Food Review: Perk!er Gluten Free Foods Saturday, Aug 2 2014 

After experiencing some bloating induced (I thought) by bread and pasta, I started dabbling with gluten free foods. Whether the bloating is down to genuine gluten intolerance or just being a bit of a piggie I still can’t say. However, reducing one’s gluten intake can never be a bad thing, as it’s said to contribute to increased energy levels, fewer stomach cramps, and less bloating. If you do decide to reduce the amount of gluten in your diet or even go completely gluten-free, the bulk of your diet should still consist of natural foods, such as fish, fruit, vegetables, beans, lentils, and naturally gluten-free grains (like quinoa). Nonetheless, even those going gluten-free are only human, and will occasionally miss things like pasta, bread, and cake. While I’m still experimenting with this, I hear that Dove’s provides a good range of gluten-free flour, and I’ve had promising results so far with gluten-free pasta from a French supermarket brand, Carrefour.

As the gluten-free market gains traction, more and more brands are appearing to satiate people’s desires even while cutting out certain foods. Perk!er is one of these brands, and they very kindly sent me some of their gluten-free products to test recently. For breakfast, their golden syrup porridge pot – perfect for the road – and their apple, cinnamon and raisin box of porridge oats, for mornings when you have a bit more time. The porridge pot is a mere 230 calories per pot, so brilliant for those watching their weight, as it’ll keep you full for ages without the bloating while still delivering a hit of sweetness. At between £1.25 and £1.50 a pot depending on where you buy (Ocado, Tesco or Asda are your main choices), it won’t break the bank either and is comparable to the price of other porridge pots.

The ‘slow food’ breakfast option is equally promising, with the cinnamon, apple and raisin porridge box providing a satisfying start to your day. It’s tasty, healthy, and will keep you full without stomach cramps threatening to spoil your morning. However, as it has no added sugar, some people may find it’s not sweet enough for their tastes, so feel free to add a cheeky spoonful of honey or fructose if you like. At £4.25 a box, though, this is significantly more expensive than many other boxes of similar weight, so perhaps this is one to be bought more sparingly (although Tesco are currently offering 25% discount, so maybe it’s worth looking out for offers).

Finally, for those ‘naughty but nice’ moments, I was sent a pot of Perk!er’s Rocky Road Bites. At 59 calories per ‘bite’, these are comparable energy-wise to ‘normal’ Rocky Road, but encouragingly seem to contain far fewer ingredients than traditional recipes. Again, at around £2 a pot, these won’t make your wallet scream and are not a million miles away from the price of the usual products. They are also DELICIOUS (very important), and as with all of Perk!er’s products, you wouldn’t know they were gluten-free from their taste.

I’d therefore perhaps eschew the porridge boxes unless I could find them on offer, but would definitely go for the porridge pots and snack pots for healthier and affordable alternatives to traditional products. Thanks, Perk!er 🙂

Grazing with gousto Wednesday, Aug 28 2013 

The BBC television series Dragons’ Den has seen a lot of wacky ideas pass through its doors, but some of its most successful have been food-related, including Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae Sauce and Kirsty Henshaw’s Worthenshaw’s (now named Kirsty’s). So it’s hardly surprising that organic food delivery service Gousto decided to try their luck on last night’s episode.

The premise is simple: people want the convenience of takeaway food without the unhealthy aspects, so Gousto lets you choose from 10 new recipes each week before sending you the organic ingredients for the meal(s) you want – already prepared into exact portion sizes labelled to identify each ingredient, so that you get all of the convenience and none of the fuss, as well as a deliciously healthy meal involving no wastage. Available nationwide, reluctant cooks (and those stuck within a 5-dish rut of a repertoire) now have another option that doesn’t involve fatty takeaways, or obscure vegetables in farm boxes that they don’t know what to do with. All dishes include a preparation time, difficulty level, five-a-day rating, and calorie information, allowing purchasers to pick recipes to suit their needs.

So why didn’t they get an investment? It’s just unfortunate that they went into the den with an investment already on the table, which they feared losing if the dragons were to offer something even more attractive. Ultimately, too, it’s still more expensive than shopping from scratch: at £4-£7 per person per meal, this is still more than the €5 per person per meal that I manage to shop at here in France (and that’s with eating meat three times in one week, which we don’t normally do, and at the most expensive supermarket brand in the country, meaning it’s not incomparable to what Brits might pay while shopping at more budget-friendly supermarchés). Saying this, though, discount code DRAGONSDEN does give you £15 off your first order if you want to give it a go.

Some people may also worry about being at home to receive the delivery of ingredients – but the founders say that their deliveries are 99% successful, so this concern may be baseless. New dragon Kelly Hoppen pointed out that this involves planning a week ahead, and that this could be a disadvantage for some – but to be honest, it’s a habit everyone should be getting into. We can’t all afford to make food decisions on a whim and waste perfectly good ingredients that we already have in. Maybe that’s not a concern if you’re a dragon, though.

Gousto should enjoy fighting its way onto the market – as well as having to contend with organic veg box services such as Riverford, and healthy snack delivery companies like Graze, there are plenty of other businesses already on the healthy food delivery scene. Here’s just a few that you may want to try out:

  • Raw food deliveries: Raw Fairies offer daily deliveries of raw food menus. The food sounds good – it includes cacao shakes, tahini noodles, and Russian root salad – but at a minimum of £29.50 a day, you’ve got to have some serious cash to burn.
  • Healthy snack bars: Natural Balance Foods sell healthy favourites, Trek and NAKD bars, at better value than in the supermarkets and with free UK delivery too. If you buy one of their mixed boxes, it can cost you as little as 83p a bar.
  • Graze’s biggest rival?: Nutribox offers a randomised healthy snack delivery service not dissimilar to Graze. Costs from £10.95 for 8 snacks a month, and offers a vegan option too.
  • Gousto’s biggest rival?: HelloFresh operates along the same lines as Gousto, allowing you to choose recipes and have the ingredients sent straight to your door. From £4.30.
  • For blowing the budget: When you don’t want to cook, and want to stay in the comfort of your own home, but the occasion demands more than just a takeaway, Banquet In A Box is there. Their £39 celebration banquet contains such delights as chicken liver and redcurrant parfait, beef wellington with mushroom and madeira sauce, and chocolate caramel soufflé.

So even though I’ve got 3 huge carrier bags of healthy snacks to see me through this term already, I’ll definitely be looking ahead to January, when they’ll likely be standing forlornly empty.

V for Vendetta Wednesday, Aug 21 2013 

at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

With the pace of our lives arguably becoming ever busier, those with business acumen in this domain have clearly seen the role that vending machines can play in terms of fulfilling our need to eat. Vending machines can be seen just about everywhere: stations, garage forecourts, hotels and theme parks are just a few of the locations where you’ll find them. They also take the moral low ground in places where you wouldn’t expect to find them, such as schools, sports centres, and even at the Olympic Games.

This might be considered acceptable if the machines contained healthy foods, but they usually don’t, and while the occasional Mars Bar is not bad per se, the problem arises from the fact that vending machines give children and teenagers unbridled access to junk food at moments when responsible adults are not necessarily going to be there to guide them. I was going to shopping malls and cinemas (very vending-machine-heavy places) without an adult from the age of eleven, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. From about this age, too, especially in large cities, children make their own way to school (passing through vending-machine dominated railway stations), and while many schools have banned vending machines by now, the establishment I work at is just one school where they still reign supreme.

nicole pastry

Gail’s Pastries chef Nicole rolling gluten-free pastry

One could blame the adults for not supervising their children adequately, or for not steering them in the right direction from an early enough age so that they make good independent choices when older. But surely junk food should not be thrust into our faces at every turn? Even supposedly responsible adults have weaknesses and it seems unbelievable that the people working for these vast corporations should be more concerned about their profits than on the long-term effects of capitalising on our children’s pester power, or on our poorly-directed impulses and stressed moods. Strategically-placed displays of junk food at the ends of key supermarket aisles or at the checkout are just as reprehensible. So why not make our choices easier? I get that vending machine companies just want to make money (we all do, right?). But if people are really hungry or thirsty, then they will still eat and drink – so why not fill the machines with healthier temptations?

Students at University College Birmingham have been trying to innovate in just this regard by joining forces with the Automatic Vending Association (AVA) as part of a special project to design new healthy vending machine snacks. The students’ ideas included Caulipockets (a gluten-free pasty-style snack with pastry made from cauliflower), AM 2 PM (a snack pack containing one sweet and one savoury mini-snack – one for the morning and one for the afternoon) and Noodlelicious (a low-calorie hot snack made with rice noodles, including a vegetarian option). The winner of the project, Gail Pastries, will have its wheat-free pastries sold in AVA vending machines – proving that if the big boys of the vending machine world are on board, then this can be done.

So what would I like to see in my new fantasy healthy vending machines? Apart from the excellent inventions from the students at UCB, here’s a handy list:

  • Water (fizzy and still…Definitely no flavoured waters allowed)
  • Smoothies and fruit juices
  • Tea (no milk, no sugar…I can’t believe a machine could screw up a tea bag and some hot water, so this can only go well)
  • Milk and soy milk (I don’t personally like it, but recognise it’s a healthy drink)
  • Raw food bars. The good ones are pressed, not baked, and don’t add sugar. I’m a NAKD bar fan myself.
  • Flapjacks. The oats keep you full, the fruit can be a cheeky one of your five-a-day, and they don’t have to be chock-full of sugar and fat. Honey or fructose can be used to sweeten instead, with a healthy oil being used as the ‘glue’ to keep it together.
  • Nuts. The best ones for your health are pistachios, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts.
  • Dried fruits. The possibilities are pretty much endless, but my favourites are apple, mango, cherry, blueberry, raisin and pear.
  • Vegetable or bean chips. A great alternative to crisps, these are never going to be the same as eating fresh veg, but are healthier than potato crisps while still providing that satisfying crunch. I like Tyrells, but there are MANY brands out there. Lighter crisps, such as those by Popchips and TooGood, could also be used.
  • Plain popcorn. It’s what you put on it that makes it unhealthy. If flavourings are necessary, then vending machines could sell popcorn flavoured with chilli/paprika (for a savoury version) or an artificial sweetener, using low-fat cooking oil or similar to make the flavourings stick.
  • Rice cakes…preferably not the ones covered in caramel. The ones that come with a very thin layer of dark chocolate on one side could be OK though.

The best part is that in the meantime, it’s easy enough to prepare many of these snacks at home, or to buy them in places that are less expensive than vending machines – so voting with your feet is an option. Meanwhile, with baguettes being sold out of vending machines in France, fries out of Belgian machines, and pizza out of American machines, there’s scope worldwide too for this healthy vending revolution to occur. Now back to school for the new academic year to see if I can wean our little monsters off the vending machines in our school cafeteria…

What a load of Carp(o) Thursday, May 23 2013 

carpo

Some of you already know I’m a bit of a Graze addict. However, there’s a new kid on the block, and I’ll definitely be checking them out the next time I’m in London (approximately July 27th). Carpo, which is located in Piccadilly, purports to sell the finest snacks from across the world, and as I’m a sucker for dried fruit and nuts in various combinations, I shall be very interested indeed to see what they offer.

In Greek Mythology, Carpo was the goddess tasked with ripening and harvesting fruit in autumn and providing food for the people. It is this that has driven the philosophy and offer at the new store, with myriad choice of healthy treats prepared using products harvested at the peak of their ripeness to ensure amazing taste. Quality and seasonality are all important, with particular care taken that products only arrive in the store when at their absolute prime.According to their website, their most intriguing selections so far appear to be their dried chickpea snacks, along with the mysteriously-named Tiger and Juanita snacks. As for the fruits, I can’t wait to try the Spanish grapes and the Golden Incas. Not to mention the array of dried mushrooms that I can use in my Italian and Asian cooking – shiitake and agariko mushrooms grace their shelves, to name but a few. There’s also a range of chocolate, coffee and honey to explore – in short, enough to keep our household going for months. A number of the products are sourced from Greece, where the company itself also originates (the flagship store opened in Athens in 2011), seeking to revive Greece’s economic fortunes and enrich the British palate simultaneously. What’s not to like?

While the firm doesn’t (yet) offer delivery to our doors, this means it probably can’t quite replace Graze in my affections. However, I look forward to it taking its place alongside – and will be sure to report back once I’ve had a chance to visit in July.

Nibbling Netherlands-style Sunday, Jan 27 2013 

While on my wanderings around Paris with a visiting friend, we came across a branch of this place:

Upon closer inspection, this appeared to be an Ikea-meets-H&M type place, combining sleek Nordic design with household essentials at low prices. Alongside the freezer boxes, stationery, card-making kits and towels was also an extensive snack section:

hema snacksThe Hema brand, which is Dutch in origin, prides itself on producing most of its snacks in house, and the closer you get to the Netherlands, the more Ikea-like the offerings come, with stores in Holland offering sausages, pies, and pigs in blankets. What’s shown on the website actually only shows a very small proportion of what is offered, to the extent that I would not recommend purchasing from the website at all, as its best products are to be found in store. Unfortunately for my readers from Anglophone countries, Hema is yet to make it to these places: besides the Netherlands, the only countries where its branches can be found are Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and France.

Its main focus food-wise is on sweet snacks, although it also sells bags of nuts and dried fruit, as well as crisps, tea, and coffee. While I can in no way claim to have tried all of their offerings, there is a good selection of meringues (star-shaped at Christmas!), chocolates (think discs studded with mini Smarties) and gingerbread (conveniently apportioned into ready-for-work-snacking bags). Next on my hit list is definitely the toffee waffles (pictured above on the left) that seem to be exact replicas of those sold at Starbucks (at a fraction of the price, naturally).

While I didn’t spot any branches of Hema on my recent trip to Germany (of which more later), I have already visited three branches in France: the huge branches in Levallois and near the Pompidou Centre, and the significantly smaller branch at St-Lazare station. These are already gaining a cult following in Paris, and despite a mere three visits, I have already been stopped on the street once by a Dutch expat whilst carrying a Hema bag (clearly the brand is much beloved by Netherlands residents also). There is sadly not yet a single whisper on the wind of any branches of Hema opening in the UK – but rest assured you’ll know of it as soon as I do.

Battle of the bars Sunday, Jun 24 2012 

When I’m not Graze-ing, I have to find other portable, affordable, healthy snacks to keep me going while on French soil. Cereal bars here are typically the full-of-sugar type made by major cereal companies, with little available in the way of genuine alternatives. Of course I have tried plenty of these myself and often been left dissatisfied, even with products from brands whose normal cereals I usually enjoy.

So some of the bars below were recommended to me by friends, while others have been sussed out by me while trying to ignore the tunnel of love (a.k.a. the biscuit aisle*) in the supermarket. But which ones are the best? How much do they really cost, and more importantly, how much fat and sugar do they contain? Are you really getting a healthy alternative? (FYI, the percentages below refer to a woman’s guideline daily amount, or GDA, of sugar and saturated fat.) And even more importantly, do the healthiest actually taste nice?

Allow me to take you through a selection of my faves.

9 bars

How many varieties does it come in? 5: original, organic, pumpkin seed, nutty, and flax

How much fat and sugar? The original bar contains 5g of saturated fat (25%) and 13.1g (14.5%) sugar. These amounts obviously vary for the other bars.

Where can I buy them and how much do they cost? 9 Bars are stocked at a wide variety of UK supermarkets (including Waitrose, Asda and Tesco), but your best bet is to try Morrison’s or Holland and Barrett, who each stock 3 varieties out of the 5. On average, a bar costs about 99p (but you can get them as low as 87p a bar if you shop online).

How do they taste? Maybe not all of the seeds are individually detectable in their flavours, but their flavours combine to make a pleasing ‘whole’. The layer of carob is great for chocoholics who need a fix while on their diet! Slightly sticky (but not inconveniently so). Possibly too sweet for some.

NAKD bars

How many varieties does it come in? The ‘Nudie’ bars (i.e. their most basic line; see left) come in around 9 flavours (some places stock discontinued flavours): Banana Bread, Apple Pie, Berry Delight, Cocoa Mint, Cocoa Delight, Cocoa Orange, Pecan Pie, Ginger Bread, and Cashew Cookie.

How much fat and sugar? Obviously the cocoa ones are likely to contain more. The Berry Delight bar, for instance, though, contains 16g sugar (18%) and 1g of saturated fat (5%). I was surprised by the higher sugar level, but that (I hope) comes from the natural sugars present in the fruit used.

Where can I buy them and how much do they cost? They’re available in all major supermarkets, plus at Jonathan Graves and Holland & Barrett. At supermarkets you’re more likely to find the multipacks, but a narrower range of flavours, whereas the health food stores tend to sell single bars only, with no offers on them – but you get a wider variety. Prices start at 49p online, but rise to 75p as a minimum in shops. Multipacks start from £2.29 for a packet of 4.

How do they taste? Surprisingly, not as sweet as the 9 Bars, despite the higher levels of sugar. Packed with natural flavour. A slightly strange but pleasing texture somewhere between a jelly sweet and a biscuit.

Trek Bars

How many varieties does it come in? 3 – cocoa brownie, peanut and oat, and mixed berry.

How much fat and sugar? As these bars are made by the same guys as NAKD, let’s compare like with like, taking the stats from Trek’s mixed berry bar. This contains 30g sugar per bar (33%), and no saturated fat whatsoever. However, these weigh 68g compared to NAKD’s slightly-meagre-by-comparison 35g. In the end, there isn’t much in it – per 100g, NAKD’s Berry Delight bars contain 47g of sugar, whereas the Trek bars contain 44.

Where can I buy them and how much do they cost? The stockists are the same as above, but you’re more likely to find them at Holland and Barrett than anywhere else, where they’re £1.49 a bar.

How do they taste? The only one I’ve tried – the peanut and oat – carried both flavours through distinctively and successfully. Tasted natural and not too heavy or greasy. Sweet, but not overly so. A hint of an almost ‘caramelized’ flavour is present.

Original Crunchy Bars (Honey and Almond)

How many varieties does it come in?
Just the one you see here – although coconut and even butterscotch versions are rumoured to exist.

How much fat and sugar? Each bar contains 1.3g saturated fat (so 6.5%) and 8.8g sugar (9.7%). So these come in lower on the saturated fat scale than the other bars, but typically higher on the sugar content.

Where can I buy them and how much do they cost? They are occasionally available as single bars for around 45p. However, they are mostly available in multipack form, costing from £1.98 for 9 bars. Available at most major supermarkets, including Tesco.

How do they taste? The honey and almond flavours come through nice and clearly (although the former perhaps more than the latter). My only complaint is regarding the texture – these are very hard indeed, so don’t give them to any tiny people who might be on the cusp of losing a tooth.

Frusli

How many varieties do they come in? This Jordans creation is available in more variants than its crunchier brother: the six types consist of cranberry and apple, raisin and hazelnut, red berries, blueberry, tropical, and apple/cinnamon/sultana.

How much fat and sugar? At 8.9g sugar per bar, this contains nearly 10% of a woman’s daily sugar requirement. With 0.5g saturated fat, this amounts to 2.5% of a woman’s GDA.

How much do they cost and where can I buy them? These can start at a mere 40p for a single bar online, but again they’re most commonly spotted as part of a multipack – which starts at £1.50 for a box of six in most major supermarkets.

How do they taste? Fruity, but not too sweet. However, you don’t get the feeling of a really satisfying snack – it feels like they have a lot of air in them and the odds of going back for a second one are high.

So which ones are “the best”?

The more mainstream bars by Jordan’s cost less than the others, but this is probably to be expected when you pit a major cereal brand against smaller independent companies. In saturated fat terms, the Trek bar is the winner, with none whatsoever for its peanut and oat variety. I was surprised to see how much saturated fat the 9 bars had in them! The Jordan’s Crunchy bars contain the least sugar, which again surprised me. The Trek bar, which had the least saturated fat, also contained the most sugar, so I wouldn’t let these figures necessarily get in the way too much, as it’s likely to be swings and roundabouts. But for a combined total of GDA, it’s the Frusli bars that come out on top – their combined GDA of sugar and saturated fat is a mere 12.5% compared with the “worst” bar, the 9 bar, which has a combined GDA of 39.5%! Even if you eat 2 Frusli bars (which, as mentioned above, is likely), that’s still the equivalent of 1 NAKD bar in terms of combined GDA. So it looks like you’re best off going for Jordans or NAKD as an everyday snack, leaving Trek bars and 9 bars as more occasional treats.

Combined GDA (saturated fat + sugar) ranking table

9 bar                      39.5%

Trek bar                33%

NAKD bar              23%

Jordans crunchy   16.2%

Jordans Frusli       12.5%

But these findings don’t necessarily mean that this investigation is over. Oh no. I recently put in orders at both The Health Bay and Healthy Supplies to replenish my cereal bar stock, and these are the ones I’m looking forward to trying:

Tropical Wholefoods Apricot and Raisin bar (you’ll remember that they already won me over with their delicious and affordable dried mango pieces)

Beond Raw Acai Berry Bar

Oskri Sesame Bar with Date Syrup

O Bar Pomegranate and Raspberry

Fruitus Apricot and Oat

So it’s very possible that you’ll be seeing Battle of the Bars: Part 2 commencing within the next few months (depending on how fast I can eat them…), which all hopefully helps you to make more informed snacktime choices. YAY 😀

*Lamentably I cannot take credit for this little gem; for that, I point you in stand-up comedian Bill Bailey’s direction.

Grazing while you work Tuesday, May 15 2012 

Image

Recently my sister joked on Facebook about starting a chocolate home delivery service if her medical career went belly up. Many of her friends agreed, and I volunteered to start the French branch if the concept took off. But the wonderful fact is that some snack delivery services do already exist, with the main player arguably being Graze, who make a big song and dance over the internet about their offer of a free box of snacks.

I was keen to give the service a try, but as Graze don’t deliver to France (or indeed have a French branch – boo hiss), I had to hang on until I was next visiting England and time the deliveries to arrive at my parents’ UK address while I was staying there. And this is one of the very good things about Graze: you can specify on what day and date you would like the snack box to be delivered. They deliver six days a week and are very precise in their calculations so as to avoid you being disappointed.

But according to the saying, there’s no such thing as a free lunch (or, in this case, snack). So what obligations are you tied to when you sign up to Graze? You have to enter your payment details from the outset and choose a weekly delivery day (Monday-Saturday inclusive), with one delivery per week as a minimum (and this can be to any address – home, work, you name it). Your first box is free, and your next box is half price, with you being charged the full cost per box thereafter (£3.79). However, on the up side, it’s very easy to cancel or delay deliveries thanks to the control panel, which keeps things simple and accessible. You can also order one-off boxes (rather than weekly ones) and schedule holidays so that they know to suspend deliveries during this time, and the holidays can be quite long (my current ‘holiday’ is between my last visit to Britain in mid-April and my next visit at the end of May – so about 6 weeks). So there’s no worry about needing to wade through oodles of red tape in order to cancel (of course, there is the option to unsubscribe completely as well, even if you just take the free box and nothing else).

Boxes are letterbox-sized, meaning that you don’t get any of those annoying “Sorry, you were out” delivery slips. The box is of course recyclable, but the snack boxes themselves are less easy to get rid of in an eco-friendly way (they are made of plastic). You get four snack boxes per cardboard box, which are small but perfectly formed and come with a peel-back lid for convenient on-the-go snacking. The snack boxes are see-through and also come with white pencil-effect illustrations, in addition to the snack title, ingredients, and (in some cases) calorie counts and any extra benefits (such as indications of snacks that are high in fibre or omega 3).

Choosing the snacks you receive is an easy and pleasurable experience. Your user control panel on the Graze site lists all their available snacks (although you can always choose the ‘nutrition’ box – as opposed to the ‘nibble’ box – at the start to filter out their less healthy options), of which most are healthy alternatives to what we usually go for. Of the snacks, you can choose what you’d like to try, what you’d like them to send soon, and what you’d like to bin in an easy prioritization system (it’s just as simple to change your preferences later). I ditched most of the less healthy snacks (as that wasn’t really what I’d wanted to achieve in signing up) but clicked ‘try’ for most of the rest – except for those containing dried banana pieces, which as far as I’m concerned are akin to Satan himself.

So what did I actually end up choosing, and most importantly, how did it all taste? I ordered two boxes, which amounted to 8 different snacks, and, nicely enough, a good mixture of sweet and savoury options. The Pear Tatin (dried pear pieces, raspberry-infused cranberries, and yoghurt-coated seeds and almonds) went very well with a cup of tea, while the sweet-and-sour Sour Mango Tangtastic (blackcurrants, sour mango and cherry-infused sultanas) just went very well with itself. In these, as well as in the Shangri-La (lingonberries, pineapple, almond slices, pumpkin seeds) and the Fennel and Honey Peanuts, original flavours mingle in an intense, flavourful way to create a frankly joyful snack that’s healthy yet still great for satisfying a sweet tooth. Some carob options would also be a great way to expand on their dessert-style choices: even as a chocoholic I find carob surprisingly nice.

On the savoury side, this mainly indulged my taste for traditional Asian and American flavours via the innovative Hickory Smoked Nuts and Seeds (almonds, cashews and mixed seeds), Yaki Soba (Soba peanuts, edamame beans, noodles, and chilli broad beans) and Peking Dynasty (Peking cashews, baked soy bites, and black beans). The spiciness in the case of the latter two choices was warm and intriguing without being overpowering, and the hickory-smoked nuts and seeds delivered exactly what was promised.

Even though I binned all of these choices so that I would get a different selection on my next order, I’ll be sure to bring them back at a later date. The only one of my 8 snacks that’s likely to stay in the ‘binned’ section is the box of Omega Booster Seeds (which contained golden linseeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds) – I frequently snack on seeds anyway so this didn’t seem in any way new or different (although this isn’t to say that they didn’t taste good).

In terms of value for money, Graze’s frequent offers and incentives mean that you don’t always need to pay full price for a box, so that makes the link between quality and price even more appealing. While it is a shame that they don’t offer overseas options yet, I suppose the expat population can’t win all the time. It’s clear that the company really cares about its ingredients and has thought hard about how to make healthy eating a convenient yet delicious concept for consumers. They go beyond what you can get in the shops at the moment and have your best interests at heart in providing a flexible and honest service. And, of course, if you still fancy a slice of cake from time to time, they offer this as well (carrot cake, anyone?) – which means it’s perhaps not such a leap from there to the chocolate delivery service that my sister is still dreaming of.

www.graze.com

and here’s your free box code! R4JD7B7

Product review: black garlic Friday, May 20 2011 

“Introducing a simple food with a wonderfully complex flavor. Black garlic is sweet meets savory, a perfect mix of molasses-like richness and tangy garlic undertones. It has a tender, almost jelly-like texture with a melt-in-your-mouth consistency similar to a soft dried fruit. Hard to believe, but true. It’s as delicious as it is unique. Imagine garlic without all of the annoying stuff. Bad breath? Nope. Pungent odor? Nope. Acrid bite? No sir. You know how a great wine gets better with age? That’s what we’re dealing with here. In Taoist mythology, black garlic was rumored to grant immortality. We can’t promise you that, but there’s no doubt that black garlic is great for your health—it’s loaded with nearly twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic. It also contains S-Allycysteine, which is fancy talk for a natural compound that has been proven to be a factor in cancer prevention.”

Thus runs the promotional material on BlackGarlic.com. As mentioned, it is hard to believe. The proverbial vampire repellent without its characteristic stench? Surely not. Retailing online and at Tesco (for UK buyers), and touted not only as an exciting new ingredient but also as an unusual healthy snack, it is supposedly set to take the culinary world by storm.

Testing out the claim that it can be eaten as a snack without making you want to hurl, Keeper and I both dutifully chomped away on a clove of the black stuff. It really is absolutely black, and leaves no stain on your teeth; the soft consistency is also as promised (it’s more like dried fruit, not being at all crunchy). The garlic flavour is evident, but is far more subtle than its better-known white counterpart, and there’s also an overriding flavour that is not dissimilar to balsamic vinegar. The molasses taste mentioned above is also detectable. While certainly pleasant, innovative and edible, I’m not sure I would take up nomming it as a snack as a permanent habit.

Cooking with it, interestingly, does not release a really strong flavour in the same way as white garlic, but rather serves to enhance the flavour of other ingredients to make new and intriguing combinations. I look forward to integrating it as part of the regular arsenal of my cooking ingredients, and seeing it with the white garlic, stem ginger and shallots in my kitchen. Available for purchase ‘as nature made it’ or ready peeled, there should be something about it to suit every buyer, whether they are part of the gastronomic gaggle of cooks wishing to go further than before, or just extreme snackers. Plenty of recipes can be found at BlackGarlic.com and BlackGarlic.co.uk.

And speaking of nature, it’s important to point out (just so you know) that black garlic is NOT a genetically modified food, but produced as part of a fermentation process. The finest white garlic is exposed to heat and humidity for three weeks before being cooled and dried out for one week. It’s hard to believe that such a relatively simple-sounding process (on paper, at least) can make such magic happen in the kitchen.