian paprika. Click over to VosgesChocolate.com  and treat PaprikaTrufflesyourself to Le Truffe Au Chocolat Paprika, bittersweet ganache rolled in tongue-titillating paprika. According to legend, the chocolate truffle was created in the kitchen of French culinary giant Auguste Escoffier during the 1920s. One day, as his stagiaire (apprentice) attempted to make pastry cream, he accidentally poured hot cream into a bowl of chocolate chunks rather than the bowl of sugared egg for which it was destined. As the chocolate and cream mixture hardened, he found he could work the chocolate paste with his hands to form a bumpy, lopsided ball. After rolling the new creation in cocoa powder, he was struck by their resemblance to the luxurious truffle mushroom from the French Périgord region and the Piedmont area of Italy. Truffles from the earth are very pricey, but you can enjoy 12 pieces of chocolate paprika truffles for $30.00.

5.22.06

First-Ever Lobster Powder Produced in Central America.
Lobster-lovers take note: you can enjoy the flavor of your favorite crustacean more often, for less. Natural Seafoods, Inc. (NSI), a Florida-based company, has become the first company to convert lobster into powder, and is launching its product on the world market. The company is using PacificBlue Lobster, which grows only in the Pacific Ocean at a depth of 100 feet and varies in size from around 5 to 10 inches in total body length. NSI partnered with a company in El Salvador (where the largest biomass of the PacificBlue Lobster has been found), to fish the lobsters and harvest them directly into a powder ready for soups, sauces and other gourmet dishes. According to NSI, the powder is naturally red in color and has the taste and fragrance of pure lobster. We envision lobster scrambled eggs, instant lobster soups, lobster “cappuccino” (hold the coffee) and lobster ice cream (hold the sugar).

Will They Drink It If They Can’t Pronounce It? Touted as the next big food trend, a true organic superfood, açai, is an organic berry from the Brazilian rainforest that is considered to be one of the most nutritious fruits on the planet. You may already have seen the juices in the supermarket: Naked Juice and Bossa Nova are two brands that offer açai mixed with other fruit juices; Bossa Nova has a pure açai sweetened with agave, a honey-like low-glycemic sweetener from a Mexican cactus (talk about a double-health-hit!). Açai’s antioxidants are significantly higher than green tea, chocolate or blueberries; 10 times higher than red grapes; and it has 10 to 30 times more anthocyanins (flavenoids that bind free radicals) than red wine. Açai also has a synergy of omega 6 and 9 essential fatty acids (healthy fats), fiber, amino acids, vitamins A and C. Great, but how do you pronounce it? Ah-SIGH-ee, with a cedilla under the “c.”

Food manufacturers are hoping that this little Brazilian berry will samba its way into American hearts (more specifically, into our diets). It is being promoted as “a blend of rich berries with a hint of chocolate,” and in the last six months of specialty food and organic food shows it’s been shown in everything from juice, smoothies and ice teas to ice cream and sorbet—no doubt, sauces, syrups and chewables are not far behind. So, how does it taste?

From our perch, we see a very tart berry—think of tart cranberries, which are pretty inedible until they’re sugared up, which is exactly what the Brazilians do with their açai. It has to be manipulated until it’s palatable to American audiences. All of the juices we’ve had have been on the thick side—nectars rather than juice. So if you like that style, and you like cranberry tartness, you may like açai. In terms of flavor, it’s on the exotic (meaning non-familiar) side, like pomegranate and hibiscus, and not as welcoming as mango, papaya and other non-indigenous fruits we’ve readily embraced. Is there a hint of chocolate? Not that we can discern, and we spend part of every day tasting chocolate in all of its forms, including unsweetened. Net net, in juice form, it tastes like the healthy juice it is (click here for our review of Naked Juice, which blends açai and apple, banana and white grape juices).

One caveat: one must always ask the question, how much is enough? With green tea, one must drink eight cups a day to benefit from the antioxidant potential. No one yet has spoken about how much açai must be consumed in order to realize its superfood powers. As soon as we find out, we’ll let you know.

Go Goji? Another exotic berry claiming superfood status—one that has been in the American market a while longer than açai, though with less fanfare—is a rosy entrant from Tibet that is similarly high in antioxidants. Goji, pronounced GO-gee, has been described as a cross between a cherry and a cranberry. Our take on sampling the raw berries (and we have done so on several occasions): imagine the most sour versions of each berry—the kind you’d have to doctor with copious amounts of sugar, cook into stewed fruit or preserves or steep them into tea to make more palatable, and there you have it. We are of the adventurous palate: we eat everything and enjoy foods most people won’t even try. We like sour and we like tart, in their place. We wish we could love these superfoods; but the amount of sugar it would take to make them palatable makes them not so super in our book. (Otherwise, why not just grind them up into capsules or tablets and we’ll swallow them like vitamins.) We are told that eating the goji berry is one reason for the long life span of the monks in Tibet. To quote Sportin’ Life (from Porgy and Bess), “Who calls that livin’?” In accordance with THE NIBBLE™ philosophy, we encourage you to try them for yourself: they may become your favorite new food find.

Party On, Dudes. For the past few years, stylish partygoers have been mixing vodka with Red Bull, the Austrian energy tonic, to provide a liquor buzz with an energy jolt. This didn’t go down smoothly with sensitive palates who wanted the jolt but not the cloying sweetness of Red Bull (one can has 27 grams of sugar, 8 more than a Twinkie). For them Zygo, a peach-flavored vodka debuted, infused with stimulants like guarana, taurine and d-ribose; more elegant but still sweet. A new entrant, p.i.n.k. vodka, eliminates extraneous flavors altogether. Distilled to taste like any premium, unflavored vodka, it is infused with both caffeine and guarana. Marketed as the “world’s perfect party spirit,” it positions itself as a vodka shot with an espresso-level kick. Will you be tickled p.i.n.k.? Try it and let us know.

Atlantic City: The Next Hot Spot for Celebrity Chefs. Celebrity chefs are flocking to Atlantic City, a place where people don’t usually go for great a dining experience. But the culinary competition in the city has recently grown, and casinos are mirroring a dining trend similar to what hit Las Vegas in the 1990s. Resorts in Atlantic City, predicted to be the Las Vegas of the East Coast, are attracting big-name chefs like Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck. If that’s what it takes to give a kick Atlantic City, we’re all for it. It will never have Las Vegas’ warm weather, and hot cuisine has its sex appeal. And, it’s an easy drive for top New York chefs to make guest appearances and check up on their eponymous restaurants.

5.15.06

Dark Chocolate for the Body, Milk Chocolate for the Brain.
It isn’t news that chocolate has been linked to health benefits for its antioxidant powers. In recent years, we’ve been bombarded with [good] news that dark chocolate, 70% or higher in cacao content, can help reduce high blood pressure and has favorable affects on cardiovascular disease. It’s also better for our bodies as it contains less sugar than the ever-popular milk chocolate. For milk chocolate-lovers, the good news is that eating milk chocolate has shown signs of improving brain activity (in retrospect, all those Milky Ways consumed studying during college were not for naught!). A study conducted by Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, associate professor of psychology and director of undergraduate research at Wheeling Jesuit University, Effects Of Chocolate Consumption On Enhancing Cognitive Performance, analyzed the effects of an assortment of chocolate on cognitive performance, mood, and task workload. Following a standard procedure that also included a non-consumption control, the experiment required participants to consume the following:

  • 85g milk chocolate
  • 85g dark chocolate (total fat 34g, saturated fat 20g, carbohydrates 46g, fiber 6g, sugar 34g, protein 4g)
  • 85g carob

After a 15-minute digestive period, participants completed a variety of computer-based neuropsychological tests that included word discrimination, verbal memory, design memory, attention span, reaction time, problem solving and response variability. Mood and task workload were assessed. Gender and age served as co-variates for the analyses. Composite scores for verbal and visual memory were significantly higher for milk chocolate than the other types. Consumption of milk or dark chocolate showed improved impulse control and reaction time. These results support the claim that nutrient release via chocolate consumption enhance cognitive performance. The study will be presented at an upcoming professional conference this summer. To begin to enhance your own cognitive performance, click here to go to the THE NIBBLE’s index page of Artisanal Chocolate for some of the best dark and milk chocolates we’ve found.

New Product Watch. We’ve just returned from the Spring Fancy Food Show Organic Trade Association Show in Chicago. Among thousands of products on display, here are a few of our favorites (others will be reviewed in THE NIBBLE over the next few months): Volcano Lemon Burst® and Volcano Lime Burst™ citrus juices. Dream Foods International, makers of Italian Volcano Juices, has changed the way we see traditional plastic squeeze bottles shaped like lemons or limes. Their innovative approach? The company adds either lemon oil for lemon juice or lime oil or lime juice to a special compartment near the cap and zest in the container so that each squeeze delivers the authentic flavor and aroma of the fresh-squeezed citrus fruit. Organic- and kosher-certified as well, each product contains water, either organic lemon or lime juice, citric acid, and either organic lemon or organic lime oil. We tasted these juices and couldn’t tell the difference from fresh-squeezed. Telephone 310.392.6324 for more information or visit MyBrandsInc.com. Click here for our review of the wonderful Blood Orange and Tangerine juices. Italian Volcano products are available at fine supermarkets.

Honest Tea, which has always made organic bottled teas with less sugar, has gone even lower: to ten-calorie and no calorie teas in 8-ounce bottles: 10-Calorie Tangerine Green, Honest Ade Pomegranate Blue, and Fair Trade Unsweetened Teas. The tea drinks are sweetened with agave nectar (a plant from the cactus family) and erythritol, a fermented cane sugar derived naturally from fruits like pears and melons. They’re refreshing and delicious. Pomegranate Blue, a new entry to the Honest Ade line (fruit juice-based teas) has an infusion of juices from pomegranates and blueberries. It joins Cranberry Lemonade and Limeade. Each 8-ounce bottle of Honest Ade Pomegranate Blue contains 200 mg of antioxidants—as much as a single serving of spinach.

For those seeking unsweetened teas, Just Black Tea and Just Green Tea are both organic and Fair Trade Certified. Under USDA Organic Certification, this means that the ingredients in the tea are grown and processed without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Fair Trade Certification ensures that estates on which the tea is grown comply with specific including payment of fair wages, decent working conditions, and social development project funding, including health care and schooling for the children of the workers.

The Ginger People, who make a line of chewy ginger candies and salad dressings beloved by many, have expanded their line significantly to include gift shop items and delicious ginger shortbread cookies.

Organic Continues To Grow. Preliminary findings from the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA’s) 2006 Manufacturer Survey, released at the show, indicate that organic food sales totaled nearly $14 billion in 2005, representing 2.5 percent of all retail sales of food. Organic food categories experiencing the greatest growth during 2005 included meat at 55.4 percent, condiments at 24.2 percent, and dairy products at 23.5 percent. According to a recent survey, sales of organic foods are expected to reach nearly $16 billion by the end of 2006.

5.8.06

New Product Watch: G’Day Gourmet™ Gourmet Canned Tuna & Salmon. Sorry, Charlie, your days are numbered. G’Day Gourmet’s flavor-enhanced, canned skipjack tuna and wild-caught Alaskan pink salmon will be available at retail for the first time in the U.S. starting in early June. One of our favorite discoveries at the Winter Fancy Food Show, these ready-to-eat canned tunas are available in Chili, Lemon Pepper, Mild Indian Curry, Tomato Basil, Tomato Onion and Tomato Salsa. The salmon is available in Chili, Lemon Pepper and Smoked. The flavors come from the flavored oils and sauces in which the fish are packed. Once you taste them, in our opinion, there’s no returning to other tuna brands.

G’Day Gourmet canned fish products are low in mercury, high in healthy Omega-3 Fatty Acids and are harvested through sustainable methods. Made with all-natural ingredients like real chilies, tomatoes, onions and herbs, both fish varieties will be offered in Whole Foods Markets nationwide. In case you didn’t guess from the name, the products are imported from Down Under, canned in Port Lincoln, South Australia.

Wolfgang Puck Self-Heating Lattes Are “Canned.” The story has not quite exploded, but if you haven’t caught it (and especially if you have a cache), the Wolfgang Puck Self-Heating Lattes, launched to great fanfare during the spring of 2005, are currently being removed from store shelves after just a year. Many of the cans are said to be defective—leaking chemicals into the coffee, overheating, exploding, and leaving curdled or soured contents in the drink (but other than that...). The original intent of the packaging innovation was that a push of a seal at the bottom of the can would release a small amount of water that, when mixed with the calcium oxide in a cone inside the container, activated a heat reaction that warmed the liquid to 140 degrees.

But in March of this year, Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc., responding to retailer and customer complaints, sent a letter to BrandSource Inc., the marketing company that licensed Puck’s name to promote the lattes. It demanded that the company ask retailers to remove the 10-ounce, artificially-sweetened coffee beverage from shelves so that possible deficient products could be examined. Now, there’s a blame game being played out between the product’s licensees, the can’s manufacturers, distributors and Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, Inc. Click here to read a detailed article on BevNet. And if you’d like to keep your latte hot, we suggest a vacuum-insulated Bodum travel tumbler, which is also a French press so you can brew your own coffee inside.

Wegmans Introduces Private Label Organic Milk. Wegmans Food Markets, an operator of 70 high-end supermarkets in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and Maryland, has introduced its own brand of organic milk, making it one of the first retailers in the United States to offer shoppers pasteurized fresh organic milk under its own label. Wegmans organic milk is available in a full array of homogenized, 2 percent, 1 percent and fat-free options. Unlike Horizon, a leading brand of organic milk which is ultra-pasteurized, Wegmans’ organic milk is simply pasteurized. Both processes make milk safe to drink, but some people find that pasteurized milk has a creamier taste, which they prefer. Ultra-pasteurization extends shelf life by heating the milk at an ultra-high temperature that kills more organisms than regular pasteurization, including benign ones that can potentially sour milk but also provide flavor to fresh milk.

Organic milk is free of rBGH or Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, also called recombinant Bovine Somatotropin (rBST), a genetically engineered hormone that is injected into dairy cows bi-weekly to increase their milk production. It is given to approximately 22 percent of cows in the U.S. It is legal in only three countries: the United States, South Africa and Mexico. Evidence is accumulating that rBGH may promote breast and prostate cancer in humans who drink milk from rBGH-treated cows. As a result, organic milk (and other dairy products) are chosen by many households that do not eat primarily organic foods. However, the production costs associated with organic milk can double the cost of organic milk over regular milk. Private label foods are generally less expensive than branded products.

5.1.06

New Product Watch: Palapa Azul Ice Creams & Sorbets. Palapa Azul’s ice creams and sorbets will be joining their fresh fruit bars in the frozen food aisle of health food stores and gourmet markets starting today, May 1st. One of THE NIBBLE™’s favorite frozen fruit bar companies, Palapa Azul will be offering their Mexican-style, all-natural line of ice creams in Sweet Corn, Flan, Mexican Chocolate and Mexican Caramel (Cajeta); and their sorbets in Hibiscus Flower, Mango, and Coconut. Each pint retails for about $3.99. All Palapa Azul frozen desserts are kosher too! If your local market doesn’t have any of them in stock, we urge you to be the first to request them. Click here to read our review of Palapa Azul Mexican Ice Creams & Sorbets.

State of the Specialty Food Industry. The specialty foods sector continues to pick up momentum. Total sales have reached $34.77 billion, a 15.1% jump from sales in 2004. Specialty Food magazine and the National Restaurant Association teamed up to compile a comprehensive report on the industry, and data shows that in 2005:

  • Over 1000 specialty beverages were introduced.
  • Supermarkets and other mass food stores were responsible for 71.8% of specialty food retail sales.
  • Natural food stores increased 33.1% in retail sales, making it the fastest growing sector in the specialty foods industry.
  • Condiments represented 21% of specialty food sales, maintaining it the most popular specialty food category.
  • Over one-third of coffee and cocoa sold is specialty.
  • The fastest-growing specialty food category is yogurt and kefir (a yogurt beverage), followed by juices and fortified beverages.

If You Like Buffalo Mozzarella, You May Love Camel’s Milk. Camel’s milk may be the next superfood to hit shelves globally. With 10 times more iron than cow’s milk and rich in vitamins B and C, camel’s milk is said to have an acquired taste with hints of saltiness as compared to cow’s milk. The U.N.’s food arm, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), wants producers in countries from Mauritania to Kazakhstan to start selling camel’s milk to the West. In an article in the BBC News, FAO’s meat and dairy expert, Anthony Bennett, explains that there are about 200 million potential customers in the Arab world and millions more in Europe, the Americas and Africa. Bennett predicts that the market could be worth at least £5.6 billion although production of the milk still needs major improvements to ensure freshness for longer periods of time. Although a bit more expensive than cow’s milk, camel’s milk is lower in saturated fat and, with the rising preference for healthier diets in the U.S., may just be the next food trend to be set in motion.

 

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