Naturli’ vegan block – sustainability, review

Naturli’s Organic Vegan Block is a plant-based butter that tops my list of sustainable butters to buy in Ireland – and across Europe for that matter. I’ve been on vacation in Ireland for most of May and became frustrated with the lack of options. I sometimes buy dairy butter – Ireland is famous for it, of course – but there are some ethical issues with dairy that are virtually unavoidable. Most of the vegan butters sold in Ireland (such as Flora) aren’t very close to dairy butter in terms of flavor and texture and also have the downside of being made with palm oil.

Flora is not the worst option as the palm oil is certified as Segregated – a step above the lower RSPO certifications options (Palm Trace and Mixed) that you’ll probably see on the packaging of spreads sold in Lidl and Aldi stores. However, as I pointed out in a GSP post on palm oil certifications, scientists found no significant difference between RSPO-certified and non-certified palm oil plantations for any of the sustainability metrics investigated. So, complete avoidance of commodity palm oil (Malaysian/Indonesian) is the best approach in most cases. Hence my excitement at discovering Naturli’s Organic Vegan Block, thanks to comments from Tash and Frances on my GSP post 🙂

Naturli also has plans to launch product sales in the US, including vegan butter and milk as well as plant-based mince, sausages, and falafel. Unlike the other items in this blog, this particular product is not available in the Grocery Outlet yet. I’m investigating whether Naturli’ is an ethical option more for folk in Europe.

Naturli’ vegan block – taste test

Naturli’s Organic Vegan Block is one of the best plant-based butters I’ve ever had (and I’ve had plenty of them!). It’s probably as good as Miyoko’s vegan butter, which is my go-to plant-based butter in the US, although more neutral in flavor. I subjected my family to a blind test of four different butters, spread on toast. The candidates (and their main ingredients) were as follows:

  1. Naturli’ Vegan Block: shea butter oil (43%), water, coconut oil (21%), and rapeseed oil (11%), all organic.
  2. Dairygold Plant-Based spread: rapeseed oil, water, shea butter, and coconut oil.
  3. Flora Light: water, rapeseed oil, palm oil, sunflower oil (4%) and linseed oil.
  4. Olive Spread (from Aldi): water, palm oil, olive oil (21%), rapeseed oil.

A couple of things to note: Flora and Aldi’s Olive spread advertise themselves based on sunflower and olive oil content, respectively, yet both contain higher amounts of palm oil than their touted ingredients. Also note that Naturli’ and Dairygold contain similar main ingredients, just in different proportions (and they are organic in the case of Naturli’).

We scored the four spreads (blind) out of 10 and then I added up the scores. Here are the results:

1st: Naturli’ Vegan Block. Everyone’s favorite (or joint-favorite). Average score: 7.5/10.

2nd: Dairygold Plant Based spread. A very close second place, with an average score of 7/10.

3rd. Flora Lighter. Thinner and less buttery with a margarine-like taste. Average score: 5/10

4th. Olive Spread. Everyone’s least favorite, with an average score of 4/10.

In terms of texture, I found the Naturli’ and Dairygold spreads to be very appealing. They spread easily straight from the fridge and on warm toast they melted at about the same rate as dairy butter. I think both of them taste as good as an average dairy butter and, particularly with Naturli’, I think most people wouldn’t notice the difference. Most of the other spreads in Ireland, made with palm oil, taste like margarine – you would not mistake them for dairy butter.

Naturli’ vegan block – sustainability, review. The photo shows a block of Naturli' organic plant-based butter on the left and a tub of plant-based Dairygold on the right. In the middle is a slice of toast with the two butters spread on each half, melting into the toast about equally.

Naturli’ vegan block – Ingredients and Nutrition Facts

Naturli’ vegan block ingredients: Shea butter oil* (43%), water, coconut oil* (21%), rapeseed oil* (11%), salt, almond* (1%), emulsifier (sunflower lecithin*), carrot juice*, lemon juice*, natural sunflower oil flavour.    *Organic.

Can be frozen for up to 3 months

Nutritional content panel is shown for Naturli’s organic vegan block. The butter is certified vegan and contains 75 g of fat per 100 g, of which 39 g is saturated fat, 28 g is monounsaturated, and 7 g is polyunsaturated. Naturli’ vegan block – sustainability, review.

Naturli’ vegan block – sustainability

It’s perhaps not surprising that Naturli’ and Dairygold emerged as the winners in terms of taste and texture, as their ingredients are fairly similar. I’d never tasted shea butter before (although I’m a fan of it in soap and moisturizer) but it seems to work really well, combined with coconut oil and rapeseed oil, in plant-based butter. (Rapeseed oil is more commonly known as canola oil in North America – it’s quite commonly grown in Western Europe and easily identified by the bright yellow flowers.)

Naturli’ versus Dairygold plant-butter

I would tend to pick Naturli’ over Dairygold for the main reasons that ingredients are organic and packaging is compostable (a simple paper wrapper). There is another “spreadable” version of Naturli’ that’s packaged in a plastic tub but the block version is already easily spreadable so I would stick with that. Naturli’ provides some information on the carbon footprint of the spreadable product – 2.3 kg of CO2 emissions per kg of Naturli spread, compared to 8.4 kg of CO2 for a dairy-based spread – almost 4 times lower. The breakdown of Naturli’s carbon footprint reveals that the coconut oil comes from the Philippines and shea butter is sourced from Ghana.

Shea butter versus palm oil

Faced with the choice of shea butter versus palm oil as an ingredient, I would choose shea in most cases. There are a few situations where palm oil is acceptable – for example, mission-driven companies like Nutiva and Dr. Bronner’s source organic palm oil from family farms in Ecuador, in conjunction with Palm Done Right. However, the majority of palm oil that’s purchased by large corporations benefits nobody and shea butter is a better choice. Shea trees are an important, but increasingly threatened species in the African savanna and a key source of income for many women in countries such as Ghana.

Shea trees can live for about three centuries, bearing fruit for up to 200 years. The shea tree provides numerous benefits to local communities. – Earth Journalism Network.

Harvesting and processing shea nuts is not an easy way to make a living, so it’s good to support mission-driven companies such as Alaffia soap that purchase fair trade shea butter from women’s cooperatives. I’m hoping that Naturli and Dairygold (Kerry Group) will develop simialr relationships with suppliers, supporting community development and empowerment of women in Africa.

Naturli’ ownership

Naturli’ is a Danish company that has been making plant-based products since 1988, but is now owned by Norwegian conglomerate, Orkla. This complicates things a little as Orkla has a more mixed reputation – for example it ranks low on Ethical Consumer for palm oil sourcing. However, Orkla did make some moves in the right direction, starting around 2008, including the elimination of palm oil from the majority of products.

The major selling points of Naturli’, from an ethical perspective, is that it contains no palm oil, is vegan, and is made from organic ingredients. So I think that buying Naturli’ supports moves in the right direction for parent company Orkla – towards sustainable, plant-based products and avoidance of palm oil. See my GSP post for more discussion on whether to support plant-based brands owned by less ethical parent corporations.

Ethical rating for Naturli’ vegan block

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Naturli vegan block, which I’m rating 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars

  • This butter is vegan, like all Naturli’ products, avoiding the ethical issues of dairy farming.
  • Naturli’ is one of the few vegan spreads in Ireland that’s free of palm-oil, and associated ethical issues.
  • Organic ingredients, supporting sustainable agriculture and soil health.
  • Shea butter sourced from Ghana can (hopefully) support communities and native shea tree populations.
  • Plastic-free – packaging is a simple paper wrapper.
  • Naturli could do a bit better with communicating on environmental impact and ingredient sourcing.
Naturli’ vegan block over a graphic showing a score of 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. Naturli’ vegan block – sustainability, review

Summary scores (out of 5) for Naturli’ vegan block:

  • 5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Lightlife tempeh strips – sustainability, review

Originally formed all the way back in 1977 and known as Tempeh Works, Lightlife Foods is known for its tempeh and perhaps more so for its bestselling plant-based Smart Dogs. I picked up some Lightlife Tempeh (smoky bacon strips) at the Grocery Outlet for $3 (normally around $5) and was surprised at how good it was. I’ve had mixed experiences with tempeh but Lightlife’s Smoky Tempeh Strips definitely ranks among the best that I’ve had. They are really easy to cook (just pan fry on medium heat in a few drops of olive oil for a few minutes) and make for a really good bacon substitute.

Like bacon, you can cook it to your desired level of crispiness, and it works well in sandwiches with lettuce, tomato, avocado, etc. Also like bacon, it’s pretty high in salt, but I find that just two strips is sufficient for lunch or breakfast rather than the recommended serving size of four strips – so that’s a more reasonable 15% of my recommended sodium intake.

In most other ways, it’s far superior to bacon and other meats in terms of nutrition and sustainability (more below).  I’ve picked up Lightlife products several times over the years and sometimes put them down again (depending on the ingredients) but this time I noticed that the tempeh is organic so I took a chance on it. The company has a long history, with multiple owners, which probably explains why Lightlife products (ingredients) have fluctuated over the years. In fact, Lightlife reformulated recipes and ingredients for many of its products in 2021 and it looks like all products are now vegan. 

Lightlife ownership

The history of Lightlife Foods is like a microcosm for the history of the plant-based foods movement in general. Since the late 1970s until 2000, Lightlife grew operations in Massachusetts, experimenting with a range of plant-based products over the years. Then Lightlife was acquired by giant food conglomerate, Conagra – I recently profiled Conagra Brands and how its takeover impacted the integrity of Earth Balance. As mentioned on Wikipedia, acquisition of plant-based brands by giant corporations was happening a lot at the time:

The sale was made due to the changing landscape of the natural foods industry; competitors were purchased my Kellogg’s and Kraft Foods, and a small independently owned company would not be able to compete with such huge food conglomerates.

Well, it’s a shame, but perhaps it was true as Lightlife’s president has commented: “We were just two hippies in 1970s. We did not plan on building this size of a company.” American investment firm, Brynwood Partners, acquired the company in 2013 and then it was sold to Maple Leaf Foods in 2017. Maple Leaf Foods sounds idyllic but is actually one of Canada’s biggest meat companies.

Perhaps to establish some distance between the meat and vegan branches, Maple Leaf Foods established an independent subsidiary, Greenleaf Foods that encompasses its two plant-based brands: Lightlife and Field Roast.

Lightlife tempeh strips – Ingredients & Nutrition Facts

Ingredients: Water, Cultured Organic Soybeans (Organic Soybeans, Lactic Acid From Plant Sources), Organic Tamari Soy Sauce (Water, Organic Soybeans, Salt, Organic Alcohol), Organic Cider Vinegar, Organic Cande Surgar, Natural Smoke Flavor, Sea Salt, Less Than 2% Of Organic Onion Powder, Brown Rice, Beet Powder (Color), Organic Spices, Xanthan Gum.

Nutrition Facts for Lightlife Tempeh, smoky bacon. Four strips provides 6% of recommended daily fat intake, 30% sodium, 18% dietary fiber, 24% protein (12 grams), and 10% iron, based on daily value recommendations. Lightlife tempeh strips – sustainability, review.

It’s nice to see that the tempeh is organic. In a Green Stars Project post on sustainability of tofu and other soy products, I mentioned that it’s a good idea to seek out organic products (to avoid neonics for one thing).

There are a lot of health benefits to eating tempeh – even WebMD gives it a good write up and they almost never commit to anything! Because it’s fermented by a fungus, it can be a good source of B vitamins, including some B12. It also contains a lot of fiber that’s probably good for gut health, as well as antioxidants, calcium, iron, and protein of course.

Lightlife Versus Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods

Back in summer 2021, Lightlife issued an open letter to Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods saying, “enough with the hyper-processed ingredients, GMO’s, unnecessary additives and fillers, and fake blood.”

Impossible Food’s response was equally heated and drew attention to the fact that Lightlife is owned by a meat company and referenced cheap tactics used by the meat industry to undermine the plant-based food movement.  

Beyond Meat’s response basically pointed out that Lightlife’s accusations simply don’t apply to their products:

If they were clear on our ingredients, they would see that our products are made with simple, plant-based ingredients. With no GMOs. No synthetically produced ingredients. Our products are designed to deliver the same taste and texture as animal-based meat but are better for you and the planet. – Forbes

I guess the letter was timed to coincide with Lightlife’s reformulation of its products and even though it was claimed to be a conversation starter (!) it clearly looks like a PR stunt. If anything it just highlighted the differences between Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. (I’ve previously rated Beyond Meat at 4.5 Green Stars while Impossible gets 3 Green Stars).

Lightlife carbon neutrality

Lightlife’s packaging announces that it (or rather, parent company Greenleaf Foods, which owns Lightlife and Field Roast) is a carbon-neutral company. Carbon emissions are offset via two wind energy products (certified by Green-e) and a forest conservation funding (certified by the American Carbon Registry). The company also has targets for reduction of carbon emissions:

We’ve reduced our greenhouse gas emissions and are neutralizing our remaining unavoidable emissions. By 2025, we aim to reduce our environmental footprint by 50% and our absolute carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.

In fact, Greenleaf’s parent company, Maple Leaf Foods, also states that it is carbon neutral and provides the benchmark date that Lightlife forgot to mention (2015).

Unfortunately, on the Maple Leaf consumer site, links to the carbon strategy and sustainability are all broken. I eventually found information and a sustainability report on the Maple Leaf Foods corporate site. Sheesh! Anyway, communication issues aside, it looks like Maple Leaf (and Lightlife) are on a legit journey to improve on impact.

Ethical rating for Lightlife tempeh strips

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Lightlife tempeh strips, which I’m rating 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars

  • All Lightlife products are vegan. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • Lightlife’s main ingredient, the soy bean, is a legume that reduces the need for nitrogen fertilizer by fixing nitrogen from the air and also enriches the soil in which it is grown.
  • All of the major ingredients in the tempeh are organic – choosing organic (or at least non-GMO) is important for soy products if you care about bees and other pollinators.
  • All Lightlife products are non-GMO certified since 2017.
  • Lightlife’s parent company, Greenleaf Foods, is a carbon neutral company (as is Lightlife’s grandparent, Maple Leaf Foods).
  • Room for improvement: Lightlife could do a better job at communicating on some social and environmental issues. Most importantly, where are the soybeans sourced from?
A package of Lightlife Tempeh (smoky bacon) is shown over a graphic of 4.5 out of 5 green stars, representing a score for social and environmental impact. Lightlife Tempeh strips – sustainability, review

I have no love for meat companies – even the social impact of the meat industry is horrendous. So my skepticism runs high while researching Lightlife and its parent corp., Maple Leaf Foods. However, I’ve been increasingly thinking that it’s good to support vegan brands even when owned by less ethical corporations, if we want things to change. And it genuinely looks like Lightlife is a brand that’s worthy of support.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Lightlife tempeh strips:

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

JUST vegan egg bites – sustainability, review

JUST, the San Francisco plant-based food company mostly known for its vegan egg products has brought out a series of sous vide vegan egg bites. I’ve bought three of the four available varieties at the Grocery Outlet (around $3 for a box of four egg bites, compared to a normal price of around $8). Here are the four varieties available (I’ve tried the first three), each one inspired by a different country:

Japan: portobello mushrooms, yams, togarashi, soy, and tamari.

Mexico: roasted poblanos, chipotle chile powder, black beans, corn, and lime.

America: roasted potato, dill, chives, red bell pepper, and black pepper.

India: curry, broccoli, cauliflower, coconut milk, and lemongrass.

The first thing to note is that you can cook these in the oven for 40 minutes or microwave for about 2 min. I don’t have a microwave but tried them out in a friend’s one and preferred this method for cooking. Besides taking a lot less time and energy to cook, the microwaved egg bites had a texture fairly similar to that of egg bites made from hen’s eggs (which seem to be all the rage in café chains, these days). The oven-cooked egg bites were a little drier and could become rubbery if cooked for a bit too long.

My favorite of the three I tried was probably the America variety, probably because I love potatoes and find the combination comforting. My microwave-owning friend liked the Japan variety best, and we both agreed that Mexico was quite good too. So, I guess you can’t go too wrong 🙂

JUST vegan egg bites – Ingredients

Inspired by America (roasted potato, red bell pepper, dill):

Water, Vegan Creme (water, soybean oil, natural flavors, xanthan gum, sunflower lecithin), Potatoes, Bell Pepper and Onion, Mung Bean Protein Isolate, Rice Flour, Canola Oil, Green Onion, Corn Starch, Contains less than 2% of Spices, Salt, Yeast Flakes (dried yeast, niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamin hydrochloride, riboflavin, folic acid, cyanocobalamin), Tapioca Syrup Solids, Soy Lecithin, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Gellan Gum, Sugar, Chives, Potassium Citrate, Dill, Citric Acid, Transglutaminase, Carrot Extractives (color), Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Turmeric Extractives (color), Nisin (preservative).

Inspired by Mexico (roasted poblano, black beans, chili powder):

Water, Vegetable Blend (poblano pepper, roasted corn, black bean, green pepper, red pepper), Vegan Creme (water, soybean oil, natural flavors, xanthan gum, sunflower lecithin), Mung Bean Protein Isolate, Rice Flour, Canola Oil, Corn Starch, Contains less than 2% of Cilantro, Salt, Cumin, Distilled Vinegar, Red Pepper, Chipotle Peppers, Tomatoes, Vinegar, Soybean Oil, Dried Onions, Dried Garlic, Spices, Yeast Flakes (dried yeast, niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, thiamin hydrochloride, riboflavin, folic acid, cyanocobalamin), Tapioca Syrup Solids, Soy Lecithin, Paprika, Sugar, Lime Zest, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Chipotle Chili Peppers, Gellan Gum, Potassium Citrate, Citric Acid, Transglutaminase, Ancho Chili Pepper Powder, Carrot Extractives (color), Turmeric Extractives (color), Nisin (preservative).

Here are some notes on nutrition, from the JUST website:

The canola oil we source for our retail products is a non-GMO, expeller-pressed oil. We don’t use any chemical solvents in the extraction process.

JUST Egg has 67 percent less saturated fat and a similar amount of protein as a chicken egg (about 6 g). It’s also free of cholesterol and full of good-for-you polyunsaturated fat. [That refers to the JUST egg liquid product but the egg-bites are in the same ballpark]

JUST sous vide egg bites – Nutrition Facts

Just Egg Bites, Inspired by Mexico - Nutrition Facts. A table of nutrition facts is shown next to an image of JUST sous vide egg bites, Inspired by Mexico variety. Two bites contains 11 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 3 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugars, and 9 g protein. JUST vegan egg bites – sustainability, review

JUST egg – sustainability

Here are some numbers that are oft quoted on the JUST website:

Water: It takes 53 gallons of water to produce a single chicken egg. It’s not because of thirsty chickens; it’s because of the water that goes into growing so much feed. By making JUST Egg directly from plants, we use 98 percent less water.

Land: More than three-quarters of the world’s farmable land goes to animal agriculture, yet it produces only 18 percent of our calories. By making JUST Egg directly from plants, we use 86 percent less land.

Summary: Our plant-based JUST Egg uses 98% less water, emits 93% fewer carbon dioxide equivalents and uses 86% less land than conventional animal sources.

This is communicated on a very fancy webpage showing these numbers but finding the data behind them is not so clear-cut. I eventually found links to the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) methodology and JUST’s 2020 Impact Report from the JUST FAQs page. I read through the LCA paper and found it to be opaque, particularly as it doesn’t appear to cover a straight comparison to egg – it’s more about egg-containing products such as mayo. I’ve written to JUST for clarification but have not received a response yet.

I can attest to the low footprint of mung beans, but it would be nice to have more clear information from JUST on calculation of the impact of their final products.

Ethical rating for JUST vegan egg bites

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of JUST vegan egg bites, which I’m rating 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars

  • All JUST products are vegan. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • JUST’s key ingredient, the mung bean, is a legume that reduces the need for nitrogen fertilizer by fixing nitrogen from the air, has very low water requirements, and enriches the soil in which it is grown.
  • Canola oil is non-GMO and expeller-pressed. None of the ingredients are organic but JUST does have a bunch of policies about ingredient sourcing – souring only from existing agricultural land, no converted forests or high conservation value habitats, and JUST encourages sustainable soil management practices.
  • JUST calculated the impact (greenhouse gases, water, and land) of its ingredients but the information does not appear to include the final product manufacturing footprint.
  • JUST’s 2020 report mentioned goals, such as the 2021 goal of the “Introduction of contract farming to build equitable sourcing from farm to product.” However, JUST isn’t communicating updates on these issues – the website is big on graphics but information is scant.
  • Overall, JUST is on a mission to bring sustainable alternatives to egg and meat – it just needs to do a better job at communicating on sustainability.
A box of JUST vegan egg bites is pictured over a graphic showing an ethical score of 4.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. JUST vegan egg bites – sustainability, review.

Summary scores (out of 5) for JUST vegan egg bites:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Grocery Outlet wine sale, Spring 2022

From April 6-12, the Grocery Outlet will be holding its biannual wine sale – all wine will be discounted a further 20%. In the last sale (Fall 2021) I bought some Gérard Bertrand wine (Les Aspres, 2016) and last spring I picked up two wines (Ruby Cabernet and Sangiovese) from Cardella winery, based in California’s San Joaquin Valley, near Mendota. While writing these posts, I also learned something about sustainability in the wine industry.

In the post on Gérard Bertrand I pondered whether it’s good to support a sustainable winery if it’s located on a different continent. It turns out that the carbon cost of transporting items by ship without refrigeration – like bananas, or wine – usually constitutes a small portion of a product’s overall carbon footprint. That led me to think about imported wines a little differently – yes, the carbon footprint of transport is an issue to consider, but it’s not the only one. Gérard Bertrand is one of the 24 wineries around the globe have been awarded the Green Emblem, awarded by Robert Parker to outstanding proponents of sustainability.

Then, in the post on Cardella Winery, I learned that vines for good estate vines often get less water (1 to 1.5 acre feet of water annually instead of 2.5 to 2.75). I also learned that irrigation is illegal in some of the world’s best wine regions, particularly in Europe. That includes the five B’s: Burgundy, Bordeaux, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello.

Chateau Lacaussade Saint-Martin - Trois Moulins, 2018. The wine label is shown, and a second label announcing Silver medal at the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards.  Grocery Outlet wine sale, Spring 2022

So, putting these together, my top pick for the Spring 2022 Grocery Outlet sale is Trois Moulins, 2018 – a Bordeaux red blend from Chateau Lacaussade Saint-Martin. This wine picked up a silver medal at the 2020 Decanter World Wine Awards and is rated 4.1 on Vivino. Chateau Lacaussade Saint-Martin is a certified sustainable winery that’s in the process of converting to organic viticulture. They no longer use herbicide or synthetic fertilizers. It’s $10 at the moment, so it’ll be only $8 during the Grocery Outlet wine sale this week!

Let me know if you have any topics related to sustainability in the wine industry that you’d like to discuss.

Until next time – stay safe!

Tony’s Chocolonely – sustainability, review

Tony’s Chocolonely has been on a mission to change the chocolate industry – specifically to eliminate slavery and child labor in West Africa. Right now, you can buy a lovely Rainbow tasting pack of Tony’s Chocolonely bars at the Grocery Outlet for just $5 (normally around $13). The variety pack is a good way to try out six of them together and find your favorite. 

Tony’s Chocolonely – Rainbow tasting pack

Tony’s Chocolonely rainbow tasting pack contains six bars (each bar is 1.8 oz.) with the following varieties:

  • Milk Chocolate
  • Milk Chocolate Hazelnut
  • Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt
  • Milk Chocolate Nougat
  • Dark Chocolate Almond Sea Salt
  • Dark Chocolate 70%

I really like this variety pack – each bar is a good size for two servings (or one, if you’re hungry) and all flavors are worth trying. It’s also pretty & would serve as a nice little gift for someone. The bars are wrapped in paper and housed in a cardboard box so the packaging is plastic-free, as are all Tony’s products. The two dark chocolate bars are vegan, while the milk chocolate bars are suitable for vegetarians.

I would probably choose the hazelnut or almond as my favorites, but all were good and it was fun to try new flavors (like nougat) that I wouldn’t have bought otherwise.

Tony’s Chocolonely – milk chocolate hazelnut

You can also buy large bars (6.35 oz.) of Tony’s Chocolonely on discount at the Grocery Outlet – I bought a bar of the milk chocolate hazelnut for $2, compared to a normal price of around $6. This is probably my favorite Tony’s Chocolonely bar based on taste alone – it has a really rich creamy texture that’s a bit like gianduja.

It’s a bit sweet, however, clocking in at almost 50% sugar content and I’d also like to eliminate dairy from my diet as much as possible. So overall this is not a common purchase for me – but it is delicious!

The dark chocolate bars are better choices from both health (less sugar) ethical (vegan) perspectives. So, the variety “rainbow” pack is a good way to figure out whether you can make the switch to dark chocolate, and you may feel a bit better without the extreme sugar rush : )

Tony’s Chocolonely, Milk Chocolate Hazelnut – Ingredients

Sugar, dry whole milk, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, hazelnuts, soy lecithin

Cacao and sugar are both Fairtrade certified – fully traceable for cacao and using a mass balance system for sugar. Hazelnuts are sourced from Spain and Italy.

Eliminating milk is one of the key actions that Tony’s could undertake to further improve the company’s impact. Tony’s does acknowledge this in its 2021 annual report, implying that using non-dairy milk may be on the cards. See my post on Endangered Species vegan milk chocolate for example of vegan milk chocolate that has a great texture and taste.

A bar of Tony’s Chocoloney, milk chocolate hazelnut, is pictured alongside the Nutrition Facts panel, ingredient lits, and fairtrade statement (fairtrade cocoa and sugar). Tony’s Chocoloney – ethical review

Slavery-free chocolate & Tony’s Chocolonely

Please check out the GSP post on slavery in the chocolate industry for a quick introduction to the topic and a quick summary of what separates good chocolate from bad chocolate, ethically-speaking.

A decision by the Slave Free Chocolate blog to remove Tony’s Chocolonely from its list of ethical chocolate companies has sparked a useful conversation on the topic. Here’s a comment on it from Tony’s 2021 annual report:

In late 2020 Tony’s was removed from the list of ethical chocolate companies published on’s blog. Not because cases of modern slavery suddenly appeared in our value chain – we’ve never found 1 in our own value chain. But because our liquid chocolate producer, Barry Callebaut, has been accused of slacking on sustainability and human rights abuses in their supply chain The fully traceable cocoa we use to produce chocolate is kept separate from Barry Callebaut’s other beans every step of the way. And working with Barry Callebaut is key to changing the industry from within.

Here’s a useful summary of the situation from Reuters:

Rather than condemning Tony’s Chocolonely, we should welcome its decision to try and make change from the inside out. The company deliberately chose to source cocoa directly from the Ivory Coast and Ghana to improve supply chains there and shine a light on where action against forced labour is needed. It could have gone for other less problematic sourcing routes, but made the decision not to ignore the risks in West Africa. As Tony’s Chocolonely says, “we go to where the problems are – so we can solve them”. It stands by its relationship with Barry Callebaut and says it is “triggering them to change.  – Reuters Events.

I mostly agree with this viewpoint. It’s almost certainly easier to secure an ethical supply of cacao somewhere like Ecuador or Panama, but it’s much more challenging in West Africa which supplies 70% of the world’s chocolate. Tony’s mission is to improve conditions in the Ivory Coast and Ghana by setting a precedent for others to follow.

Some critics believe we shouldn’t work with Barry Callebaut, one of the biggest cocoa processors in the world. But again, this decision is deliberate. Our mission is to make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate, not just our chocolate but all chocolate worldwide.

Here’s a video outlining the origins of Tony’s Chocolonely. Also, the Tony’s Fair, 2021 video is worth a watch.

Tony’s Chocolonely & cacao pricing

Paul Schoenmakers described the decision of Tony’s Chocolonely to take an additional step beyond sourcing Fairtrade to accelerate farmers’ progress out of poverty.

We decided then to start paying more and figure out how much more was enough to enable farmers to earn a living income.” He continued, “We worked on that model for a couple of years. With help from Fairtrade and the living income community of practice, I’m very proud that two years ago we were able to jointly publish what is now called a Living Income Reference Price for cocoa. – Fairtrade International.

Tony’s Chocoloney – ethical review. A pie chart shows the price breakdown for a bar of Tony’s Chocoloney chocolate. The fairtrade premium represents 1.6% of this total, Tony's additional premium is 1.4%, and the Chocoloney Foundation contribution is 0.7%.
Breakdown of the price of a chocolate bar from Tony’s Chocolonely

The price of fair cocoa only makes up a tiny fraction of a bar’s total price, so a bar wouldn’t have to be much more expensive to have fair cocoa in it.

Ethical rating for Tony’s Chocolonely

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Tony’s Chocolonely, which I’m rating 4 out of 5 Green Stars

  • Tony’s Chocolonely has raised awareness on slavery and child labor in the chocolate industry, particularly in West Africa, and is trying to change the system from within.
  • Tony’s is a certified B-Corporation, with a decent score of 101.
  • Cocoa and sugar are fair trade certified (using a mass balance system for sugar)
  • Tony’s is a carbon-neutral company – all CO2 is offset through JustDiggit.
  • Tony’s joined GoodShipping program and all shipping (by sea) is fueled by biofuel.
  • Wrappers are made from a mixture of recycled and FSC-certified paper. All packaging is plastic-free and Tony’s aims to go plastic free for entire supply chain soon.
  • Tony’s was voted as the #1 sustainable brand by Dutch folk
  • Room for improvement: Tony’s 2021 report doesn’t discuss pesticide use (pesticides used on cacao can be particularly nasty). Another key sustainability issue, maintaining forest ecosystems by growing cacao under the shade of others trees (e.g., agroforestry crops like avocado or mango) is only beginning to be addressed.
  • Milk is an ingredient in most of Tony’s bars, other than the dark chocolate varieties – it accounts for a large part of the bar’s carbon footprint and impact on animals, of course. This would be a good time for Tony’s to switch to plant-based milks – it’s totally doable, as demonstrated by Endangered Species vegan milk chocolate.

In my review of Alter Eco truffles, I figured that there’s room for improvement but Alter Eco deserved a lot of credit by introducing compostable wrapping for their truffles. The situation is similar here – some definite room for improvement but Tony’s deserves credit for helping to address slavery and child labor in West Africa.

Tony’s Chocoloney – ethical review. The image shows a large bar of Tony’s Chocoloney, milk chocolate hazelnut, and a variety pack of six bars. Underneath is a graphic showing a score of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact (4.5 green stars for the vegan dark chocolate varieties).

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Modern Kitchen cream cheese – sustainability, review

Modern Kitchen is a new brand of vegan cream cheeses, made using whey protein that’s produced in a fungus by food tech company, Perfect Day. Modern Kitchen is one of four brands owned by The Urgent Company, which was established by Perfect Day to create products that use this vegan whey. I previously reviewed one of these brands, Brave Robot ice cream, and thought that it had issues with aspects of both taste and sustainability. Let’s see how Modern Kitchen cream cheese compares…

Modern Kitchen cream cheese is available at the Grocery Outlet, but not massively cheap (compared to other products at the Grocery Outlet) – it was around $4.50 for an 8 oz. tub. Then again, it retails for $8 in my local bagel place.

I bought the Harissa Pepper variety and tried it out on toast, crackers, etc. The good news: it doesn’t have that strange taste & texture that I found in all flavors of the Brave Robot ice cream that I tried. So perhaps the whey protein formulation has been improved, or it wasn’t the reason for the issues with Brave Robot. The bad news: the flavor of Modern Kitchen’s Harissa Pepper cream cheese just isn’t very exciting or memorable, other than being a little bitter.

Modern Kitchen – Spring Onion and Chive

However, I decided to give Modern Kitchen a second chance and try one more flavor – Spring Onion and Chive. I know how hard Perfect Day has worked to make vegan whey protein and I feel that it has the potential to replace dairy, but that the food products made with it so far have been disappointing. So when I tried the Spring Onion and Chive variety and pretty much heaved a sigh of relief – it was very good!

The flavors of the Spring Onion and Chive cream cheese work much better than the Harissa Pepper for me, which was a little surprising as I like harissa. The spring onion and chive tasted fresh and well-balanced (not overpowering). Somehow the texture is also better for this flavor – it has that cool, creamy taste that you expect from cream cheese.

I have no vested interest in Perfect Day or Modern Kitchen, but I do have a vested interest in the planet, so I like to see plant-based companies doing well. Having experienced disappointment with Brave Robot ice cream and then the Modern Kitchen Harissa Pepper cream cheese, I was wary about trying any more Perfect Day products. The Spring Onion and Chive variety, however, is so close to dairy-based cream cheese that I really can’t tell the difference.

A friend who tried both flavors felt exactly the same way – the Harissa Pepper was bitter and disappointing and the Spring Onion and Chive is far superior.

Modern Kitchen’s Spring Onion and Chive spread is definitely the best vegan cream cheese that I’ve tried so far. So, if you’re a cream cheese fan who’s looking for a plant-based product, I think it’s worth a try.

Modern Kitchen cream cheese: ingredients & nutrition

Modern Kitchen, Harissa Pepper – ingredients

Animal-Free Cream (Water, Coconut Oil, Non-Animal Whey Protein), Non-GMO Modified Potato Starch, Contains 2% or Less of Red Bell Peppers, Garlic Powder Paprika, Spices, Cultures, Salt, Potato Protein, Rowanberry Fruit Extract (Antioxidant), Non-GMO Modified Corn Starch, Paprika Color, Lactic Acid, Natural Flavor.

Modern Kitchen, Spring Onion and Chive – ingredients

Animal-Free Cream (Water, Coconut Oil, Non-Animal Whey Protein), Non-GMO Modified Potato Starch, Non-GMO Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Potato Protein, Contains 2% or Less of: Chives, Onions, Cultures, Rowanberry Fruit Extract (Antioxidant), Lactic Acid, Natural Flavor.

The main ingredient in both is coconut oil, which as you can see from the nutrition facts label, below, contributes a lot of saturated fat – 35% of the recommended daily value. Both varieties contain 1 g protein per 28 g serving size – not a very significant amount. Overall nutritional content is similar to regular cream cheese, minus the cholesterol but a little higher in saturated fat and sodium.

Modern Kitchen cream cheese Nutrition Facts. the image shows containers and Nutrition Fact panels for two flavors - Harissa Pepper and Spring Onion + Chive. Both varieties contain 7 g saturated fat and 1 g protein per 28 g serving. Modern Kitchen cream cheese sustainability, review.

Ethical rating for Modern Kitchen cream cheese

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Modern Kitchen cream cheese, which I’m rating 4 out of 5 Green Stars

  • Modern Kitchen cream cheeses are all vegan. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • The whey protein is made in a fungus by Perfect Day, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 91-97% compared to protein from cows.
  • The company doesn’t provides much information on sourcing of other ingredients, other than the starches bring non-GMO, or the company’s social impact.
  • Perfect Day have assembled a sustainability council – perhaps their reach doesn’t extend to The Urgent Company (Modern Kitchen) but it seems that some advice would be welcome on further improvements in sustainability and communication.
  • The container does not appear to be made from post-consumer recycled plastic.
The image shows two tubs of Modern Kitchen cream cheese over a graphic showing a score of 3.5 / 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.  Harissa Pepper and Spring Onion + Chive are the two flavors shown. Modern Kitchen cream cheese – sustainability, review.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Modern Kitchen cream cheese:

  • 4 gold stars for quality/value for the Spring Onion + Chive flavor (2.5 for the Harissa Pepper)
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Good Planet cheese – sustainability, review

A few kinds of Good Planet cheese can be bought (at a discount) at the Grocery Outlet. I’ve tried the shredded mozzarella and hot pepper cheese slices and thought that both were pretty good. I’ll get to sustainability later on and decide on a “Green Stars” rating for social and environmental impact. I also have a helpful comment from Good Planet’s CEO on the search for sustainable packaging for vegan cheese. But first, I’ll review the vegan cheese products in terms of quality.

Detroit-style pizza with Good Planet cheese

I first came across Good Planet cheese through an Oakland pizzeria, Square Pie Guys, who use it in their vegan Detroit-style pizza. Detroit-style pizza is cooked in a square cake pan; originally, 75 years ago, it was baked in steel pans from the auto industry. It has a cheesy, focaccia-like crust – bready in the middle but deliciously crispy on the outside. The outer surface of the crust becomes crispy and cheesy thanks to the layer of Wisconsin’s “brick cheese” (a slightly soft cheddar) that is layered out to the edges of the dough.

Anyhoo, the Good Planet cheese worked really well in that situation, so I was sufficiently motivated to try it out myself.

Good Planet vegan mozzarella

I made a couple of simple pizzas at home and tried four different kinds of mozzarella on top: vegan mozzarella from Good Planet, Forager and Miyoko’s Creamery, alongside some dairy mozzarella. Honestly, I thought that all three vegan brands of mozzarella performed as well as the dairy version in terms of taste and texture.

The differences became a bit more obvious when you consider appearance. Miyoko’s and the dairy mozzarella were almost indistinguishable – they both melted well and browned a little bit. Forager mozzarella wasn’t too far behind and then came the Good Planet mozzarella – it was the palest and least melty of the four cheeses. But wait! It just looked like it wasn’t melted – it actually had the texture of melted cheese.

So, I thought that the Good Planet mozzarella was as good as the others in all senses except for visual. Maybe you can get it to brown a little by cranking up your oven up to 500 °F (mine was reportedly around 450 °F) but I was still pretty happy with my version, once I took a bite.

Comparison of two brands of vegan mozzarella on a homemade pizza – Good Planet and Forager. The photo shows that the Good Planet cheese hasn't melted as much as the Forager cheese. Good Planet cheese – sustainability, review.
Comparison of two brands of vegan mozzarella on a pizza – Good Planet (left) and Forager.

Good Planet hot pepper cheese

I’ve tried quite a few of the vegan cheese slices at this point, and I’d rank Good Planet’s hot pepper cheese slices fairly high. There’s not a massive difference between many brands of vegan cheese slices, and that’s not too surprising as most of them are made from similar ingredients – coconut oil and starch. There’s definitely an opportunity for vegan food companies to be a bit more inventive with flavors.

The hot pepper slices from Good Planet are a bit better than most, simply because they have some character – a little heat (not that much) and bell pepper flavor. The vegan cheese slices melt fairly well on toast or in a grilled cheese and worked well enough that they didn’t last too long in my fridge (unlike one or two other brands). There are more flavorful vegan cheeses, like Miyoko’s cheese wheels, but they are a bit more expensive.

Good Planet mozzarella – ingredients

Filtered water, potato starch, coconut oil, modified food starch (potato), sea salt, mozzarella flavor (vegan sources), citrus fiber, sorbic acid (preservative), beta-carotene (color), powdered cellulose added to prevent caking.

Good Planet hot pepper slices – ingredients

Filtered water, coconut oil, modified food starch (potato & tapioca), sea salt, calcium citrate, green & red chili peppers, bell pepper flavor (vegan sources), sorbic acid (preservative), paprika extract & beta carotene (color).

As you can see from the ingredients, above, and the Nutrition Facts panels, below, there’s not a huge difference between these two products. They are also similar to many other vegan cheeses – saturated fat from coconut oil and a few grams of carbs from the starch.

Good Planet cheese – sustainability, review

One thing I just found out, though – the shredded mozzarella contains cellulose as an anti-caking agent – I think that’s why it doesn’t melt so well. I’m not a big fan of shredded cheese, in any case – a block uses less packaging you don’t have to deal with anti-caking agents that actually make it perform worse.

Sustainable packaging for vegan cheese

I came across this interview with David Israel, Founder and Co-CEO of Good Planet Food‪s, and thought there were some useful comments on sustainable packaging. I’ll share the video and then share a quote about sustainable packaging, taken from 23 minutes into the video.

“Packaging is a challenge. There is packaging out there that’s either recyclable or biodegradable. But the problem is – we can use it – but the consumers won’t want it and the buyers at the stores won’t buy it. Because it degrades the shelf life of your product, and it’s super-expensive. So it creates two problems – it shortens the shelf life of your product by a lot, literally probably by 80%, and then it increases your cost. So it makes it very challenging – I can do it – but our buyers at the stores will not by it because it prices us out of the market. Our team is constantly looking for packaging that’s biodegradable or recyclable. – from David Israel, Founder and Co-CEO of Good PLANeT Food‪s, Interview with Real Leaders Magazine.

Since then, Good Planet released a new product line – soft cheese triangles – that are packaged in cardboard that’s 90% post-consumer recycled. The best approach for most goods packaged in plastic is just to buy them sparingly and set a waste limit goal. This is a good time to refer you to my Green Stars Project post on a tactic that can help you reduce your domestic waste.

Ethical rating for Good Planet cheese

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Good Planet cheese, which I’m rating 4 out of 5 Green Stars

  • All Good Planet products are vegan. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • Statement from Good Planet on its main ingredient, coconut: “The coconut oil we use is sourced from a supplier who is focused on improving farmer livelihoods and keeping them interested in growing coconuts, as well as rejuvenating the coconut industry in Indonesia and Malaysia.”
  • Besides that statement, Good Planet doesn’t provide much information on the impact of the company.
  • I did find a bit more information, however, in the video shown above – David talks a little bit about things like social impact and company ethos. For example, hiring transitioning felons and supporting local food banks.
  • Good Planet recently launched a new line of cheese wedges, packaged in cardboard that’s 90% post-consumer material (and recyclable).
  • However, the new cheese wedge line also introduces a new ingredient for Good Planet – palm oil. Good Planet was responsive to questions about this. Currently, I would rate their palm oil supply chain at mediocre (commodity market mix of RSPO-certified Mass Balance and Identity Preserved palm oil) but they have plans to seek out a more sustainable supply as they buy more palm oil in 2022. Hoping they’ll go the right way with that.
Two kinds of Good Planet cheese are shown and underneath is a graphic showing an ethical score of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. The varieties pictured are Good Planet mozzarella and hot pepper slices. Good Planet cheese – sustainability, review.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Good Planet cheese:

  • 3.5 gold stars for quality and value. I liked the hot pepper slices (4 stars) more than the mozzarella (3 stars).
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Luke’s Organic chips – sustainability, review

Luke’s Organic chips are almost always available (and discounted) at the Grocery Outlet – but not always the same varieties. Most varieties are good but I wanted to feature two of the more unusual flavors that I came across recently:

  • White Truffle & Sea Salt
  • Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle

The White Truffle & Sea Salt chips are not just any old white truffle and sea salt – they’re made with Urbani Italian white truffles and fleur de sel from Guérande, France. I’m pretty wary of truffle-flavored things as often it’s a synthetic truffle flavoring and can be awful, but in this case the truffle is genuine and the chips are really good.

I think they are often sold at Costco too, where they are pretty popular. I wouldn’t eat them in large quantities since they’re quite strong, but that’s a good thing, right? They also have quite a strong salt kick without adding a ton of sodium (see Nutrition Facts, below), thanks to the potent fleur de sel.

Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle is the kind of flavor that does well in the UK or Canada. A Canadian friend brought some ketchup chips into work once and they had a polarizing effect. I quite like Luke’s version and found them to be a good accompaniment to a Beyond Burger, taking the place of fries and burger condiments, all at once!

Luke’s Organic Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle chips are shown in a photo. A burger with these chips on the side are shown and behind it is a bag of the Luke’s Organic Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle chips. Luke’s Organic chips sustainability review

Luke’s organic potato chips – ingredients

Here are ingredients for the two flavors of Luke’s Organic chips that I’m reviewing here.

White Truffle & Sea Salt – ingredients

Luke’s Organic potatoes, Luke’s Organic sustainable oil blend (sunflower, safflower, and/or red palm fruit oil) Urbani white truffle seasoning (organic tapioca maltodextrin, sea salt, organic white truffle).

Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle – ingredients

Luke’s Organic potatoes, Luke’s Organic sustainable oil blend (red palm fruit oil and avocado oil) Organic seasoning (organic raw cane sugar, organic tomato powder, sea salt, organic maltodextrin, organic onion powder, organic salad mustard [organic vinegar, organic mustard seed, salt, organic turmeric, organic paprika], organic garlic powder, organic white distilled vinegar, organic ground mustard, organic annatto extract, citric acid, organic spices, natural flavor)

The ingredients for the ketchup chips look much more complex at first but it’s really just a sprinkling of some organic spices. Nutritionally, the two chips are so similar that I just included Nutrition Facts for the truffle chips in the image below. The ketchup chips only differ by tiny amounts of sugars, iron and potassium.

Nutrition Facts for  Luke’s Organic White Truffle chips are shown. Per 1 oz. (28 g) serving, the chips provide 9 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 16 g carbs, 0 g sugars, 2 g fiber, 2 g protein and 150 mg sodium (6% of RDA).  Luke’s Organic chips sustainability review
Every item in the Luke’s Organic line is USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO and gluten-free.

Ethical rating for Luke’s Organic chips

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Luke’s Organic chips, which I’m rating 4 out of 5 Green Stars

  • All of the products are made with organic ingredients (potatoes, vegetable oil, spices, etc.).
  • The potatoes are grown on Luke’s Organic owned farms in South Dakota and Oregon.
  • Most Luke’s products are vegan – they have some cheese puffs and Cheetos-like snacks too.
  • What concerned me though was that their oil blend contains palm oil. I wrote to them to ask about their source and got a full response: “We source palm fruit oil only from small, organic family farms in Ecuador. It is certified Organic, Non-GMO and Fair Trade. Our supplier works with farmers directly to ensure that no deforestation or habitat destruction results from the growing or harvesting process. There are no orangutans in South America. The region in Ecuador where our Organic Red Palm Oil is grown has numerous small family farms, averaging 10 hectares (about 25 acres), interspersed throughout the regional forests. These subsistence farms were planted many years ago and are now being worked by second and third generation farming families.” Because of the massive problems that irresponsibly farmed palm oil has caused, I avoid products with this ingredient unless I know for sure that it’s responsibly-sourced.
  • Most of Luke’s Organic products come in large bags – especially those at the Grocery Outlet. I used Luke’s Organic as an example (in a GSP post) on how buying products in larger packages saves on material. I had bought a huge 28 oz. bag of Luke’s Organic chips at the Grocery Outlet and calculated that it uses 8-times less packaging compared to buying 28 x 1 oz. bags.
  • Room for improvement: more transparency – they haven’t shared very much information on their company operations from a sustainability standpoint. I believe that Luke’s used to be part of Palm Done Right but are no longer listed on that site.
Two varieties of Luke's Organic chips are shown - White Truffle & Sea Salt and also Ketchup with Mustard & Pickle. under the photo of the two bags of chips is a graphic showing an ethical score of 4/5 Green Stars, representing social and environmental impact. Luke’s Organic chips sustainability review

Summary scores (out of 5) for Luke’s Organic chips

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 4 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Oatly ice cream – sustainability, review

I recently picked up some Oatly chocolate chip ice cream (frozen dessert, technically) at the Grocery Outlet for $1.99. I’m not a huge consumer of ice cream but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review Oatly – all in the name of science! I would have liked to have tried the strawberry flavor as I’ve heard good things about it (e.g., from vegan groups on Reddit) but chocolate chip seems to be the main variety available at the Grocery Outlet.

Bottom line: the ice cream itself is very good – it has nice texture, whether you eat it rock-solid or half-melted. The main downside for me was the chocolate chips – if they were thinner or had a lower melting point then they would meld better with the ice cream. They also didn’t taste like high-quality chocolate.

I honestly think you wouldn’t miss dairy ice cream much if you switched to a plant-based brand like Oatly. Comparing the plant-based brands that I’ve looked at on Ethical Bargains, I think Oatly ice cream is better than Brave Robot, for sure, and it’s almost on par with Ripple chocolate ice cream and So Delicious ice cream or mousse.

All of them are decent choices, although I wouldn’t buy Brave Robot again – it was my least favorite in terms of taste and also got the lowest ethical score of those that I tried (3/5 Green Stars – not terrible by any means). I would probably choose the So Delicious chocolate chip mousse over Oatly – I think it’s healthier and tastier.

Oatly chocolate chip ice cream – ingredients

Oatmilk (water, oats), chocolate chips (sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter), coconut oil, sugar, dextrose, dried glucose syrup, low erucic acid rapeseed oil. Contains 2% or less of: natural flavor, mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, locust bean gum, guar gum, sea salt.

It’s composed mostly of oatmilk, sugar, coconut oil and some rapeseed oil (also known as canola oil). In terms of sugar content, it’s comparable to regular dairy ice cream brands like Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs. It’s has lower fat content compared to regular dairy ice cream and, importantly, has no trans fat. So, basically it’s a slightly healthier version of ice cream, but it’s still 22% sugar!

Nutrition Facts for Oatly chocolate chip ice cream are shown. one 105 g serving provides 16 g fat (10 g saturated fat), 2 g fiber, 23 g sugars, and 1 g protein. Oatly ice cream sustainability review

Oatly products are glyphosate-free

Oatly guarantees that the oats used are glyphosate-free, which is important. Glyphosate is a special concern for oats because it can be used as a desiccant to dry out the grain before harvesting. So, even though there are no genetically modified oat crops grown, there’s actually a risk of really high glyphosate in oat products because of its special use as a desiccant.

Ethical rating for Oatly ice cream

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Oatly ice cream which I’m rating 3.5 out of 5 Green Stars

  • All Oatly products are vegan. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • Oatly’s frozen dessert cartons are now 97% bio-based. They feature a new type of paperboard with a bio-based plastic coating made from sugarcane. This paperboard is also made from 100% recycled material that’s certified by SFI (the Sustainable Forestry Initiative).
  • Oatly accepted funding from Blackstone group – a controversial decision as Blackstone has funded other projects with negative social or environmental impacts. You can read perspectives on this from Ethical Unicorn and also from Oatly and decide for yourself. My perspective is summed up in the post on whether you should support ethical brands owned by less ethical corporations. If Blackstone invests in more ethical projects, that’s a good thing.
  • Oatly posted the climate footprint of 119 products and launched new campaigns to advocate for putting climate declarations on food products to show people the impact of what they eat.
  • Oatly reduced water use per liter of oat milk by 19% from 2018, but the carbon footprint per liter increased by 20% (due to new production and logistics challenges). This was due to the higher carbon footprint of oats grown by new suppliers in Finland and Canada. At least they are transparent! The overall carbon footprint is still a lot lower than dairy.
  • However, Oatly are not particularly transparent about the other ingredients in the ice cream – chocolate, sugar and coconut oil. This was surprising to me, considering the length of Oatly’s sustainability report.
Oatly chocolate chip ice cream - ethical rating. the image shows a tub of Oatly chocolate chip frozen dessert over a graphic of 3.5 / 5 Green Stars, represneting a score for social and environmental impact. Oatly ice cream sustainability review

Summary scores (out of 5) for Oatly chocolate chip ice cream (frozen dessert):

  • 3.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 3.5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )  

Miyoko’s cheese wheels – review and sustainability

I bought one of Miyoko’s cheese wheels at the Grocery Outlet for $5.99, recently – the Smoked English Farmhouse. Funnily enough, I had just bought a different variety – Black Ash – at a much fancier store in Marin a week earlier for $12.99.  You can also buy them directly from Miyoko’s Creamery, where prices range from $10-12. There’s eight varieties now – I’m going to look out for the Herbes de Provence, which looks tasty (why don’t vegan cheesemakers use more herbs??). I also want to try one of the Double Cream varieties to compare the texture to the two that I’ve tried so far which are both aged and firm.

[Insert joke about being aged and firm]

Miyoko’s cheese wheels – review and sustainability . A montage of the eight varieties of Miyoko's vegan cheese wheels is shown. Varieties include Garlic Herb, Winter Truffle, Sundried Tomato Garlic, Sharp English Farmhouse, Classic Chive, Smoked English Farmhouse, Herbes de Provence, and Black Ash

Miyoko’s cheese wheels – ingredients

Here are the ingredients for the two cheese wheels from Miyoko’s Creamery that I tried so far:

Miyoko’s Smoked English Farmhouse – ingredients:

Organic Cashew Milk (Organic Cashews, Filtered Water), Organic Chickpea Miso (Organic Rice Koji (Organic Rice, Koji spores) Organic Whole Chickpeas, Sea Salt, Water), Nutritional Yeast, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors (derived from Oregano, Plum, Flaxseed), Cultures

Miyoko’s Black Ash cheese wheel – ingredients:

Organic Cashew Milk (Organic Cashews, Filtered Water), Organic Chickpea Miso (Organic Rice Koji (Organic Rice, Koji Spores), Organic Whole Chickpeas, Sea Salt, Water), Sea Salt, Natural Flavors (derived from Oregano, Plum, Flaxseed), Vegetable Ash, Nutritional Yeast, Cultures

Miyoko’s cheese wheels – review and sustainability. Nutrition Facts panels are shown for two varieties of Miyoko's cheese wheel - Smoked English Farmhouse and Black Ash. Per 28 gram serving they each provide 1 g fiber and 4 g protein, 1.5 g saturated fat, and 9 g total fat.

There’s not much difference in ingredients or nutritional content, even though the flavors are quite different. It’s nice to see that it’s more than 10% protein (4 g per serving) as most vegan cheeses contain zero protein.

Making a miso by fermenting chickpeas with koji (Aspergillus oryzae, the same fungus used to make miso and soy sauce) is an interesting approach to making cheese. The use of ingredients like plum and oregano suggests that a lot of work went into the development of these cheeses. So how did they taste?

Review of Miyoko’s cheese wheels

I already reviewed Miyoko’s Farmhouse cheddar, which I rated 4 regular stars for quality/value and 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. I think that the cheese wheels maintain the same ethical standards, so the Green Stars rating hasn’t changed – see the next section for details. The flavor of these cheese wheels is more interesting, as you’d expect from the higher price.

Not that Miyoko’s more basic cheeses aren’t good, but I do think that these cheese wheels (at least the types that I’ve tried so far) have raised the bar a little. And that’s really needed in the vegan cheese world. I know that there are some very small companies making high-end vegan cheese, but there aren’t many “craft cheeses” with a wide distribution.

I really like the texture of these cheeses (getting closer to dairy!) – they work well on crackers and in sandwiches or on top of toast. Both have a slightly sharp, citrusy flavor and then the smoked farmhouse has a bacon-like layer of smokiness on top. My friend who likes smoked cheeses more than I do really liked the Smoked English Farmhouse, while I preferred the Black Ash.

Ethical rating for Miyoko’s cheese wheels

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Miyoko’s cheese wheels which, like Miyoko’s butter, I’m rating 5/5 Green Stars

  • They are vegan products, helping to mitigate climate change, deforestation, animal suffering and violence in society.
  • Almost all of the ingredients are organic.
  • Processing of organic cashews in Vietnam is performed safely, and workers receive decent pay and benefits (see previous post on Miyoko’s butter).
  • Miyoko’s Creamery has been a leader in the field of responsible vegan dairy products.
  • During lockdown, Miyoko’s Food Truck distributed 15,000 free grilled cheese sandwiches around the US to promote cruelty-free vegan cheese.
  • All products are free of palm oil.
  • Miyoko runs a sanctuary for rescued farm animals.
  • Woman-owned (& minority-owned) company.
  • Certified B-Corporation.
Miyoko’s cheese wheels – review and sustainability. The image shows two varieties of Miyoko's cheese wheels - Smoked English Farmhouse and Black Ash. Below them is a graphic showing 5 Green Stars, representing a perfect ethical score for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Miyoko’s cheese wheels:

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 5 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, stay safe : )