Green Giant Baby Brussels Sprouts in Butter Sauce – “Nutritious as Fresh” but also contains Monosodium Glutamate, Trans Fat and added Sugar.
Sorry, Jolly Green Giant – you’re from my neck of the woods (Blue Earth, Minnesota) and I remember visiting you when I was a child, but I had your Brussels Sprouts last night…I didn’t care for them, your pricing, your additives or your claims. (This is coming from one raised in the era of “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” which, by the way, if I’m not mistaken, came from Thumper, Bambi’s pal, and influenced a whole generation of youngsters to grow up reticent and repressed. It seems I’ve gotten over it…)
Now, Brussels Sprouts are my favorite green vegetable and I can’t wait for the best ones to get to the produce aisle every fall. I like them so much, I decided to try them frozen. Besides, they were on sale, I had a coupon, and I was sure if I took care not to over cook, they wouldn’t be as bad as the frozen ones I had a few years ago at a friend’s house. I’m not hugely into eating to be polite, or eating to clean my plate, or eating because “it’s good for me ” when something is improperly prepared, cooked, seasoned and/or sauced. That’s not to say that I don’t eat foods that I care for less than others, because I do, especially if they are good for me, but I try to do my best to coax out their best flavors.
Mr. Giant, I cooked your Brussels Sprouts in the microwave for the minimum amount of time recommended, they were only slightly mushy, but there was something wrong with them. They were covered with some sort of slime. The label said “Butter Sauce” but this didn’t taste like butter at all. It had no taste really, except for an intenseness and a sweetness. It overpowered the taste of the Brussels Sprouts. I almost got up and went into the kitchen to rinse mine off, but I’d had a long day and didn’t want to deal with it, and the thought of missing the conversation and coming back with wet, cold rinsed frozen microwaved Brussels was just more than I could bear at the moment.
Instead, my normally beloved Brussels sprouts were choked down – and there it was – that feeling of being a kid around the kitchen table with my mom telling me to eat some frozen vegetable or another and my dad giving me that long look that said I’d damned well better eat them and I’d damned well better not make a fuss at the dinner table. He seldom had to say a word, my dad. We KNEW when we got that look.
- Sugar: Wow, I add a bit of sugar to certain items – you know, a little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down, but in Brussels sprouts? No cook I know of does this – and it was listed as ingredient number two.
- Enzyme Modified Butter was a new one to me, and I found a definition on Ask.com: “Enzyme modified butter granules having natural butter flavor are provided, the granules being formed of a carrier such as maltodextrin, a small amount of a fat such as a vegetable oil, and enzyme modified butter oil, with or without, but preferably with a water-soluble butter flavor component. The granules may include salt to taste, if desired and may also include an emulsifier. The granules of the invention are very low in calories, have a high intensity butter flavor, have no cholesterol and dissolve instantly upon contact with wet and hot foods to provide the flavor and mouthfeel of butter.” Wow, that means it contains a form of MSG.
- Corn Starch: We all know this, it’s a thickening agent appearing more and more in almost every processed food. I use it at home, but those not fond of genetically modified corn are opposed to this. That’s what was responsible for the slimy sauce that stuck to the Brussels Sprouts.
- Xantham Gum: Wiki’s discussion; here’s an excerpt: “Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, derived from the bacterial coat of Xanthomonas campestris, used as a food additive and rheology modifier, commonly used as a food thickening agent (in salad dressings, for example) and a stabilizer (in cosmetic products, for example, to prevent ingredients from separating). It is produced by the fermentation of glucose, sucrose, or lactose by the Xanthomonas campestris bacterium. After a fermentation period, the polysaccharide is precipitated from a growth medium with isopropyl alcohol, dried, and ground into a fine powder. Later, it is added to a liquid medium to form the gum.”
- Annatto and Paprika Extract Colors: Other than the fact that I really don’t understand the need for colors in this, I don’t have any huge objection to either of these. Some people are sensitive to Annatto, but I’ve used it in Latin American cooking, and even my grandmother used paprika. Of course, I’m wondering if something horrible is done to these simple spices in the manufacturing process, but I’m so blown away by the idea of Enzyme Modified Butter that I can’t even think about that right now!
And here I thought I was just buying Brussels Sprouts with some butter on them! Yikes!
I also let price guide my decisions in what vegetables to buy and I’ve started to work up pricing on some of the basic vegetables and fruits in my area. (I’m always curious how much they cost where you live!). Generally the best prices indicate the vegetable or fruit is in season, or at the very least, came in with a huge shipment – and if it comes on a huge shipment, it generally travels fast. As I write this, they are out of season (March 2012) but in season I’ll find them from $1.99 to $2.99 per pound, one of our pricier vegetables. Out of season, they are scarce and don’t look so hot, so I don’t buy them. (Hence my thought of picking some up frozen!)
- This package of Green Giant Brussels Sprouts was normally $2.22, but I bought on sale with a coupon which bought my package down to 96 cents.
- The package was 10 ounces, 15 sprouts, but they were wet and the package contained the aforementioned “sauce.” An “average” sprout is .35 ounce, or about 45 in a pound. I’d have to estimate that the 10 ounce package had about 1/3 pound of actual Sprouts. (I feel this is actually being a little generous since these are “baby” sprouts.)
- Even at my lowest pricing, on sale with a coupon, 96 cents, I’m paying $2.88 a pound for the Green Giant!
- If I just bought at regular price, $2.22, I’d be paying an equivalent of $6.66 a pound!! Repeat: The Green Giant Baby Brussels Sprouts at regular store price of $2.22 factors out to $6.66 a pound for a 10 ounce package!
Amazing how easy it is to not realize how much frozen food can cost if you don’t stop and really analyze it. I’m a little curious to see how the “plain” bagged variety of Brussels Sprouts cost per pound and how that stacks up with what I learned about frozen Broccoli. Guess that will have to wait: we have several packages left of the ones we have – which I’ll thaw and rinse off before heating!
What really irks me is how difficult it is to compare like products – with the different measurements, weights, odd serving sizes (2 1/2? really?) how would some harried, busy, getting poorer by the day, unsuspecting consumer realize that this simple convenience food costs so much in comparison to fresh? Heck, I compare things all the time, and I was shocked! Fresh fruits and vegetables can look so expensive by the pound or ounce in the produce aisle that when we see something frozen, we often think it’s a better deal…especially if it’s on sale.
Here’s the nutritional data on the Green Giant Brussels Sprouts: 10 ounce package, 2 1/2 servings, each serving 1/2 cup. There were 15 Brussels Sprouts in the package, so two servings get 6, and the 1/2 serving gets 3.
- Green Giant Brussels Sprouts: Calories per serving: 60; Cal fr fat: 10; Tot Fat: 1g; Sat Fat: .5g, Trans Fat: 0 (which means up to .49 g, and probably makes up the other half gram of fat that is not taken up by the Saturated Fat. If there is no trans fat, the manufacturer’s label will say Trans Fat: none. Zero or “0” trans fat indicates there IS trans fat, but under .49 grams per serving, so watch how those serving sizes are manipulated and watch how much you eat.) Chol: less than .5mg, Sodium 340 mg; Tot Carb: 9g, Dietary Fiber 3g, Sugars 3g, Protein 3g.
- Real Brussels Sprouts, 1/2 cup cooked, drained: Calories per serving: 28; Cal fr fat: 0; Tot Fat: 0; Trans Fat: none; Chol: 0, sodium 16mg; Tot Carb: 6g, Dietary Fiber 2 g; Sugars 1 g; Protein 2g.
Speaking of Nutrition, I found another annoyance after reading the package: “Green Giant frozen vegetables are as nutritious as fresh” and “Several research studies show that freezing vegetables “locks in” important vitamins and stops the nutrient loss that can occur in fresh vegetables over time. Green Giant vegetables are frozen fast to lock in nutrients, so they’re as nutritious as fresh!”
I first started hearing the “nutritious as fresh” statement a few years ago, and lately it’s morphed into “Better for you than fresh.” Now it seems to be “common knowledge,” and I hear it from people as well as read it all over on the net. I’ve rarely found any information as to what “study” is being referred to, or if I do, it mentions the name and some sort of summation. Most of the summaries are very poorly documented, just rehashed and retold, all with the conviction that “studies show.”
Right here is a page from Medline Plus, a service of the National Institute of Health and the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Summary: “Overall, vegetables fresh from the farm or just picked are healthier than frozen or canned ones. But frozen and canned vegetables can still be a good choice. They need to be canned or frozen right after being harvested, when they still have all of their healthy nutrients.” (That brings to mind the question of: Are they really canned or frozen right after harvest? Or does the process include picking, trucking, shipping and waiting?)
At any rate, we can’t all be eating fresh picked or fresh from the farm, but here’s what I’ve garnered from reading about these studies. I’ve done a diligent search and really haven’t found the studies themselves to look at – I did find a summation of one from the University of Illinois done by the University of Illinois. More on that below.
- They say that frozen vegetables are better because they are not exposed very long to light. I’ve seen these processing plants, both in person and on television. The vegetables are trucked or trained in and piled, all sitting in the sun before they start their processing. Fresh vegetables go through the same process, but are boxed, then trained or trucked to their destination. Not exposed to light, until it gets in the store, and even then, they are generally not under sunlight.
- They say that frozen vegetables are processed at the “peak” of freshness and that fresh vegetables are picked early to withstand the shipping process. Again, I can’t help but apply common sense to this – I don’t believe it. The vegetables picked for freezing would have to be picked a little early because, again, they wouldn’t withstand the process of transportation, storage, pressure cooking, etc., if they were perfectly ripe. Many vegetables are picked when they are just under ripe, and there is a very slight difference in their nutritional value.
- These studies say that vegetables deteriorate over shipping and storage due to time. While this seems to be true, there is no mention of the deterioration of vegetables during the processing for freezing, nor any mention of the deterioration of frozen vegetables over time in the freezer. Remember a freezer slows down the process of deterioration, it doesn’t eliminate it. The studies I’ve seen indicate they were studying vegetables kept frozen at 15 degrees below zero – far colder than a home freezer, and also there is not any information about vegetables that have been thawed and frozen over and over – I have many times opened up frozen vegetables to find them in clumps that have obviously been thawed before I picked them up in the store. I’ve accidentally had it happen by me, too.
- In one of the summaries I read that also addressed the best way to cook vegetables to keep their nutrients, they mentioned NOT to pressure cook as many of the nutrients were lost in the liquid. Virtually all frozen vegetables are pressure cooked, and all canned vegetables certainly are. They have to be precooked to stop the enzymes from producing. Those enzymes are still active while frozen unless the vegetables are partially cooked and most those enzymes destroyed.
- Frozen vegetables are also cooked twice – once by the manufacturer and once at home. The cooking/thawing process at home generally causes a lot of the moisture, up to 1/3 to leach from the vegetable. This water, normally discarded, contains nutrients that aren’t being eaten, but thrown down the drain.
- No where in any of these studies could I find what fresh vegetables were tested, how old they were, what state they were in, what they had been exposed to and where they came from.
- Never have I seen what studies are being referred to by the producers of frozen food, but one study I found that they may have been referring to was done by the Institute of Food Research, funded by the “BBSRC, biosciences for the future.”
- There was a study by the University of Illinois, but here’s how they got their data: “In our 1995 comparative nutritional analysis of canned, frozen and fresh fruits and vegetables, we confirmed canned fruits and vegetables are, in general, nutritionally equivalent to their fresh and frozen counterparts. The information presented came from the existing USDA nutrient data bank and other sources, as accessed by a popular software program used by nutritionists. In addition, we gathered data from labels provided by manufacturers. The values presented in that study still are valid.” They go on to say that they have restudied and “expanded to include 12 fruits, 14 vegetables, seven legumes and three protein foods (chicken, tuna and salmon). Fresh, fresh-cooked and canned products are in the tables where possible.” Note the figures come from DATABASES and manufacturers labels, not from actually studying the applicable foods and chemically analyzing the available nutrients.
So who do you believe on the Fresh vs. Frozen? I’m straddling the fence here, even though I’m irked by the whole quote on the Green Giant label. I generally buy fresh, and I avoid the items that show signs of age or deterioration and pick another type of vegetable – in season, if possible. If I absolutely feel I have to have something frozen or canned, I try to buy it in as pure of a state as possible. We eat a lot of raw vegetables – I even blend, and when I cook vegetables, I’ll generally try to cook them as gently and as little as possible in as little liquid as I can. I may get fancy now and then for special dinners or Holidays, or just to shake things up, but I feel simpler is better.
Final Frugal Judgment: Down with the Giant: I’ll be buying my little babies fresh from now on!