But It's Calorie Free, Gluten Free, Sugar Free...
Recently we happened to stop at the David Roberts outlet store (http://www.davidrobertsfood.com); they make gift baskets and snacks as well as some bulk foods. We were surprised to see a range of Walden Farms products – I had heard of the company but have never found their products in Canada.
What makes Walden Farms (WF) so unique is that almost everything they produce is usually “calorie free, gluten free, cholesterol free, sugar free and fat free”, and that’s no mean feat when you consider that they primarily make salad dressings, dips, spreads and sauces. As a Chef, a rich sauce is our go to option to make up for a mild or bland dish, so their claims were intriguing.
Like all food questions, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so we bought a bottle of the calorie free, fat free, gluten free, cholesterol free Chipotle Ranch dressing ($4.99 for 12oz.) and gave it a try. To our surprise we thought it was perfectly fine. The flavour is quite pronounced with a slightly acidic finish and enough heat that you know chipotle was in the bottle.
There are several ways that food producers make their products look healthier than they really are and manipulating portion size is typically the first tactic. Setting a tiny portion size compared to real world consumption is very common, but in this case it’s 2 TBSP a serving. While it seems a bit light it is forgivable. Producers also boost flavour in “light” products using salt and sugars to replace fats and WF does that here, with those 2 TBSP of dressing being 11% of your daily sodium. In order to sweeten without calories WF uses sucralose in lieu of natural cane sugar.
The ingredient list starts with water as the first ingredient and has at least 2 thickening agents, hence how they get texture and mouth feel without using oil. We only had the dressing with some fresh cherry tomatoes and we found the taste to be acceptable as a dip and we couldn’t see a reason why it wouldn’t be a good dressing too. (although there was an odd aftertaste)
As a working Chef I can clearly see the business appeal of a line of calorie free, gluten free, cholesterol free, sugar free and fat free products like this. Consumers have gotten far more health conscious in the last decade and food allergies, real or a passing fad, are a genuine concern for many. WF has clearly done something right having been in business for over 40 years.
While I admire their intent and past success, I think I’ll stick to my food instead. As a food science guy, reading their ingredient lists (https://www.waldenfarms.com/nutrition_facts.html) looks more like an organic chemistry lesson than real food to me. To be blunt, I would rather make a delicious dressing with olive oil, herbs, spices and lemon juice and go for a walk around the block than use filtered water and emulsifiers.
I know there are thousands of products on the shelves that use the same emulsifiers, extracts, flavourings and essences as Walden Farms and that those products are used by millions around the world every day, but I still think I’ll pass. Given that they use far too many chemicals for my liking and the very high cost, I think I’ll stick to the real stuff. It may not be as light or “something-free” but I know exactly what’s in it, and that’s good enough for me.