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February 26, 2006

Oreo Throwdown

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It happened last Wednesday morning, February 22, around 8:30 a.m.

I was just sitting there quietly, minding my own business, when I turned to the Washington Post's Food section and espied, right there in the lower left hand corner of the front page, a picture of an Oreo and the headline, "What's Missing From This Cookie?"

Talk about waving a red flag in front of a donkey.

Wait a minute... that's not right: a carrot.

Yeah.

Waving a carrot in front of a donkey.

That's the metaphor I wasn't searching for.

But I digress.

The Oreo is perfect.

Perfection means, to my way of thinking, that nothing can be added or taken away to improve something: it has reached its apotheosis.

So I read Judith Weinraub's story with a most attentive mindset.

Not to worry, it turns out: the story was about a taste test she and two local Washington D.C. area pastry chefs conducted with all of the zillions of new Oreo brand extensions that Nabisco's been churning out over the past few years.

Long story short: new Oreos without trans fats were indistinguishable from the originals; the other varieties simply didn't measure up.

Here's the original article along with the results of the competition.

    What's Missing From This Cookie?

    The classic Oreo is promoted as America's favorite cookie.

    But Americans are a diverse crowd, so the Oreo now comes in many configurations.

    In addition to the traditional chocolate wafer sandwich filled with vanilla cream, there are double-stuffed ones (with vanilla or peanut-butter cream), chocolate-covered ones (in different flavors) and even reduced-fat and sugar-free Oreos.

    Something for everybody.

    Then along came the trans-fat rule, and the Oreo universe changed.

    Trans fats are partially hydrogenated vegetable oils used by manufacturers of processed foods as food stabilizers and flavor enhancers.

    But they have a dark side.

    Scientific studies found that trans fats raised bad cholesterol, lowered good cholesterol and contributed to diabetes and heart problems.

    As a result, in July 2003 the Food and Drug Administration issued a rule requiring manufacturers to print the amount of trans fats on nutrition labels by Jan. 1, 2006.

    Food manufacturers, including Kraft Foods, which owns the Oreo brand, were given those 2 1/2 years to figure out a way to maintain the flavor and stability of their signature products without using trans fats -- or disclose the presence of the unhealthy fats on food labels.

    In late December, Kraft announced that its products, including Oreos, would meet the trans-fat labeling deadline.

    And in January, as the cookies were trucked to the nation's grocery stores, Kraft spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati announced the newest version of the 94-year-old icon: the trans-fat-free Oreo.

    We wondered if Kraft's trans-fat-free recipe would pass muster with the public as a "real Oreo."

    So, in December, we bought packages of Oreos made the traditional way to subject them to a "blind" comparative taste test with the new ones.

    We also decided to test cookies that were developed without trans fats in the first place.

    To do the honors, we invited two local pastry chefs: Steve Klc of Zaytinya in the Penn Quarter and Kate Jansen of Willow Restaurant in the Ballston area of Arlington. Here are their findings:


    Old vs. New

    The defending champion: Oreos with trans fats.

    The challenger: new Oreos without trans fats.

    Our tasters found virtually no difference between the two. They praised the original for its good balance between the cream filling and the cookie, its attractive smell and its familiar taste. Trying the new trans-fat-free version, they sensed only slight differences -- a hint more salt and a slightly greater emphasis on the cream -- but found the cookies equal in sweetness, with similar mouth-feel to the filling. "I think you could pass both of them off as the same," said Klc.

    Before the trans-fat rule, the amount of trans fat in a processed food could be the entire amount of unidentified fat -- in this case, 5.5 grams. According to the FDA rule that took effect Jan. 1, food manufacturers now may claim "zero trans fats" on a nutritional label as long as there is no more than 0.5 gram of fat in the serving size.

    Oreos with trans fats: Serving size is three cookies, 160 calories, 7 total fat grams (1.5 grams saturated fat, 5.5 grams of unidentified fat.)

    New Oreos without trans fats: Serving size is three cookies, 160 calories, 7 total fat grams (2 grams saturated fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat, 3 grams monounsaturated fat, 1 gram unidentified fat).


    A Couple of Old-Timers

    Chocolate Creme Oreos: Each of our testers noticed more filling than in either the original or new Oreo, and maybe because of that a better balance between the cookie layers. However, they liked the taste of those layers less and found the cream too sweet. They didn't taste the chocolate in the cream filling at all. "If I had my eyes closed, I wouldn't know it was chocolate," said Klc.

    Serving size is two cookies, 150 calories, 7 total fat grams (1.5 grams saturated fat, 5.5 grams unidentified fat).

    Double Stuf Oreos: Both Klc and Jansen strongly preferred the original Oreo and its successor to this cookie. "It's very sweet, especially in the cream," said Jansen. "It's not a step forward," said Klc, "but it's not as objectionable as the [Chocolate Creme]. The biscuit still comes through."

    Serving size is two cookies, 140 calories, 7 total fat grams (1.5 grams saturated fat, 5.5 grams unidentified fat).


    Overachievers

    Pure Milk Chocolate-Covered Oreos: These didn't do it for our tasters, who were discouraged by the cookie's appearance, taste and smell. "It's terrible," said Klc. "A mistake on every level. All the coating does is take away attention from the cookie." "It has a really strong aftertaste," said Jansen. "And it doesn't even look like an Oreo."

    Serving size is one cookie, 90 calories, 4.5 total fat grams (2.5 grams saturated fat, 1.5 grams monounsaturated fat, 0.5 gram unidentified fat).

    Pure Milk Chocolate-Covered Mint Oreos: Our tasters liked the pleasant minty aroma of the cookies, but that was about all they liked. And they just couldn't sense any chocolate. "I could smell the mint, but this could be a vanilla cookie. I can't taste the chocolate coating either," said Klc. "The mint taste disguises the Oreo completely," said Jansen. "It should be more subtle. You can't smell or taste the chocolate."

    Serving size is one cookie, 90 calories, 4.5 total fat grams (2.5 grams saturated fat, 1.5 grams monounsaturated fat, 0.5 gram unidentified fat).


    Offbeat Oreos

    Double Stuf, Peanut Butter Creme Oreos: This cookie frustrated our tasters. "There's a pleasant peanut butter aroma," Jansen said. "Enough so you hope it's worth eating," Klc added. But the taste was another story. "The salt in the cookie is a plus, and it offsets the cloying sweetness of the cream a little," Jansen said. "It doesn't deliver," Klc said. "The cream is too sweet, and the peanut butter taste isn't intense enough."

    Serving size is two cookies, 140 calories, 6 total fat grams (1.5 grams saturated fat, 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat, 3 grams monounsaturated fat).

    Golden Uh-Oh Oreos (vanilla sandwich cookie with chocolate cream): Our tasters thought this cookie lived up to the "uh-oh" in its name. "It looks like a shortbread, but it smells and tastes like artificial vanilla," said Jansen. "The chocolate doesn't come through." Klc was also harder on the filling than the biscuit. "The biscuit is very adequate," said Klc. "But I hate everything about the filling -- it tastes like Crisco and confectioners' sugar."

    Serving size is three cookies, 170 calories, 7 total fat grams (2 grams saturated fat, 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat, 3.5 grams monounsaturated fat).

    Sugar-Free Oreos: Our tasters knew something was up because the cookie looked like an Oreo but was smaller. And they kind of liked the cookie. "It's daintier, and the wafer is more tender," Jansen said. "It's attractive." Said Klc: "It's not objectionable. It isn't as good as the original Oreo, but if it's designed to be sugar-free, it's a success."

    Serving size is two cookies, 100 calories, 5 total fat grams (1.5 grams saturated fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat, 2.5 grams monounsaturated fat).

    Reduced Fat Oreos: It's a good thing the Women's Health Initiative recently found that low-fat diets might not be all they're cracked up to be, because our tasters hated the look, smell and taste of this cookie. The best they could say about it was that it smelled like a graham cracker.

    Serving size is two cookies, 100 calories, 5 total fat grams (1.5 grams saturated fat, 1 gram polyunsaturated fat, 2.5 grams monounsaturated fat).

February 26, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: YaGoof! | Feb 26, 2006 5:50:09 PM

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