The hidden ingredients – a hidden reality – behind baked products that appear to have flash, panache and demand are increasingly subject to consumer scrutiny. And rightfully so.
Part of the confidence Essential Confection cultivates in planning and executing new product lines is, occasionally, modeling a detail or two of those whose work we admire. Chefs. Food photographers. Cooking teachers. Artisan pastry shops. The best businesses (and writers) do it. We hope, as well, that we can model best practices that others benefit from. We learn from, and teach, each other.
Discovering the hidden reality behind packaged cookies took us in an unexpected direction. We purchased and evaluated a competitor’s holiday cookie offerings expecting to be pleased and bit dazzled. Our educated eyes and taste buds were seeking that which you already know we value: intense single flavors, luxurious texture and a confection that marks time and place.
Our first, and it turns out unscalable, hurdle was each cookie’s list of ingredients. Six different cookies; minimal ingredient differentiation. Three or four artificial food colors (presumably used within FDA regulations); 50% saturated palm oil and 80% saturated palm kernel oil (listed five times in one set of ingredients and sub-ingredients); carnauba wax (prevents melting, increases shine); several combined sweeteners (corn syrup, glucose, dextrose, tapioca syrup, cane sugar), and a variety of gums and emulsifiers.
There are reasons for using several of these ingredients, particularly in the production of gluten-free baked items (which these were not). Several will improve a gluten-free cookie’s texture, and certain liquid sugars help to avoid sugar crystallization that improve shelf life. Those are choices people who select GF foods must make. Certain liquid sugars are also necessary for products that require a syrup.
After having been flash frozen prior to shipping, the cookies arrived in an insulated box with instructions to refrigerate, then microwave each cookie for ten seconds before eating. This, presumably, was to soften the fat to improve mouthfeel.
We persevered. We tasted fairly (minimally biased) and critically looking for features to appreciate. Quite sadly, all we really could taste was intensely sweet cookies that crumbled in our hands, the level of sugar significantly overshadowing every unique flavor (and, no doubt, good intention) the creator desired.
So, in January 2024 our only new standard remains the one we’re already very familiar with: our own – starting with a clean label. How to spot a clean label? Several quick criteria:
- a short ingredient list;
- ingredients that you recognize as food items and can pronounce;
- no ingredients ending in “ose”;
- no artificial colors, extenders or waxes; and
- no dyes and numbered food colors.
Our promise is to use the highest quality, Pacific Northwest sourced ingredients, skillfully entangled as muses to one another and tempered with love and appreciation for the extraordinary bounty that is everywhere around us. We hope to return the magic you bring in supporting us with the tastes and flavors of the year ahead.