Tag Archives: VEGETABLE

Any part of a plant that is edible except the fruit. Roots, leaves, seed pods, and stems are all considered vegetables. See greens, pulses, fiber, carbohydrate, water.

Tagine Chicken Thighs slowly braised with potato, carrot, green beans.

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

Here’s how my tagine chicken thighs look after a couple of hours of braising in a slow oven. That gorgeous red baking dish is the bottom of my tagine. The top of the tagine, which is shaped like a funnel, fits tightly over the baking dish so there’s virtually no evaporation. 

And yes, you really are seeing skin on those thighs. The skin protects the meat while the thighs self baste and the vegetables soften. The result is incredibly tender succulent chicken. Granted, the taste is better if the chicken is a pastured, slow grow bird, but the technique works wonders on industrial birds. The tagine method makes everything just a little more delicious.

Now does the dish look healthy to your eye? If your answer is yes, you would be wrong as per the recently published FDA proposal on labeling food products healthy. And if you’re like me, you are scratching your head and muttering to yourself, what’s missing?

FOOD FIRST

The bright side to the new rules is food counts. The FDA proposal for healthy is aligned with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans so now both the guidelines and the proposed update suggest healthy starts with food.

Using the Facts Label format, here’s how the list of ingredients reads by weight in descending order: potato, chicken thighs with skin & bone, green beans, carrots, tomato sauce (industrially processed and clean labeled), dry vermouth, olive oil, garlic, oregano, salt.

My tagine chicken is freshly prepared from what I like to call “real food” so it meets even exceeds the goal.

NUTRIENT BALANCE

More vegetables than chicken on the plate ensures nutrient density with a varied distribution of both plant and animal based nutrients. Check the Facts Label and you’ll see the serving is an excellent source of both Fiber and Potassium. In addition, thanks to the chicken thigh, the serving provides 24 grams Protein

Most folks would say the combination of real food and nutrient density is the basis of a healthy pattern. And I would agree. However if I were running the numbers for a website or cookbook selling one of the products listed in the ingredient list, I would be forced to recommend reformulation. Both saturated fat and sodium exceed the strict limits as per the FDA proposal.

VIEW FROM MY KITCHEN

When I run numbers for clients, I use the rules and guidelines as an instruction manual for compliance. When I cook in my kitchen, I use those same rules and guidelines as a framework.

For example, vegetable rich dishes put lots of potassium on the plate. Just check the sodium and potassium values on the Facts Label for my tagine chicken. Lots more potassium than sodium because it’s a vegetable rich dish. I salted to my taste but maintained a good potassium / sodium ratio.

 I kept the skin on the chicken thigh. Now check the total fat and saturated fat values and note the difference – 25 grams. Unsaturated fats aren’t required on the standard Facts Label but those 25 grams represent the approximate grams of unsaturated or “healthy” fats.

So what’s missing? The flexibility to make a discretionary culinary judgment call depending on what else is on the plate.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

October means fall and fall means it’s time to roast vegetables. Roasting brings out the flavor of vegetables in a way that steaming can’t match. Folks who have never liked Brussels sprouts before may even become converts. Nothing wrong with frozen vegetables, but to successfully roast a vegetable, the taste better when you start with fresh and recently harvested.

THE FACTS

Ingredient list: Brussels sprouts (91%), olive oil, salt.

Nutrition:  Good Source Fiber. Saturated FatSodium. 

Take note however that Brussels sprout are also a rich source of POTASSIUM and olive oil is mostly UNSATURATED FAT. And that means both ratios — potassium to sodium and saturated to unsaturated fat — are favorable.

THE PROBLEM WITH NUTRITION FACTS

The facts don’t honor the season. And for cooks and chefs, that’s a bit of a turn off because we know the folks who sit at our tables don’t want roasted Brussels sprouts on a hot humid day in the middle of the summer. Those same folks, however, will relished the soft, crusty, concentrated caramelized flavor of freshly roasted sprouts on a crisp autumn day.

The facts don’t honor culinary wisdom. For folks to eat and enjoy vegetables, it really helps if those vegetables are irresistible. Restaurant chefs are notorious for having a heavy hand with salt and fat for good reason. Salt works. So does olive oil. And as noted above, there’s enough potassium in the Brussels sprouts to balance the sodium in the salt. 

”YOU’VE RUINED THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS!”

This all reminds me of the story of the lunch lady in Texas. The kids who ate in the cafeteria loved her Brussels sprouts. She used bacon. Fat and salt are a powerful combination and I would argue well placed on a vegetable that offers the nutrition benefit of a Brussels sprout. One day the inspectors paid a visit and when the inspector discovered the sprouts bacon scenario, she declared “You’ve ruined the Brussels sprouts!”

That in a nutshell is the real problem with the facts. The inspector was factually correct. The salt and saturated fat levels did push the guidelines.

But what’s the goal? Compliance with guidelines or getting the kids to love Brussels sprouts?

 

Green beans braised with olive oil, tomato, garlic.

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

Green beans are available here in the north east from early summer up until the first frost. Steamed and served naked or dressed to kill, green beans make frequent appearances at my table during the growing season.

Pictured above is my favorite version of “dressed to kill”. The ingredient list is simple: green beans, cherry tomato, gremolata​​ (parsley, Parmigiano Reggiano, garlic cloves, lemon zest), olive oil, salt. All ingredients qualify as minimally processed except salt and olive oil which are culinary processed ingredients and the imported aged Parmigiano Reggiano which would be classified as processed. 

THE FACTS

As nutrition labels go, this label reflects a balanced nutrient profile. No dramatic highs and no notable lows with a serving size of approximately 1 cup. A nutrition non-event.

THE PROBLEM​ WITH FACTS

This time the facts are kind to my green beans, but as a general rule of thumb the facts are not friendly to home cooks or chefs.

The facts were designed for processed food products in a retail environment. The original nutrition facts legislation, passed in 1990, required a standardized nutrition label on these products and affirmed the FDA’s authority to regulate nutrient content and health claims on food labels. Concurrently the Dietary Guidelines urged Americans to choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol; to use sugars in moderation; and to use salt and sodium only in moderation.

Over the last 3 decades, moderation has morphed into an axis of nutrient evil. And that’s the problem for cooks and chefs. Fat and salt and sugar, the components of the axis of nutrient evil, are the same traditional processed culinary ingredients cooks and chefs have traditionally used on a daily basis in home kitchens and restaurants.

Let’s refocus for a moment of my green beans. Home cooks have an advantage over food product manufacturers because we work primarily with minimally processed fresh ingredients. Fresh vegetables especially fresh seasonal vegetables add flavor to the plate. What’s left to the cook or chef to do is flavor enhancement.  The little tomatoes add sweetness to the green beans. A sprinkle of Parmiggiano and my beloved olive oil add fat. And some salt enhances flavor. Never too much so the dish tastes salty, but just enough to highlight the flavors from all the other ingredients.

Home cooks who are just beginning and lack experience with the traditions of home cooking may not realize that salt and sugar and fat are culinary ingredients that used to be commonly found on counters or in pantries. We’ve spent several decades now in a world that favors convenience over freshly prepared and surrounds us with media messages about hyper-palatability and the axis of nutrient evil in packaged products.

What the Dietary Guidelines refer to as nutrients to restrict and NOVA classifies as processed culinary ingredients, traditional chefs and home cooks just think of as normal.

 

Sliced Seasonal Local Tomatoes

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

The picture of those beautiful tomatoes was taken last year mid September at a farm on the west bank of the Hudson River. I had spent the whole month of August searching for perfection, but it wasn’t until September that I found what I was looking for. I carefully hand picked a couple of tomatoes off the vine. The taste, complexity of flavors, and texture met every expectation that gorgeous photo promises. Perfect tomatoes do not require a recipe. All that’s  needed is to slice and serve dressing with your best extra virgin olive oil, a splash of vinegar, and salt. Nothing could be easier or simpler.

THE FACTS

Facts of course refer to the Nutrition Facts Label that I added just now. As my focus shifted to the numbers, I felt a disconnect. Estimating the weigh of the tomatoes, dressing, and salt, then deciding to use a cup-equivalent instead of the Serving Size / Reference Amount Customarily Consumed required me to put on my analytic cap. The facts themselves are benign and reflect a balanced nutrient profile. The shift in focus, that disconnect, however was notable.

THE PROBLEM

The problem isn’t that facts are not important. Facts are always important. The problem is that food is more than the sum of its nutrient parts and those other parts, which can be equally important, get buried under the analytic weight of the facts.

So how would I characterize those other factors when it comes to tomatoes? 

Some are physical. The season is important. Tomatoes are fussy. They love heat and sun and don’t like too much rain. Locality and transit time are important. Fully ripened tomatoes don’t travel well. The most flavorful tomatoes need to ripen on the vine and once they have ripened, they bruise easily. My hunt for a perfect tomato is important. We ate lots of good tomatoes last year, but no matter the label – local, seasonal, or heirloom – there’s no guarantee the tomato will be perfect.

Other factors are emotional. Like the joy of eating that perfect tomato! The facts don’t measure the joy of eating. All raw tomatoes sold fresh are minimally processed. All raw tomatoes are analyzed using the same nutrient data base reference unit. But only certain tomatoes are that perfect blend of ripeness, complex flavor profile, texture, terroir.

The pleasure I experience remembering that late summer day when I picked my tomatoes and the joy of eating and savoring each bite is emotional and that experience is an important part of how we humans eat. When all we pay attention to are facts, we can get disconnected from or, worse, totally miss the joy of eating.

Ratatouille

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

August means mid-summer vegetables and mid-summer vegetables mean it’s time for me to make some ratatouille.

Variations on this simple vegetable stew appear in Mediterranean countries from Spain to Greece, but I’ve always imagined the primary inspiration came from a parsimonious farmhouse lady somewhere in the south of France. Faced with nature’s seasonal bounty arriving all at once, ratatouille was her answer to the eternal question of what to do with too many vegetables.

THE FACTS

Ingredient list: eggplant, zucchini, sweet red peppers, tomatoes, onion, olive oil, garlic, basil, salt.

Nutrition Facts: balanced and unremarkable. No “superstar” vegetables to boost the numbers. High Fat >20%. Fatty acid ratio is favorable.

Degree of Processing: freshly prepared from mostly minimally processed ingredients (98% by weight) and 2 processed culinary ingredients (olive oil, salt).

Like all factual statements, the results are cold, hard, impersonal, and detached.

THE PROBLEM • The facts have little to do with the subjective experience of eating.

What makes my ratatouille so wonderfully satisfying to me has absolutely nothing to do with the cold hard facts.

The first time I tasted the dish was the summer in the south of France where I found myself getting a cooking lesson, along with a group of American high school students, from the chef of a local restaurant. The vegetables got chopped up and thrown into a pot with copious additions of olive oil and salt after each handful. The chef didn’t use a recipe.

I make a ratatouille every August to celebrate the event. I remember the beautiful warm summer day in Aix-en-Provence, a small university city in the Côte d’Azur region of southern France. And I always use lots of olive oil. I’ve recreated the dish in Berkeley California, Montréal Québec, the south shore of Long Island, and now in New York’s Hudson Valley. Each time I put the ingredients together I get variations in taste but I always make the dish in August with locally grown season vegetables.

I don’t use a recipe either.  I just recreate the tastes and textures of how that first delicious bite smelled, looked and tasted in my kitchen.

Each of our past experiences form our subject eating experience. The memories we bring to the plate have more hold on us than any list of nutrients and ingredient in a labelled serving. And that is the problem with the facts approach to eating. Just compare the cold hard facts of the label with the warmth of the colors and radiant complexity in the photo. Now ask yourself which one you would prefer on the plate …

Summer Salads

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

Salads make delicious summer meals. Ingredients used for the salad pictured above are: tuna, white beans, cucumber, avocado, escarole, tomatoes, boiled egg, olive oil, scallions, vinegar, mustard, salt.

That Nutrition Facts Panel pinned next to the salad set the portion as 3 cups because that’s about how much we eat for a dinner serving. Using FDA guidelines for determining “healthfulness”, I’ve highlighted the nutrient risks in red and the nutrient benefits in green.

HEALTHY – AS PER LABELED SERVING FOR 3 CUPS:

High Saturated Fat. Fatty Acid Ratio is favorable. High SodiumHigh PotassiumPotassium to Sodium ratio is favorable. High Dietary Fiber. Fiber to Carbohydrate Ratio is favorable. 34 grams Protein. Good Source/High certain nutrients to encourage.

As you can see, nutrient risks and benefits are intertwined in complex patterns. Marketeers and Food Labelers earn their living by getting rid of the red. It’s not hard to do. Canola oil for olive oil.  Tuna canned in water with no added salt. What’s more challenging is getting the flavor complex right.

RE-THINKING HEALTHY

Other models of healthy have been proposed like nonGMO, intermittent fasting, paleo, vegan. And of course degree of processing, a model popularized by Michael Pollan but based on a serious document published in 2009 entitled NOVA.

Here’s how my salad looks through the NOVA lens.

The beans, all the vegetables, and egg are minimally processed. Olive oil, vinegar, and salt are considered processed culinary ingredients. The canned tuna is processed and that little dash of Dijon mustard added to the vinaigrette is industrially formulated with two markers – citric acid and metabisulfite.

I appreciate the NOVA classification system but the approach has nothing to do with how I make my summer salads. I look for minimally processed quality ingredients because I value taste and flavor. The heirloom small white beans are home cooked in salted water because the flavor is more nuanced than any canned variety on the shelf. Robust escarole has more complex flavors and a crunchier leaf than commodity mesclun. The remaining vegetables each add different colors and textures. And I use 100% California extra virgin olive oil because well to be honest because I’m a Californian. Vinegar adds acid and salt accents the flavors already present in the bowl.

Each ingredient in the salad brings something special to the plate. The end result is a mixture of robust textures and complex flavors.

The End of Craving for my Dietitian Colleagues

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

That’s my well worn copy of Mark Schatzker’s most recent book pictured above. It’s a book that asks a good question. Why have we been getting fatter over the last 40 years?

Each chapter takes us through a series of seemingly unconnected events. Towards the end of the book, we learn this from the author “so here then is the theory spelled out: the obesity epidemic is being
fueled by advancements in food technology that have disrupted the brain’s ability to sense nutrients, altered eating behavior, and given food an unnatural energetic potential”. 

My plan is to review this book in terms of my training and experience as a dietitian during the 15 years I worked in weight loss. I got my RDN in 1997 and worked in corporate wellness, weight loss counselling, and bariatric wellness.

The book begins with two approaches to disease. Pellagra is caused by a vitamin deficiency. The disease is prevalent when the food supply does not include a source of niacin. Both the United States and Italy have experienced periodic bouts of pellagra. In Italy, the government encouraged its inhabitants to raise rabbits and drink yeasty wine. In the US, the government recommended fortification of grains. Both solutions worked but the metaphor of a fork in the road between the old way and the new way dominates the book.

I went back to school to study nutrition in the early 1990s and remember to this day my sense of wonder as I learned about the discovery of vitamins and the miracle of enrichment. I was delighted to learn that nutrients like niacin could cure diseases like pellagra.

We explore the brain-gut connection with a trip to Lyon and the experiments of a French psychologist with bathwater temperature and starvation. We move to Bethesda Maryland and a Kevin Hall presentation on the results of the analysis he ran on contestants in the Reality TV show The Biggest Looser. We spend time with illiterate laborers in Karnataka and learn why these men love the bitter taste of tamarind. And we end with the work of Kent Barringer who was the first to differentiate the brain’s wanting” circuitry (dopamine driven) from the brain’s liking” circuitry.

Schatzker is a brilliant writer and able to put complex concepts into understandable common language. Despite my training as an RDN, I struggled to follow the intricacies of brain science and neurotransmitter patterns. I got my Certificate of Training Adult Weight Management 2001 but at that time obesity was considered a behavior disorder. My training focused on helping clients navigate the ever more enticing calorie proliferation of the modern food environment.

We explore “wanting” vs “liking” with a visit to Yale and a laboratory scientist who studies glucose metabolism. We investigate the seemingly irrational behavior of compulsive gamblers, learn how Swedish gerbils behave when fed a mixture of seeds and grains of sand, and take a whirlwind tour of food technology innovations over the last 40 years. Schatzker coined the term nutritive mismatch” to describe a situation where our taste perception confuses the signaling system of the brain  

The science of neurotransmitters and the brain / gut connection was in its infancy when I got my certification. Swedish pharmacologist, Arvid Carlsson, had just been awarded the Nobel Prize in 2000 for his contributions on the neurotransmitter, dopamine. The counseling techniques I learned were based on an assumption Schatzker refers to as The Hungry Ape” theory. We humans gorge on food when it’s available so we have fat stores to carry us through to the next starvation cycle.

Finally we take a vacation in 19th century Italy with Goethe. We delight in eating figs, pears, macaroni, and Sicilian lettuce. We study the stalking behaviors of snakes, learn about the evolutionary benefits of our liking” food brain circuitry, delve into the beginnings of concentrated animal feeding operations and the development of scientifically managed swine rations.

Pigs get sick if all they are fed is corn and soy. Research done in the late 1940s enabled hog farmers to maintain a nutritionally adequate diet as animals moved from foraging in pasture to a feeding lot diet of corn and soy meal. When B vitamins were added to the feed, the hogs no longer got sick. Even better, the hogs gained weight faster. If adding B vitamins to hog feed as was done back in middle of the last century promoted weight gain, could the same weight gain happen in humans? Is it possible that enrichment could actually be a contributing factor to human weight gain? Oh my goodness! That is exactly what Schatzker said. It took my breath away. I had to put the book down.

At no point in my nutrition studies has anyone questioned the value of enrichment. Or fortification for that matter. These policies were presented as unqualified nutrition success stories. I never realized until I read Schatzkers book that most European countries don’t enrich or fortify grains.

We end with a celebration of the power of good food by visiting Leipzig Germany and a doctor who works with clinically severe obese patients. We savor the taste of a perfectly crafted dark chocolate and the culinary equivalent of pastoral romanticism as the writer celebrates and indulges in the joy of eating really good northern Italian food.

We are left with a metaphoric fork in the road. Italy represents the old fork. The United States represents the new fork. And we are left with a speculation. Maybe if we restore the relationship between flavor, nutrition, and enjoyment that food provides, we will have a chance to change eating habits and health status.

These concepts are not completely outside the RDN tool box, but for the vast majority of my dietitian colleagues, Schatzkers book will be hard to read because it challenges aspects of our training and core principles like the acceptance of enrichment and fortification as a net positive. Or the acceptance of artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes as categorically safe and without health-related consequence.

My first job in dietetics was nutrition counseling at a corporate wellness gym. My clients were social media savvy and would frequently bring a wild and crazy ideas to our sessions. I never directly confronted clients.  Instead I explained there were two types of people out there in blogosphere. Most are predatory charlatans who are only interested in their own self-enrichment but there are always a couple of brilliant folks who are just slightly ahead of their time. Then I would add, sometimes its damnably difficult to tell which is which.

My reading of The End of Craving is that Schatzker is just slightly ahead of his time.

Seasonal and local depend on where you live.

photo credit | gourmetmetrics photo credit | gourmetmetrics

These eggplants tasted just as good as they look. I took the picture at a pre-pandemic farmer’s market. The farmer set up an eye catching display and I wasn’t the only one who snapped a picture. A gorgeous day, a brilliant sunny blue sky, and just a whisper of coolness in the air which, for those of us living in the northeast, means fall is on its way. That gorgeous sunlight accentuated the vibrant colors in the eggplant.

As a result of the pandemic, we moved out of New York City and now live in the Hudson Valley, an agricultural area north of the City know for tree fruits, apples, onions, brassicas, potatoes, and sometimes tomatoes. I say sometimes because tomatoes like sun and when it rains too much the tomatoes just don’t do as well. The growing season is short which gives states like California a significant competitive advantage.

Living in a rural area means I shop farms and farm stands now instead of farmer’s markets. What’s the difference? A city based farmer’s market benefits from population density. These markets offer more variety. A farm stand only sells what surrounding farmers produce. We’ve eaten well this summer however. A ton of green beans. Tree fruits everyday along with eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes all available during August and September. Potatoes and apples are just starting to come in and soon I’ll be seeing broccoli, cauliflower, and other cabbages. Then the leaves fall off the trees, the days get shorter, winter descends, and the ground freezes.

I’ve learned a lot about seasonal and local living in the northeast. I’ve also come to understand more about the meat & potatoes culture. What can  folks eat during the winter without importing from other warmer states? Storage vegetables, baked goods, some meat if you are lucky, and probably lots of beans. Faced with  a limited growing season and frozen ground 4 to 6 months out of every year, you don’t have much choice. You eat what’s available.

Would your great grandmother have eaten an Enchilada?


photo credit | gourmetmetrics
photo credit | gourmetmetrics

My great grandmother would be flabbergasted if she could see what I had for dinner last night. She was born in Maine, ate cod fish cakes, baked beans, meat, and potatoes. Mexican food was as foreign to her as salt cod is to me.

Moreover my great great grandmother might actually have appreciated the convenience of dinner in 45 minutes although unfamiliar ingredient like tortillas and black beans might take her some time to get used to.

This dinner is clearly an industrial formulation. How do I know? Because this dinner is my fall back when life conspires and I don’t have time to shop or cook. I’ve taken the short cut enough times to know the product will taste exactly the same every single time.

Checking the label, you’ll find there are 65 words, 20 ingredients, and the word organic is used 16 times. One could quibble about expeller expressed canola oil because it’s still an RBD (Refined, Blanched, Deodorized) seed oil.  Or prefer flour to the more refined tapioca starch. But as an example of a well written clean label, I think it’s an exemplary example with no dirty little secrets that I can find. So I’ll say, in all due respect to Michael Pollan, 20 ingredients instead of 5 works okay for me.

Nutrients are balanced with moderate levels of sodium and respectable amounts of fiber and protein. So again, in all due respect, it’s possible at least in my opinion to use the tools of modern food technology to make a product with some whole food (black beans,  corn kernels, tortilla) and balanced nutrition. Will everyone agree that home made enchiladas taste better? I don’t know. I am pretty sure, however, that many folks would be unwilling to spend time & trouble to make this Mexican standby at home.

A Taste for Freshly Baked

photo credit | gourmetmetrics

My ideas about food are old fashioned. Food should taste good. It’s not an objective standard because taste is 100% subjective. But it’s a standard most of my fellow Americans can relate to.

When it comes to pumpkin pies, my preference is freshly baked. Now freshly baked pie means one of two things. Buy it from an honest baker or make it myself. I usually opt for the later and, over the years, I’ve perfected my own recipe. So for this month’s post, I decided to take a look how my pie compares to a formulated version. To run the numbers I need a weight and a nutrition facts label so my choice is limited to frozen pies.

The criteria are the same as I used last month for the Twinkie Addendum. Ingredients. Nutrients. Taste.

INGREDIENTS

Ingredients make the dish in my kitchen, so when I cook, I put thought, time, energy, and dollars into sourcing.

Pumpkin pie starts with pumpkin. Making my own purée pumpkin from pumpkin is one option. The other is a traditionally processed canned purée pumpkin. My local market carries 4 brands, two organic and two conventional. I always go with one of the organic brands but not because the label says “organic”. I like the brand because the pumpkin works perfectly in my recipe and the manufacturer is a midsized regional company that specializes in pumpkins and squashes.

I use turbinado sugar, a partially refined cane sugar that retains some molasses giving the sugar crystals a rich brown glow and a more nuanced flavor. Instead of a butter based crust, I use olive oil. Extra virgin cold pressed from California. 

Eggs, flour, milk, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla are off the shelf, but I do buy whole nutmegs and grate of what need for the pie. The ingredients are all processed – minimally, culinary, or traditionally processed. Just not ultra-processed. 

Many food writers and commentators fail to distinguish between processed and ultra-processed. A careful reading of NOVA documentation makes it clear however NOVA is not opposed to processed food. The group demarcation lines may be squishy, but it’s misleading to confuse processing with ultra-processing, implying or stating that NOVA is opposed to food processing.

In other words, a pumpkin pie made with minimally processed foods like eggs and flour, culinary processed foods like sugar and olive oil, and traditionally processed foods like the canned pumpkin purée is processed but not ultra-processed.

Formulated frozen pumpkins pies also start with pumpkin. For comparison purposes, I chose a clean labeled commodity pie carried by many East coast supermarkets. In adherence to the dictates of the clean label philosophy, the formulation contains no artificial colors, flavors, or colors.

The label on the Nature’s Promise frozen pumpkin pie lists 11 ingredients:  pumpkin, cane sugar, water, unbleached wheat flour, egg, nonfat milk powder, palm oil, modified food starch, spice, salt, dextrose.

Two ingredients qualify as markers. Modified food starch is a synonym for modified corn starch, a thickener. Dextrose is a sweetener and humectant.

Assessing ingredient quality for a formulated product is not possible from the outside looking in. The NOVA solution to this conundrum is to classify the whole product as ultra-processed.

NUTRIENTS

Pumpkin is a nutrient dense squash, rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber so it’s hard to make a completely unhealthy product that contains any significant amount of pumpkin. 

Both pies have roughly the same amount of protein and fiber. Nature’s Promise has a higher concentration of all three nutrients of concern – sodium, saturated fat, and sugar. So if you measure healthy in grams of saturated fat and sugar and milligrams of sodium, both pies are unhealthy. My freshly baked homemade version is however marginally less “unhealthy”.

TASTE

I went out looking for the formulated version. Unfortunately, I discovered that commodity pumpkin pies disappear after the holiday season. Despite my best efforts to find one locally, I came up empty handed. Very disappointing because the taste comparison is integral to my assessment. I’ve been served enough commodity pumpkin pies at various holiday gatherings and Thanksgivings to know my preference is freshly baked. But I wanted to taste the Nature’s Promise pie. Does that clean label make a taste difference?

BOTTOM LINE

• Cost. The cost difference is significant. My pie costs twice as much. And it’s not just dollar cost. I spend more time. Prep, cooking, and clean up take 1 1/2 to 2 hours plus time to source ingredients!

• Ingredients. The ingredients are processed but not ultra-processed. Does the avoidance of ultra-processed foods make my pie any healthier? My take on that question is probably yes. I do understand however evidence is still pending and making a statement at this point in time would be a leap of faith.

• Nutrients. As per the analysis, my pie reflects a slightly less “unhealthy” profile compared with the commodity pie.

• Taste. I’ll have to do an addendum next year. I’m food literate enough to know how to determine quality by reading an ingredient list and checking the price. But for the actual taste comparison, for a side to side comparison, I’ll have to wait for next year’s pumpkin pie season.