Sunday, September 30, 2012

Macaroni and Cheese

Another toddler favorite today.... Mac 'n Cheese! We compared the old standby, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (the mini-shells), and Great Value Spiral Macaroni & Cheese. We have to say we haven't had regular ol' boxed macaroni & Cheese in such a long time, testing these really took us back! Were we glad we took the trip down memory lane? Keep reading to find out!

Price: The Kraft mac 'n cheese cost a full 80% more than the generic mac 'n cheese. The boxes we tested were different sizes (7.25 oz. vs. 5.5 oz., respectively), but we took that into account before doing our calculations. This huge difference seemed a little crazy to us so we thought we better check it out again at the store. And it turns out (as you can see from the picture above), the Kraft version we tested was the "three cheese" variety, so not an exact comparison to the GV spiral macaroni & Cheese. We're not sure how much of a difference in taste the "three cheese" version made, but there was a difference in price between that version and the Kraft spiral mac 'n cheese, which cost only 56% more than the GV spiral mac 'n cheese. Who knew there were so many different varieties of mac 'n cheese? Kraft alone offered at least four different kinds of just the regular (not "premium" or "homestyle" or any of those) boxed mac 'n cheese. So keep that in mind for what it's worth - there are many different varieties of boxed regular mac 'n cheese, ranging widely in price even within the same brand!

Ingredients: Great Value: enriched macaroni product (durum wheat flour with niacin, iron (ferrous sulfate), thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), whey, enriched bleached flour (bleached wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), cheddar cheese (milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), salt, modified cornstarch, disodium phosphate, calcium carbonate, citric acid, color (yellow 5 and 6).

Kraft: enriched macaroni product (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate (iron), thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid), cheese sauce mix (whey, milk, salt, skim milk, milkfat, milk protein concentrate, modified food starch, contains less than 2% of sodium tripolyphosphate, buttermilk solids, sodium phosphate, citric acid, cellulose gel, cellulose gum, lactic acid, cheese culture, calcium phosphate, yellow 5, yellow 6, enzymes).

There's one interesting thing we have to point out here - the Kraft mac 'n cheese does not list "cheese" as an ingredient in its cheese sauce mix, while the generic does - or at least attempts to, by mentioning "cheese culture" as an ingredient... so Kraft mac 'n cheese doesn't have actual cheese in it?? Not that we really thought it did, to be honest - when you dump that pinkish-orange powder into the pasta "cheese" is not the first thing that comes to mind...

Calories/Nutritional Information: The calorie/nutritional information for mac 'n cheese varies widely depending on what you mix with it (skim milk? whole milk? butter? margarine?) so we're comparing the nutritional information provided for the mac 'n cheese before the milk and butter is added.

Both the Kraft and Great Value mac 'n cheeses contained the same amount of calories per serving (250 - again, that's without the butter and milk - if we have any calorie counters out there, don't think that's all you're getting when you actually eat it!) 5 grams of cholesterol, 49 grams of carbohydrates and 9 grams of protein. Kraft contained 2 grams of fat per serving, vs. 1.5 for Great Value, and had 610 mg of sodium per serving, vs. 570 mg for Great Value. Great Value also lists potassium content (which it seems to do in the nutritional information for all of its products, while few, if any, other brands do) at 210 mg per serving. Both versions also contain 10% of your RDV for calcium and iron, and GV also lists 30% of your RDV for folic acid.

GV on the left - we took this picture in natural light so you can really see the difference!
Appearance: The Great Value mac 'n cheese was a lot darker in color than the Kraft mac 'n cheese (see above). When we dumped the "cheese" powder in it looked the same (a weird orangey/pink color) but after getting mixed in the GV mac 'n cheese was much more orange compared to the blander/more yellow color of the Kraft mac 'n cheese. Which do you prefer? Orange mac 'n cheese or yellow mac 'n cheese? Something about the GV mac 'n cheese's color seemed more "fake" than the Kraft mac 'n cheese's color (it was just too bright!), which turned us off a little. Also the Great Value mac 'n cheese appeared drier than the Kraft, which was more moist/creamy. This could be because we were using the "three cheese" variety of Kraft mac 'n cheese, however... next time we try the non-three cheese variety we'll update this post to let you know if there's a difference - which would be great information in itself, right, to know if spending the extra 20 cents on the three cheese mac 'n cheese is actually worth it...

Regardless of being labeled as "three cheese," we think the difference in moistness/ creaminess may just have to do with the preparation instructions. We prepared both of these according to their directions on the box, and the GV mac 'n cheese said to mix 1 teaspoon of unsalted butter and 3 tablespoons of milk in along with the sauce powder. The Kraft mac 'n cheese, on the other hand, said to add 4 tablespoons (that's TABLESPOONS, not TEASPOONS) of margarine (we used unsalted butter for both, to try to keep the results similar) and 1/4 cup of 2% milk (we used 1% milk in both). So isn't it obvious why the Kraft mac 'n cheese is creamier and the generic is drier? The Kraft mac 'n cheese has over 4 times as much butter and milk in it! Now, we're not sure how the GV mac 'n cheese would turn out if we put the same amounts of milk and butter in both, because we wanted to follow the directions, but we suspect it would make a difference... if anyone tries that let us know how it goes!

Texture/the chew test: As we mentioned above, the GV mac 'n cheese ended up a lot drier, while the Kraft was more creamy, gooey and moist.

Taste: The Kraft mac 'n cheese had a more buttery (obviously the extra butter makes a difference) and salty flavor than the GV mac 'n cheese. The GV mac 'n cheese was just blander and had less flavor overall, despite actually listing "cheese" in its ingredients. Neither of these tasted particularly cheesy.

Bottom line: we're willing to try the GV mac 'n cheese again given the great cost savings, but we plan on adding more butter and milk the next time we make it in the hopes of replicating Kraft's creamy moist cheesy consistency (in addition to adding some flavor). If that doesn't work, though, we'll pay extra for that creamy cheesiness that reminded us of our childhood!

Sunday, September 9, 2012


As promised, for this post we compared Kellogg's Pop-Tarts (our favorite flavor, Frosted Cherry, to be exact), to the Great Value Frosted Cherry Toaster Pastries. So obviously, since we only compared one flavor, opinions may differ from flavor to flavor. Hopefully this will give you a general idea though about how the pastry part of each compares.

Price: Pop-tarts cost 50% more than Great Value Toaster Pastries. Our highest difference yet! Is the difference worth switching to the generic though? Keep reading to find out...


Pop-Tarts: enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid), corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, soybean and palm oil (with TBHQ for freshness), sugar, cracker meal, contains 2% or less of wheat starch, salt, dried cherries, dried apples, leavening (baking soda, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), citric acid, gelatin, modified wheat starch, caramel color, xanthan gum, soy lecithin, calcium stearate, vitamin A palmitate, red #40, niacinamide, reduced iron, natural flavor, red #40 lake, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), yellow #6, carnauba wax, riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), confectioner's glaze, folic acid, blue #1.

Great Value Toaster Pastries: enriched wheat flour (contains: niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid), corn syrup, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, palm and/or partially hydrogenated soybean oils, fruit from concentrate (white grape, cherry), whey, glycerine, modified cornstarch, precooked corn meal, salt, leavening (sodium aluminum phosphate, baking soda), citric acid, natural and artificial flavor, potassium sorbate (a preservative), gelatin, color added (includes red 40), modified soy protein, vitamin A palmitate, reduced iron, niacinamide, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin mononitrate (vitamin B1), folic acid.

Okay this is scary... Pop-tarts contain not one, not two, not three, but FOUR different types of sugar/sweetener. FOUR!! And the GV pastries are almost as bad with three different sweeteners listed. Do you think they could get any more sugar in there??? Of course this doesn't mean we're going to stop eating them altogether. :) When you crave a Pop-tart (or toaster pastry, whichever you prefer), you crave a Pop-tart... just remember the old rule of everything in moderation! 

Calories/Nutritional Information: The nutritional information is virtually identical.  Both Pop-tarts and Great Value Toaster Pastries contain 200 calories, 5 grams of fat, 160 mg of sodium, 16 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein per serving (which is one pastry - so if you eat both Pop-tarts/toaster pastries in the package that's 400 calories and 10 grams of fat - yikes!). Pop-tarts have 38 grams of carbohydrates, while the Great Value brand lists 37 grams of carbohydrates, and the GV pastries also list 60 mg of potassium (GV brand products seem to list potassium as a standard procedure while other brands do not). Both the Pop-tarts and toaster pastries also contain the following RDVs of the following vitamins: vitamin A 10%, iron 10%, thiamin 10%, riboflavin 10%, niacin 10%, vitamin B6 10%, folic acid 10%.

Appearance: We thought a lot of pictures would be helpful in explaining the differences we saw in these. In general, as you can see below, the GV pastry was skimpier on the icing and the filling. The thickness of the filling layer (and the pastry overall) was the same (see second and third pictures) but the filling in the Pop-tart went closer to all the edges, while the GV pastry filling stopped well short of the edge (see last three pictures), leaving a lot of floury pastry with no filling. Also the filling in the GV pastry appeared to have a more gel-like texture/consistency (it's shinier and more sticky), while the Pop-tart's filling was a little thicker/more paste-like. Oh and it's kind of funny to compare these pictures to the pictures of the pastries on the boxes they come in. There's a lot of artistic license taken on the boxes!

GV vs. Pop-tart

GV vs. Pop-tart

GV pastry on the left, Pop-tart on the right - GV pastry has less cherry filling, more pastry
GV toaster pastry filling
Pop-tart filling
Texture/the chew test: As you can see from the pictures above, the GV pastry has more pastry and less filling. This wasn't a good thing in our opinion. The pastry part of the GV version became more sticky/gummy/pasty while chewing it. It's not uncommon for pastry or bread products to gets a little pasty and sticky when you chew them, of course, but the GV pastry took on a significantly more pasty or gummy texture while eating it than the Pop-tart, which we didn't really like.

Taste: We tested these both un-heated (how we usually eat them - like a cookie - since that's basically what they are, right?) and heated in the microwave (we're not a fan of toasting). On the pastry part, the GV pastry was more floury while the Pop-tart pastry tasted more wheat-y (the difference reminded us of eating a hearty multi-grain bread (the Pop-tart) vs. white bread (the GV pastry)). On the filling, the GV filling was a little sweeter and tasted more like fake-cherry flavoring, while the Pop-tart filling was more tart and tasted more like actual cherries.

Bottom line: Even though Pop-tarts are significantly more expensive, we're fans of Pop-tarts, so we're going to stick with the name brand version when the craving strikes us. If you like Pop-tarts, the GV toaster pastry just isn't going to cut it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


Ok, let's just throw this out there up front. Oatmeal is oatmeal (Update: instant oatmeal is instant oatmeal - from comments we've received, the majority opinion out there seems to be that non-instant oatmeal brands vary in terms of mushy-ness! We found these two instant oatmeals to be the same consistency/texture). Buy the cheapest oatmeal you can find. You can stop reading here or continue reading, but if you choose to continue you're not going to learn anything else, so if you're short on time just know that oatmeal is oatmeal!

For this post we compared Quaker Oats 100% Natural Whole Grain Quick 1-Minute oats, and Great Value 100% Whole Grain Quick Oats (which cook in 1 minute).

Price: Yes they are different sizes in the picture above, but we compared the price of the same-sized containers and found that Quaker Oats cost 48% more (!!) than the Great Value Oats. And after doing this comparison we're kicking ourselves for spending that much more on oatmeal our entire lives, just because we were "used to" buying the Quaker brand, so we never bothered to try anything else. Keep that in mind when you are shopping! Step outside your comfort zone and try the generic! Hopefully this blog is helping you do just that, while saving you money at the same time. 

Ingredients: Rolled oats. No surprises there!

Calories/Nutritional Information: 1/2 cup of oatmeal has 150 calories per serving, 3 grams of fat per serving, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 mg sodium, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar and 5 grams of protein. Who knew oatmeal had protein? We didn't expect that. Rolled oats also contain 10% of your RDV of iron per serving, and the Great Value oats list 140 mg of potassium. The Quaker oats don't list any amount for potassium but we're assuming that's just because they're choosing not to, since oats are oats (again, it appears different companies use different nutritional value listing guidelines).

Appearance: Oatmeal looks like oatmeal. The oatmeal in uncooked form is on the top, vs. cooked on the bottom.

Quaker vs. Great Value

Quaker vs. Great Value

Texture/the chew test: We prepared these the same way and they had the same texture and consistency (the texture/consistency of cooked oatmeal).

Taste: They tasted the same to us.

Bottom line: If you've read this far, we are jealous that you have so much free time! Like we said at the beginning of this post, oatmeal is oatmeal, so buy the cheapest one! We won't be buying Quaker oats again, as long as there is a cheaper alternative.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Apple Sauce

Wow it's been a long time since we've posted - sorry about that! As you've probably gathered by now based on the things we post about (CheeriosPeanut Butter, Chocolate Syrup), we have little ones, so with all the end of summer/beginning a new school year activities that go along with that, our kids are the excuse we're using for being so delinquent in posting (and BTW, I'm sure we'll use the kids as our excuse again in the future, so don't be surprised!). Well here's another one for all you moms out there - apple sauce! (We're spelling that as two words, because that's what's on the labels of the products we reviewed, but we were sure it was one word, and it seems to be used as one word all the time - which do you prefer?) We chose to review Mott's, Musselman's and Great Value all natural no sugar added/unsweetened apple sauce, because that's the type we buy for our kids (it makes us feel better about feeding them the occasional cherry frosted Pop-Tart - post on those to come!) Also the Musselman's is in a picture by itself because it was a late entry. We realized after starting our analysis that most stores carry these three primary brands, so we thought we better include it!

Price: GV and Musselman's apple sauce cups were a full 4 oz. vs. Mott's which were 3.9 oz. per cup (24 oz. vs. 23.4 oz. total). So Musselman's ended up being 9 cents per ounce, or 28% more than the Great Value apple sauce, which was 7 cents per ounce. The Mott's apple sauce was in between at about 8.5 cents per ounce, or 20% more than the Great Value apple sauce. Doing these calculations made us realize why we didn't include Musselman's in the first place - it's becuase we had never bought it before because it costs so much more!

Ingredients: There are two primary ingredients in all natural apple sauce - which probably isn't surprising for something so simple - apples and water. The GV and Mott's apple sauce also contained ascorbic acid.

Calories/Nutritional Information: Each type of apple sauce had 50 calories per cup. The Great Value and Musselman's apple sauces had 12 grams of carbohydrates per cup and 8 grams of sugars, while Mott's had 13 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of sugar; Great Value and Musselman's each listed 2 grams of fiber, while Mott's had 1 gram; and Great Value and Mott's each listed 85 mg of potassium (the Musselman's did not list any potassium). 

Two strange things caught our attention - the Great Value apple sauce indicates that is has 100% of the RDV (recommended daily value) of vitamin C, but Mott's listed vitamin C at 20% and the Musselman's had 0%. This doesn't really make sense to us given that apples are apples and should contain the same vitamins. So we did a little research and found out that ascorbic acid is a form of vitamin C. So it makes sense that the Great Value apple sauce has 100%, since it contains ascorbic acid, and the Mott's has only 20%, since it does not contain ascorbic acid. But the Musselman's apple sauce lists ascorbic acid as an ingredient and does not indicate that it has vitamin C. Which makes it seem like these companies are following different rules when listing nutritional information...

The second strange (alarming) thing we found in the nutritional information was that the GV and Musselman's apple sauce cups contained 10 mg of sodium per cup. This threw us for a loop (why would apple sauce contain sodium?) Salt is not listed in the ingredient list of either the Musselman's or GV apple sauce, so we did some research and found that an apple contains at most 1-2 grams of sodium, and that ascorbic acid does not contain sodium. Then we found that there can be as many as 10 grams of sodium per cup of unsweetened apple juice (see this), which makes us wonder if the reason GV and Musselman's apple sauces contain sodium is because they're putting apple juice in it... apple juice has the same ingredients as apple sauce, so the apple sauce could contain apple juice and the ingredient list would still be accurate, right? Wouldn't that also explain why the GV and Musselman's apple sauces tasted sweeter (since apple juice is basically concentrated apple flavor)? Let us know your theories on this!

Appearance: the Great Value and Musselman's apple sauces were a little darker in color than the Mott's (due to the ascorbic acid we are guessing, given that the Musselman's ingredient list indicates that the ascorbic acid is "added to maintain color") which you can sort of tell in these pictures (these are not great for comparison becuase they were taken at different times of day, so the lighting is different, but at least they give you an idea):

GV on the left, Mott's on the right

GV on the left, Musselman's on the right
Do you think the color of the Great Value and Musselman's apple sauces is more appealing? Does the Mott's apple sauce look more bland/anemic? We think the effect of color on our perception of tastiness and healthiness is very interesting so let us know your opinion!

Texture/the chew test: these had the same consistency/texture - none of them seemed chunkier or smoother or more watery than another.

Taste: the Mott's apple sauce was a little more tart/sour, while the GV and Musselman's apple sauces were sweeter. Musselman's seemed the sweetest but it was a very insignificant difference compared to the Great Value brand.

Bottom line: While the Great Value applesauce has the best price, we don't feel great serving our kids applesauce containing sodium. On the other hand, the sodium-free Mott's applesauce had more grams of sugar per cup, which we don't feel great about either. So you'll have to make a judgment call there - or let us know if you find one that is both low-sugar and sodium free!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chocolate Syrup

Finally a fun analysis (not great for the waistline though) - we tested chocolate syrup! Only two contenders this time around, thankfully (or not?): Hershey's Genuine Chocolate Flavor Syrup and Great Value Chocolate Flavored Syrup. Here are our results:

Price: As with the Great Value peanuts reviewed last weekthe generic chocolate syrup bottle contained less than the brand name version (24 oz. vs. 26 oz.), so once again the savings weren't quite as high as what they appeared to be when just looking at the price. We're not sure if the Hershey's syrup bottle always contains more than the generc bottle, since the Hershey's bottle says it contains an "extra" 2 ounces, but in our shopping experience it seems that products with "extra" or "bonus" labels usually don't change sizes (so it looks like you're getting a great deal, when actually there is no deal, if that's the size the packaging will always be from now on!). After figuring out how much the cost was per ounce, we found the generic chocolate syrup cost about 20% less than the brand name version.

Ingredients: The ingredients in these were exactly the same... which made us wonder if this was one of those situations where the exact same product is just being packaged under different labels (we hear that this happens but are not sure how to confirm it...any ideas??)

Hershey's: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, cocoa, sugar; contains 2% or less of potassium sorbate (preservative), salt, mono- and diglycerides, xanthan gum, polysorbate 60, vanillin, artificial flavor.

Great Value: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, water, cocoa processed with alkali, sugar, contains 2% or less of: potassium sorbate (preservative), salt, mono- and diglycerides, xanthan gum, polysorbate 60, vanillin (artificial flavor).

Calories/Nutritional Information: Both chocolate syrups contained 100 calories per serving, with 0 grams of fat, 15 mg of sodium and 24 grams of carbohydrates per serving. 

Appearance: The appearance of the chocolate syrups was identical. They were the same color and appeared to have the same thickness and consistency.
Texture/the chew test: Both syrups were equally syrupy - they felt equally sticky/runny when we tested them, both right out of the fridge and at room temperature. We also did a chocolate milk test, and both seemed to mix into the milk equally well.

Taste: We could not tell a difference on taste between these either, both straight and when mixed into the milk... honestly, we think they must be the exact same thing!

Bottom line: We're going to stick with the Great Value chocolate syrup for our future chocolate syrup needs. We just couldn't find a difference between these, and the 20% savings (which would be 25% if the Hershey's bottle ever loses its "extra" two ounces) is worth the switch.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Peanut Butter Time!

The contenders

Are you a fan of peanut butter? If so this post is for you! We compared what we believe are the four main types of peanut butter available at Wal-Mart: Great Value, Peter Pan, Jif, and Skippy. In all cases we tested the regular (not low-fat or low sodium or natural) creamy-type peanut butter. BTW, while we have some peanut butter fans in our household, we will be giving two of these jars away (we'll reveal which two below!) because the jars have "best if used by dates" and we're afraid we will not be able to eat it all before then. A person can only eat so much peanut butter!

Price: We were in luck this time - each of these peanut butters came in a 28 ounce size. We are aware of course that two of the jars in the picture above are not the 28 ounce size, but we compared the prices of the 28 ounce jar for each type of peanut butter. We bought smaller jars when we could because we just didn't need that much peanut butter! Our biggest surprise was when we found that the Great Value and Jif brands cost exactly the same, each of which cost 7% less than the Peter Pan peanut butter and 9% less than the most expensive Skippy peanut butter. The savings this time were not as great as they have been with other items we've compared, but every little bit counts in this economy, right?

Ingredients: Peanut butter contains basically four ingredients: peanuts, sugar, vegetable oil and salt. A few of the brands added some other things though, too:

Great Value: peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil (rapeseed, cottonseed, soybean), dextrose, salt, molasses, monoglycerides.

Jif (the label says Jif is the "#1 Choice of Choosy Moms"): roasted peanuts and sugar, contains 2% or less of: molasses, fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono and diglycerides, salt.

Peter Pan: roasted peanuts, sugar, less than 2% of: hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed and rapeseed), salt, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil.

Skippy: roasted peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed, soybean and rapeseed) to prevent separation, salt (the least amount of ingredients, and they are all things that we recognize - always a plus!).

We once again are curious how easy/difficult it is to make your own peanut butter (and if it's worth it) - anyone tried it?

Calories/Nutritional Information: The Great Value peanut butter had the least amount of calories and fat per serving, at 180 calories and 15 grams of fat, 130 mg of sodium, 8 grams of carbohydrates, and 7 grams of protein. Jif and Skippy each had slightly more calories and fat per serving, at 190 calories and 16 grams of fat. These also had slightly more sodium per serving, at 140 mg for Jif and 150 mg for Skippy. Jif contained the same amount of carbohydrates and protein per serving as the generic, and Skippy had one additional gram of carbohydrates and the same amount of protein per serving as the generic. Peter Pan had the most calories and fat per serving at 210 calories and 17 grams of fat, 140 mg of sodium, slightly less (6 grams) carbohydrates than the others, and slightly more protein per serving at 8 grams.

Appearance: The peanut butters ranged from Jif being the lightest to Peter Pan being the darkest in color. Also the Great Value peanut butter had a more solid, uniform color compared to the other three, which all had more "speckles" of peanut in them.

Color comparison - Jif vs. Peter Pan

See the speckles in the Peter Pan peanut butter vs. lack of peanut speckles in the generic?
 Texture/the chew test: The Jif peanut butter felt a little thicker than the others, while the Skippy, Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butters all seemed a little creamier. The Great Value peanut butter had the most oily texture.

Taste: This was our most fun taste test to date. We pulled in some guest taste testers for this one since there were so many different kinds of peanut butter and found that everyone had different opinions on which peanut butter they thought was best. We did agree to some basic taste results, though: 1) the Great Value peanut butter has the least peanuty and most oily taste (in fact a few of us were shocked by the oily-ness of the GV peanut butter after trying all the others), and had a somewhat unpleasant after taste; 2) the Skippy peanut butter tasted sweeter than the others; 3) the Peter Pan peanut butter was the least sweet, and had a more salty roasted peanut taste; and 4) Jif seemed to be in between Skippy and Peter Pan in terms of roasted peanut flavor and sweetness (sweeter than Peter Pan but not as sweet as Skippy, and more roasted peanut flavor than Skippy but less than Peter Pan).

Bottom line: Although our guest taste testers each had their own favorite, we would generally recommend Jif, since it was the cheapest (same price as the generic) and still had a good flavor, balancing sweetness and roasted peanut taste. Oh and as for the jars we're giving away - the Great Value peanut butter is being donated to our breakroom at the office and the Peter Pan peanut butter will go to one of our guest tasters, because it was her favorite and took her back to her childhood. Enjoy KJ!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Pass the Peanuts Please!

As you can see we've already been digging in to these!

We also mentioned a few posts back that we'd be reviewing peanuts, which are a big hit in our household right now. Dry Roasted, lightly salted peanuts, to be exact. This was another case where we thought "peanuts are peanuts, so they can't be that different... right?" Well we were wrong! When it comes to dry roasted peanuts, there were some distinct differences between the Great Value Dry Roasted Peanuts and the Planters Lightly Salted Dry Roasted Peanuts, even though they are basically just peanuts.

Price: At first glance, the Great Value peanuts appear to be significantly cheaper than the Planters peanuts, but that's because, once again, the generic package contained less than the brand name version (14 oz. vs. 16 oz.). We're finding this is pretty common, that the Great Value version contains less per package than its name brand counterpart. So after figuring out how much the cost was per ounce, we found the generic cost 15% less than the brand name version (btw, is it "brand name" or "name brand"? We just realized we've been using these interchangeably on this blog and are not sure which is correct... if either!).

Ingredients: Of course these both included peanuts and salt, but we were surprised by all the extra flavorings included in the Great Value peanuts (did you know onion powder and garlic powder are used to flavor peanuts? Also do people really care if their peanuts are a certain color?):

Planters: peanuts, sea salt, maltodextrin, cornstarch, corn syrup solids

Great Value: peanuts, sea salt, sugar, corn starch, maltodextrin, torula yeast, corn syrup solids, paprika (color), hydrolyzed soy protein, natural smoke flavor, onion powder, spices, garlic powder (what do they mean by "spices," by the way??)

Calories/Nutritional Information: The name brand and generic peanuts had almost the same amount of  fat and calories, with the name brand coming out with 10 more calories and 1 additional gram of fat per serving. The sodium count was the big difference, with the generic peanuts containing over twice the amount of sodium (170 mg) per serving as the name brand peanuts (80 mg). The name brand peanuts also had slightly more potassium, slightly fewer carbohydrates, and 1 g more protein than the generic peanuts per serving.

Appearance: the generic peanuts had a lot more crumbs/powder in the bottom of the container, which makes sense because they have a lot more stuff sprinkled on them (see ingredients above). You can tell by looking at the generic version (first photo below) that the peanuts are coated with spices and flavorings (and paprika, for color!). The Planters peanuts look "cleaner," or more like just plain peanuts.
Great Value

Generic vs. brand name

Texture/the chew test: these felt the same while chewing them - after all, when it comes down to it, a peanut is a peanut!

Taste: The Planters peanuts had a more "pure" fresh roasted taste - they tasted closer to regular peanuts, or more "clean," if that makes sense, and were less salty than the generic. The Great Value peanuts, on the other hand, had more taste, due to the various flavors that have been added to them.

Bottom line: if you base your choice on taste, it comes down to personal preference as to what you're looking for in your dry roasted peanuts (more like plain roasted peanuts or more flavorful?). However, you should definitely take into account the extra sodium in the generic (over double that of the brand name version) if you are watching your salt intake.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Lots of tortillas!

As promised in our last post, we reviewed a bunch of tortillas for today's analysis. Given that there are many types of name brand tortillas, we didn't want to compare the Great Value Flour Tortillas against just one brand, so we compared them to three others: La Banderita Flour Tortillas, Mission Flour Tortillas and Ole Flour Tortillas. Yes, we will have plenty of tortillas for a while - luckily they freeze well! In each case we reviewed the medium/soft taco size (we assume they will taste the same no matter the size, but you never know!)


This was another situation where we couldn't just look at the price per package, because the Great Value tortillas contained 8 tortillas per package (12.8 oz), while the three non-generics we reviewed each had 10 tortillas per package (Mission: 17.5 oz; La Banderita: 16 oz and Ole: 16 oz). We are including the ounces contained per package because that's another way to measure how much you're getting for your money (the Mission tortillas seemed a little denser, as described below). This generic version was the best value we've found so far, costing 28% less than the La Banderita and Ole brands, and a full 30% less than the most expensive Mission brand tortilla.

Ingredients: We discovered tortillas consist of three primary ingredients (which a lot of you may already have known!), but certain brands added more "extras" than others: 

Great Value Flour Tortillas: Enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin and folic acid), water, vegetable shortening (partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils, or palm oil or corn oil), contains 2% or less of the following: baking powder, salt, calcium propionate, sorbic acid, mono and diglycerides, fumaric acid, sugar, dough relaxer (sodium metabisulfite, cornstarch, microcrystalline cellulose, dicalcium phosphate).

La Banderita Flour Tortillas: Enriched bleached flour, water, vegetable shortening (hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed olis); contains 2% or less of the following: salt, calcium propionate, socium bicarbonate, fumaric acid, sorbic acid, distilled mono and diglycerides and sugar.

Mission Flour Tortillas (btw, on Mission's package it says they are "the world's best-selling tortilla"): enriched bleached wheat flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), water, vegetable shortening (interesterified soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil and/or palm oil), contains 2% or less of: sugar, salt, leavening (sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, corn starch, monocalcium phosphate and/or sodium acid pyrophosphate, calcium sulfate), preservatives (calcium propionate, sorbic acid, potassium sorbate and/or citric acid), distilled monoglycerides, enzymes, wheat starch, calcium carbonate, antioxidants (tocopherols, ascorbic acid), cellulose gum, dough conditioners (fumaric acid, sodium metabisulfite and/or mono- and diglycerides). Yikes that's a lot of extra added stuff for something so simple!

Ole Flour Tortillas: Enriched bleached flour, water, vegetable shortening (hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils); contains 2% or less of the following: baking powder, salt, calcium propionate, distilled mono and diglycerides, sorbic acid, fumaric acid baking soda, and sugar. Interesting note: these looked so similar to the La Banderita tortillas, the packaging included, that upon closer inspection it is clear they are made by the same company. We're not sure why virtually the exact same product is sold under two different names... can anyone shed light on that?

After reviewing these ingredients we have to say we're not sure why we don't just make our own tortillas - it can't be that hard, can it, with three, maybe four basic ingredients plus a little salt/sugar (once you take out all the chemical preservatives)? Has anyone made their own tortillas before? Is it worth it?

Calories/Nutritional Information: The Great Value tortillas had 130 calories per tortilla and the most fat (3.5 g), 300 mg sodium, 22 g carbohydrates, 3 g protein, and 8% of the daily recommended value of calcium and iron. The Mission tortillas had the most calories per tortilla, at 140, along with 3 g of fat, the highest amount of sodium (420 mg), 25 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein and the same amount of calcium and iron as the generic. The La Banderita and Ole tortillas were the healthiest, each with 110 calories and 1 g fat per tortilla, 286 mg. sodium, 21 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, and 6% of the daily recommended value of calcium. Only the amount of iron was different between these two, at 4% RDV for the La Banderita tortillas and 3% RDV for the Ole brand (see what we mean when we say they're basically exactly the same?)

Appearance: The tortillas all looked pretty similar, except that the Mission brand tortillas looked and felt smoother/less puffy, and looked a little more "cooked" (had more browning than the others).

Mission vs. Great Value

La Banderita (and Ole) vs. Great Value

Texture/the chew test: The Mission tortilla seemed denser/stiffer than the others, which were softer/lighter. It makes sense that the Mission tortillas were denser than the others - that accounts for the extra weight in the same amount of tortillas (17.5 oz. vs. 16 oz.). The Ole/La Banderita tortilla seemed the thickest/fluffiest. We also did a "structure" test to see how the tortillas would hold up. The generic didn't hold up as well against the others in this test - it seemed to tear more easily when filled and rolled up. 

Taste: The generic tortillas had an aftertaste we don't know how to describe, but it's not particularly pleasant; the Mission tortillas seemed to taste the best - you can tell there's more salt in them; they also have more of a wheat flavor. The La Banderita and Ole tortillas didn't have much taste to them other than flour (they also have the least amount of salt!)

Bottom line: Although the price is right on the generic, we likely won't buy them again due to the higher calorie/fat content, unpleasant aftertaste, and propensity to tear.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Frosted Mini-Wheats

Sticking with our cereal theme, today we compared Kellogg's Bite Size Frosted Mini-Wheats and Great Value Frosted Shredded Wheat Cereal. After all, who doesn't eat cereal (especially if you have toddlers who need a portable and non-messy snack to munch on when you're on the go)? Even if you don't have toddlers at home, we've found a lot of people are curious about generic cereals, since the generic versions seem so much cheaper than the name brand ones.

Price: getting right to the bottom line, just like the generic Cheerios, the generic frosted shredded wheat cost about 25% less than the brand name version. And for those of you who have really good eyesight (or a really big high-definition computer screen) and noticed in the picture to the left that we are comparing the 18 oz. size Frosted Mini-Wheats and the 24 oz. size Frosted Shredded Wheat Cereal, don't worry, we took the different sized boxes (price per ounce) into account when comparing the prices. Isn't that tricky, though? These were the sizes available on the shelf, and the boxes look like they are the same size, so if you weren't paying very close attention to the ounces written on the box you would think you were getting the same amount of cereal for the same price - each of these boxes of cereal were the exact same price at our local Wal-Mart. So keep an eye out for that before you dismiss the generic because it's the same price as the brand name version!
Update: while shopping recently we noticed there was a 24 oz. size Frosted Mini-Wheats (called the "value size" box) on the shelf. Not sure if we just missed this one before or if it was out of stock, but comparing the 24 oz. size price on both brands reduces the savings when buying the GV cereal to only 17%.

Ingredients: (almost identical)

Great Value Frosted Shredded Wheat Cereal: whole wheat, sugar, gelatin, reduced iron, niacinamide, zinc oxide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamine mononitrate), tricalcium phosphate, folic acid, vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin). BHT added to packaging to help preserve freshness.

Frosted Mini Wheats: whole grain wheat, sugar, 2% or less of brown rice syrup, gelatin, BHT for freshness. Vitamins and minerals: reduced iron, niacinamide, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamin hydrochloride), zinc oxide, folic acid, vitamin B12.

Calories/Nutritional Information: both versions had about the same amount of calories and fat per serving (the serving sizes were a tiny bit different so we had to get out our calculators again!), and, based on our calculations, the brand name version had slightly more potassium, carbohydrates, and protein per serving. The brand name version also had slightly higher concentrations of phosphorous and copper per serving than the generic version. We're not sure how much phosphorous and copper a person needs in their diet, but if that's important to you, there you go.

Appearance: unlike the Cheerios and their generic counterpart, which looked almost identical, the generic frosted shredded wheat looked very different from the Frosted Mini Wheats, as you can see below:

generic vs. brand name
brand name vs. generic, side view

and here they are side by side (well, up and down - we tried to put these pictures side by side but could not for the life of us get them to cooperate! Can a more experienced blogger help us out? Is it possible to put two pictures side by side?) We didn't label these because we were sure from the pics. above that you would be able to tell which is which (there are the same number of pieces of cereal per bowl, by the way, for a fair comparison):

So obviously the brand name shredded wheat chunks are bigger and more "airy" (there is just more space in them) than the generic. But there was something else about the generic version that we can only describe as a more "processed" look. The generic squares were more compressed and the shredded wheat strands thinner and in perfectly straight lines, while the name brand squares looked rougher and less put together/less processed. Have you all seen those cereal commercials talking about how when something is closer to its natural form (less processed) it's healthier? Apparently in the world of cereal, unlike the professional world, being less put together/polished is more desirable. If that's true that might be something to consider when you're deciding which type of frosted shredded wheat to buy.

Texture/the chew test: Although this seems weird, we agreed there was something more satisfying about chewing up the Frosted Mini Wheats. The extra airy space and bigger chunks made them crunchier and textur-ier (we're sure that's not a word, but oh well) than the generic version, and that made them more fun to eat for some reason. We did a milk test again, too, and again, cereal seems to turn to mush at the same rate, no matter the brand or particular texture and consistency. So no difference there.

and last but not least...

Taste: finding a difference in the taste of the Frosted Mini Wheats and the Great Value
Frosted Shredded Wheat Cereal was pretty much impossible. They both tasted like frosted shredded wheat. They had equal amounts of sweetness from the frosted part and wheatiness from the shredded wheat part. We honestly couldn't tell a difference in the taste.

Bottom line: getting the generic frosted shredded wheat is a good bet - you're going to get the same taste and nutrition for 25% less.... however, if you get hung up on texture, the generic version is never going to compare to the extra crunchiness of Frosted Mini Wheats.

Other blog stuff: please comment! Let us know if you agree or disagree, if you would like us to add other categories, and what foods you'd like us to compare next! We would love to hear from you. And even better than commenting, become a follower! Just click the link on the right side. Then you won't miss any of our comparisons. Which you wouldn't want to do, because who knows, maybe the next one will be the exact generic you've been itching to try!

Coming soon: peanuts, chocolate syrup, tortillas and more - stay tuned!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Cheerios vs. Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal

Hello again! This is an exciting post, our first ever test and analysis! We are hoping the categories we use below will be the most helpful, but if you would like others added, please feel free to make suggestions. Also, given the regionality of many generics, we'll be focusing on Wal-Mart's Great Value brand, because it is national rather than regional (with 4,400 retail facilities, including Sam's Clubs, in the U.S.). So what did we use for our first test? Drum-roll please.....

Cheerios vs. Wal-Mart brand (Great Value) Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal

We figured we should start with something simple - Cheerios. Hasn't everyone who has ever bought Cheerios had a passing curiosity about whether the generic version was the exact same thing as the brand name version, just cheaper? They seem pretty simple, after all, and look almost exactly the same... how different could they be? Here's our analysis.

Price: comparing prices is going to be a little tricky, given that even within one retail chain different stores price things differently. When you look up toasted whole grain oat cereal in Wal-Mart's on-line store, for example, although a set price is provided for the brand-name version, next to the generic under price it says "store pricing may vary." So we're not trying to represent that the comparison provided here will be accurate for every Wal-Mart store, but we will provide the comparison anyway, in terms of a percentage (the generic cost "X" percent less than the name brand version) so you will have an idea of the savings that are possible when buying generic (with the caveat that, where you live, the savings might be a little more or less). At our local Wal-Mart the Great Value Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal cost just over 25% less than the Cheerios (pretty significant savings if you eat Cheerios regularly!).

Ingredients (this is word for word what is written on the side of the box - we're leaving it to you to sort out how all those vitamins compare - good luck!):

Cheerios: whole grain oats (includes the oat bran), modified corn starch, sugar, salt, tripotassium phosphate, wheat starch. Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) added to preserve freshness. Also the following added vitamins and minerals: calcium carbonate, iron and zinc (mineral nutrients), vitamin C (sodium ascorbate), A B vitamin (niacinamide), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin A (palmitate), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamin mononitrate), A B vitamin (folic acid), vitamin B12 and vitamin D3.

Great Value Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal: whole grain oat flour (includes the oat bran), wheat starch, sugar, modified cornstarch, oat fiber, salt, oat extract, dicalcium phosphate, tripotassium phospathe, calcium carbonate, vitamin C (sodium ascorbate), iron and zinc (mineral nutrients), niacinamide, BHT (a preservative), thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin A pamitate, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin D.

Calories/nutritional information: both versions had the same amount of calories, protein, and fiber per serving. The generic version had .5 g less fat per serving and 1 g more of carbohydrates. The only difference that really stood out is that the generic version had 30 mg more sodium per serving than the Cheerios, which could be significant for those following a salt-restricted diet (depending on how often you eat Cheerios).

Can you tell which is which?

Appearance: they look almost identical. This is a big part of the reason why we have found ourselves wondering so often if they weren't exactly the same. However, upon closer inspection, the generic version did appear a little rougher/puffier, and a teeny tiny bit larger than the smoother, slightly smaller brand-name O's.

Texture/the chew test: eating these dry, the experience was pretty much identical. Then we tried them with milk. We suspected adding milk might differentiate these more - since the generic O's appeared puffier and had a rougher texture, we thought they might absorb more milk or absorb it more quickly than the name brand cereal, resulting in the generic O's getting mushy faster than the name brand O's. This wasn't the case however. After pouring in the milk and trying both cereals, they seemed to have an identical consistency. Then we let them sit in the milk for about three minutes and tried again. Much to our surprise, they still had the same consistency. The generic O's were not any mushier than the name brand ones (they both had become equally mushy!).

and, finally,

Taste: this was tough. Our final call was that the generic version tastes almost identical to the name brand version. However there did seem to be a little extra "something" in the brand name version - it had a slightly more "oat-ey" (is that a word?) flavor. Put another way, the Cheerios seemed to have a slightly (and we mean very slightly) stronger/richer/tastier taste. It took a few handfuls of cereal before we really started to notice this though.

Bottom line: if you eat a lot of Cheerios in your family, give these a try - we don't think you will be disappointed. We're definitely going to buy them again.


... us!

Hello there! Thanks for visiting our blog. Have you ever thought about buying the generic version of an old favorite in the grocery store but wondered if it would be any good? As the economy has changed and money has gotten tighter, we started wondering that ourselves. Food costs are a major part of everyone's budget, so we thought that would be a good place to start saving. But how would we know what generic foods to buy? Wasn't there anyone who could tell us "it's exactly the same, just buy the generic?" or "it's not worth the savings, get the name brand version!" We haven't found that advice, so through much trial and error we have been slowly figuring out what foods we can save money on by buying the generic version and what foods just aren't the same in generic form! To save you time (and money!) we're putting our results here!