A food review by Daniel B.
Life is about tradeoffs. One cannot do, or eat, or experience everything life has to offer. Time is often inversely proportional to money. One has to sacrifice a depth of knowledge to achieve a breadth of knowledge. A four day vacation spent in Paris precludes a visit to the French countryside.
It’s impossible to have it all.
These thoughts come to mind when thinking about the sorry state of egg nog on supermarket dairy shelves. Every year around this time the cartons begin to emerge, and it should be a time filled with delight. Because this thick, egg yolk enriched blend of milk and cream that’s both sweetened and spiced is a delicious December treat. And it’s a critical ritual as we in the northeast pack on a little extra winter weight in preparation for the bleak cold winter to come.
However, egg nog is in trouble. Most these are made with food gums and other commercial thickening agents. Many are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. And some are even tinged with yellow die #5. Against this backdrop, the Meadow Brook Farms Dairy Egg Nog is a ray of light. But it’s not without its tradeoffs.
Meadow Brook makes theirs with milk, heavy cream, corn syrup, egg yolks, sugar, water, nonfat dry milk, spices, annato, turmeric (for color), natural and artificial flavor, potassium sorbate as a preservative and salt.
Understandably there are some things on this list that are unexpected, and to some may be concerning. People often conflate corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup. These two are not the same, and while corn can be a problematic source of GMOs, corn syrup is not evil.
Even with annato is derived from a plant and is used widely as a coloring agent. And if they want to supplement that with turmeric to give this egg nog a more pleasant golden color, I’m okay with that. But I’m mostly okay with that because of the presence of egg yolks high up in the ingredients list. If the coloring was used as a replacement for what should come from eggs themselves, that would be dishonest. This is merely an enhancement.
We’ll get back to “artificial flavor” in just a moment.
Egg nog is rich stuff, and it’s made out of highly perishable ingredients. And since it’s made with such rich ingredients it should be sipped in small amounts. Really it should be sold in much smaller containers, because to get through a half gallon of it before it turns would probably make your cardiologist uneasy. So I’m not going to begrudge a little potassium sorbate.
Now ideally egg nog should not be flavored at all. It should taste like dairy, eggs and spices. But there is an egg nog flavor that consumers have come to expect, and that seems to require a flavoring agent. It’s a misnomer that natural flavors are somehow better than artificial ones. Effectively they are the same things, except one synthesizes the identical chemical compounds from natural sources versus synthetic ones. They are both made in a lab, and are both industrial products.
Trader Joe’s also makes an egg nog. On its carton the company proudly declares, “No artificial flavors.” But let’s take a closer look at their ingredients: Milk, cream, sugar, egg nog base (sugar, egg yolks, natural flavors, nutmeg, turmeric, annato extract [for color], citric acid), nonfat milk solids, stabilizers (guar gum, carrageenan, locust bean gum, sugar), vitamin D3.
So here’s the tradeoff. With Trader Joe’s you may be giving up the corn syrup, artificial flavor and preservatives; but you are getting a lot of food gums and thickening agents. These are the things that leave a thick film that lines the inside of your mouth and are typically used to give the impression of the more expensive butterfat.
Egg nog isn’t cheap stuff. Nor should it be. It’s loaded with fat, and fat is expensive. So when paying a premium for a carton of egg nog, I don’t want it sullied with cheap thickeners.
That means that Meadow Brook’s egg nog doesn’t seem as creamy as its mass market competitors. And it’s not. Those are super-thickened while Meadow Brook is just as thick as one would expect milk, cream and egg yolks to be. It’s lusciously silky and it drinks like half and half. It tastes like sweetened, fresh cream and spices. The flavor of the cream really comes through. And more importantly, it finishes cleanly without a sticky pasty film lingering in the mouth.
Most people appreciate this. But others have become acclimated to the industrially thickened form of egg nog and find the version made with local cream and milk in Clarksville to be thin.
That is disheartening. However the other advantage of Meadow Brook is that because the dairy is so small, they don’t have to publish the Nutrition Facts on their cartons. The Trader Joe’s egg nog has 180 calories, 5g of saturated fat and 65mg of cholesterol in a four ounce serving.
I really enjoy the stuff, but I might enjoy it less if every time I went to pour a glass I was reminded of these stark nutrition facts. Score another one for the local guys.
About Daniel B.
A west coast transplant now living in Albany, Daniel Berman is applying his communication strategy background to food writing with the ultimate goal of improving the culinary landscape in the Capital Region. He writes the FUSSYlittleBLOG and contributes regularly to All Over Albany.