Ooh – Agave

My biggest pet peeve on nutritional information labels is “natural flavors.” I find it aggravating that a food manufacturer is not obligated to tell consumers what is in a product, but there are a couple loopholes. If the ingredient does not add nutritively to the product, and is derived from a plant, they don’t have to. They just use the “natural flavors” catch-all.

There are different reasons why they want to keep ingredients a secret.

  • They might be considered a trade secret – a secret recipe, for example.
  • They are just one of multiple ingredients that can be used, and the manufacturer wants to be able to change periodically, based on what is cheapest or easiest to obtain.
  • The actual ingredient sounds unappetizing and they’d prefer not have to tell anyone.

“Natural flavors” presumably look better to consumers than “artificial flavors” which are simply chemical concoctions engineered to taste like something.

Of course, if you are allergic to something, it doesn’t matter how “natural” it is. I prefer knowing what is in my food.

Also, I don’t know how the “natural flavor” loophole plays with allergen labeling laws. Those laws only cover the eight most common allergens, but that includes wheat (along with milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, and soybeans), so I’d hope that any of those, at least, would require labeling.

One would hope that any allergen that did not contribute nutritively to a product would be in amounts too small to worry about. I may be overly paranoid, but I figure better safe than sorry.

One product category that seems plagued with “natural flavors” more than others is gourmet soda pop. Yeah, I shouldn’t be drinking soda, but I have a sweet tooth. And while I don’t know if high fructose corn syrup is the monster that it is made out to be, but it just seems like a bad idea – let’s take a perfectly good plant and mess with it chemically to make it super sweet. Cane sugar in excess isn’t great for you, but it’s a natural sweetener, and I prefer it in sodas, as it is less aggressively sweet than HFCS.

Pepsi’s sugar-sweetened Throwback line seems to be back for good now, which is awesome. I don’t like regular Pepsi, but I love Pepsi Throwback. You can also get sugar-flavored Coke (from Mexico) at many markets now, including BevMo.

BevMo carries a small selection of gourmet sodas, many of which are sugar-sweetened. I don’t know why I go there – Galco’s famous Soda Pop Shop is just around the corner from my house, and they have a much better selection and (slightly) better prices. But for some reason, Galco’s does not carry Oogave root beer and sodas. So it’s a good thing I went into a BevMo today.

To be fair, Oogave lists “natural flavors” on its ingredients list. But they also print “GLUTEN-FREE, CAFFEINIE-FREE, LOW-GLYCEMIC AND VEGAN” on the bottle. Which makes me relax a bit.

Low-glycemic? The current theory on carbohydrates is that the slower it takes your body to break it down, the less of an insulin spike it causes and the better it is for you.

Touting this idea, Oogave uses agave nectar to sweeten their drinks instead of cane sugar. I’ve used agave nectar before, and I like it. It is very sweet, but is a little more mellow than honey or cane sugar.

If they’re going to go to the trouble of making their soda gluten free, I’m going to try it. They make eight flavors:

  • Root beer
  • Cola
  • Vanilla Creme
  • Ginger ale
  • Watermellon Creme
  • Strawberry Rhubarb
  • Mandarin Key Lime
  • Grapefruit

I’ve tried the cola, and I like it. A lot. It’s not heavily carbonated, and lightly sweetened.  I can’t wait to try some of the other flavors.

When I say lightly sweetened, I mean it. a 12 ounce Oogave cola has 23 grams of sugar, versus 39 grams in a 12 ounce Coca-Cola. This means 30 percent fewer calories (98 versus 140). Honestly, you don’t miss the extra sugar.

Biggest downside – like most gourmet sodas, Oogave is not cheap – between $1.50 and $2.00 for a 12 ounce bottle. This is literally several times more expensive by volume than gasoline, even at $5 a gallon. So, not an everyday drink, but a nice treat every now and then.

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