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!