My name is Stephanie Zonis, and welcome to Organic Matter for January, 2007.
I’ve been writing about organic foods for something over a year now. I’ve discovered many reasons why eating these foods, when they’re genuinely produced or raised in an organic fashion, is a good idea. But in doing research for my columns, I kept running across claims that organic foods taste better than conventionally produced or raised foods. “Could that be true?” I wondered. Accordingly, I conducted some informal taste tests on a variety of different types of foods recently, and my results are below. With one exception, all of the foods tried were bought in a supermarket or natural foods store. If you can’t wait to read through each assessment but want to get to the bottom line to see if organic products taste better, click on this link.
Both Alderfer Organic Grade A Large Eggs ($3.69 per dozen) and Wegman’s Grade A Large Eggs ($1.09 per dozen) were fried sunnyside down on a nonstick griddle. While the organic eggs had a deeper yellow yolk, no differences in taste were noticed between the organic and the conventionally produced eggs. WINNER: Tie.
Redwood Hill Farm Vanilla Goat Milk Yogurt (28.62 cents per ounce) was tested alongside This Land Is Your Land Organic Vanilla Goat Milk Yogurt (33.16 cents per ounce). The Redwood Hill Farm yogurt is tarter and thicker, with a darker color; maple syrup is the only sweetening used in this product, but the amount of sugar is almost identical to that in the This Land Is Your Land product. My personal preference is for a sweeter yogurt, so I liked This Land Is Your Land better, but this does not indicate to me that the Redwood Hill Farm yogurt is any way inferior. It’s merely different. WINNER: Tie.
3. Brownie Mix
Pillsbury Fudge Supreme Double Chocolate Brownies ($1.69 for an 8-inch square pan of brownies) were compared to both Ghirardelli Chocolate Syrup Brownies ($1.99 for an 8-inch square pan) and Dr. Oetker Organic Brownie Mix (Chocolate) ($2.59 for an 8-inch square pan). The Pillsbury brownies had the darkest chocolate color of all three mixes and were too salty, too sweet (with a sweet aftertaste), and had insufficient chocolate flavor. The Ghirardelli brownies had a very artificial taste, with a little chocolate flavor but not much. They were of a relatively dark chocolate color. The Dr. Oetker brownies, much lighter in color than either of the others, were less salty than the Pillsbury brownies. They were still too sweet but had some chocolate flavor. However, despite my careful following of directions, the batter was so thick that I felt I had to add a little water to it before it went into the pan. None of the brownies from any of these mixes was acceptable. WINNER: None.
Three cheddars were sampled. Organic Valley Organic Sharp Cheddar Cheese (56.12 cents per ounce) wasn’t especially sharp, but more mellow. McCadam Sharp Cheddar Cheese (24.87 cents per ounce), was more of a “sharp” cheddar to my taste; both cheeses were good. By coincidence, I had access to a real English Farmhouse Cheddar (from Zingermans.com) when writing this report. While it retails at a gasp-inducing $2.00 per ounce, it was so superior to both the Organic Valley and the McCadam that it was on a different plane of existence. I’d be hard-pressed to choose between the Organic Valley and the McCadam, but once the English Farmhouse Cheddar entered the scene, neither of the others even seemed to matter. WINNER: Tie.
Both Driscoll’s Raspberries ($2.99 for 6 ounces) and Driscoll’s Organic Raspberries ($3.99 for 6 ounces) were tested. The organic raspberries had no sweetness to them at all, but I’ve had this happen with other organic (as well as conventional) raspberries I’ve tasted. Still, I cannot claim that the organic berries were better tasting. WINNER: Conventional.
6. Chocolate Bars
Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa Dark Chocolate (56.86 cents per ounce) was compared to both Droste Superior Extra Dark 75% Cocoa (74 cents per ounce) and Green & Black’s Organic 72% Baking Chocolate (92.26 cents per ounce). The Lindt bar proved very astringent, with more of a “red fruits” impact than a chocolate flavor. The Droste, my preference, was quite bittersweet, with a deep chocolate flavor and little astringency. The Green & Black’s bar wasn’t too sweet, but it tasted flat, with an astringency that developed gradually. WINNER: Conventional.
7. Prune Juice
R.W. Knudsen Family Organic Prune Juice (water extract from organic dried prunes, 15.6 cents per ounce) was tried, along with two types of Sunsweet Gold Label Prune Juice (canned, in a six-pack, at 9.67 cents per ounce, as well as in a 24-ounce plastic bottle, at 7.78 cents per ounce). While the organic prune juice and the Sunsweet in a plastic bottle were both good, there wasn’t a big difference between them. Both had a deep, raisiny flavor. The Sunsweet in the cans, however, was awful, with a distinctly “off,” almost metallic, taste. WINNER: Tie.
8. Peanut Butter
An organic, ground-in-store peanut butter (22.44 cents per ounce) was compared to Simply Jif (lower sodium and less sugar than regular Jif) at 13.24 cents per ounce. The organic peanut butter tasted solely of peanuts; I found that the sodium and sweetening in the Jif detracted from the peanut flavor, so in this case I liked the organic product better. WINNER: Organic.
A conventionally grown navel orange (50 cents) was compared to an organically grown navel orange ($1.67). While the flesh of the organic orange was paler than the flesh of the conventionally grown fruit, both had a decent balance of sweetness and acid. WINNER: Tie.
10. Chocolate Pudding Mix
Jell-O Chocolate Cook & Serve Pudding and Pie Filling (99 cents per a 4-serving box) was compared to Dr. Oetker Organic Chocolate Cooked Pudding and Pie Filling Mix ($1.39 per a 4-serving box). Both puddings were prepared with whole milk. The Dr. Oetker pudding was a much paler shade of brown, with some chocolate flavor, and not too salty or sweet. The Jell-O pudding had a similarly mild chocolate flavor but was otherwise undistinguished; neither was anything to write home about. WINNER: None.
11. Canned Pasta
Canned pasta in a tomato and cheese sauce is very popular with the young set, and, I’m led to believe, many adults, as well. Campbell’s Spaghettios (Original, 75 cents per 15 ounce can) were compared to Annie’s Homegrown BernieO’s (Certified Organic, $1.99 per 15 ounce can). While the pasta in the Spaghettios had been cooked within an inch of its life, the pasta in the can of BernieO’s was even mushier, with less texture. The BernieO’s were noticeably less salty, but salt was still too dominant a flavor. The Spaghettios seemed to have more liquid in the can than did the BernieO’s. WINNER: None.
Eleven product categories were tasted: Organic was the clear winner in one and tied in five others. What to conclude from all of this? These tests were not meant to be comprehensive, nor were they carried out under exacting scientific conditions. Other brand choices may have resulted in different outcomes. But I cannot state definitively that organically produced or raised foods taste better (or worse) than their conventionally-produced counterparts. My belief is that anyone who tries to convince you of this is trying to sell you something. Something organic, of course. Any such taste tests or taste claims on fruits and vegetables (or products made from them with no or few other ingredients, such as wine) must be viewed with particular suspicion, as produce varies astoundingly, even within one harvest or from one tree.
Not surprisingly, the organic foods were all pricier than their conventional kin. The greater expense ranged from a few cents an ounce in yogurt to over three times the cost of the conventionally raised product (in eggs). Is the extra expense worth it? In some cases, for some reasons (including concern over pesticide residues and conventional agricultural practices), I believe it is. But for me, when it comes to organics, better taste is not the issue.
Organic Find of the Month: Sky Top Farms Yogurt
Imagine an organic, whole milk yogurt. The cows who give milk for it are grass-fed. The yogurt is sweetened with maple syrup (even the Lemon and Orange flavors) and comes with a layer of yogurt cream on top (yum!). And the yogurt contains active live cultures known to be beneficial for people.
Add this all up, and you have yogurt from Sky Top Farms, a small company located in New York State. I love this yogurt, which is offered in four flavors: Lemon, Maple, Orange and Plain. My favorite is the Maple. Like all of the flavors, it’s outrageously creamy, and it has a true maple flavor (fair enough, given the sweetener they use). The Lemon and Orange have the good tang of citrus, and the Plain has some tartness to it, but they all taste very fresh.
Sky Top Farms appears to have limited distribution as of this writing, although I can usually find them at some Whole Foods Markets. Their website is minimal, too, just a landing page and a customer service number. But your reward for persistence in seeking out these yogurts will be a stellar cultured dairy product.
Creaminess, cultures, and a great dairy flavor; this is what yogurt should be about. You won’t find fancy packaging or contrived flavors here, just an honest product with a genuinely good taste. You can telephone Sky Top Farms toll-free at 1.800.376.9544, or hope that the website will evolve into more customer information.
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