Kiss My Face olive oil soap – sustainability

I bought two kinds of Kiss My Face soap at the Grocery Outlet – both made from olive oil. There’s not a big difference between the varieties of Kiss My Face olive oil soap as they are all made with 86% olive oil. The unscented variety contains only three ingredients – olive oil, water, and salt – while the other versions also contain plant extracts: lavender, aloe, or green tea.

Soap made from olive oil is one of the oldest forms of bar soap, going back millennia, and it’s one of those staple products that haven’t needed any improvement. Of course, that doesn’t stop companies battling over market share with new formulations so that we now have an assortment of soaps that are way too complex and full of ingredients that are dubious in terms of sustainability and/or safety.

Kiss My Face Olive Oil Soap – review

I’ve used Kiss My Face soap on and off for years and consider it a good choice from most perspectives. I usually opt for the unscented or the aloe version, but I think they are all fine. They function well for both hands and body and don’t dry out my skin. Olive oil soap, sometimes called Castile soap or Marseille soap, is well regarded for its mildness.

If I was being fussy and trying to find a downside, I would say that the large 8 oz. bars are a bit awkward to handle. I sometimes cut these large bars in half, lengthwise, so I end up with two bars that are about the same shape as regular soap bars. Or I just buy the smaller 4 oz. bars 😉

Kiss My Face Olive Oil Soap – ingredients

Unscented olive oil soap: Sodium Olivate (Saponified Olive Oil), Aqua, Sodium Chloride (Sea Salt)

Olive & Aloe soap: Sodium Olivate (Saponified Olive Oil), Aqua, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Sodium Chloride (Sea Salt), Parfum

A big factor for me in buying soap is that I’ll avoid soap made from palm oil, unless I’m certain that it’s sustainably sourced, which is rare. That was the main reason why the Tom’s of Maine soap that I reviewed recently only scored 2.5 Green Stars. Tom’s of Maine scored a medium (rather than terrible) rating because there are several positive aspects to the company – there are both worse and better soap choices.

Unilever’s Dove soap, made from palm oil, animal fat, and a bunch of other ingredients, is probably one of the worst soap choices, ethically.

There are several soaps on the other end of the spectrum that support communities and habitats, for example Alaffia (also known as Good Soap) which I wrote about on the Green Stars Project.

Bar soaps versus liquid soap

The first consideration when buying soap is whether to buy a liquid or solid soap. Liquid soap has a significantly higher footprint, requiring five times more energy for raw material production and nearly 20 times more energy for packaging production than bar soaps do. Liquid soaps also don’t last as long: on a per-wash basis consumers use more than six times the amount of liquid soap than bar soap.

Are olives a sustainable crop?

As Kiss My Face soap is made mainly from olive oil, it’s worth asking the question: how sustainable are olives? First off, I was surprised to see that the yield of olives can be really high!

A good consistent yield [of olives] would be about 4 tons per acre (9 metric tons per hectare) – University of California

The yield of oil per hectare is also pretty decent – typically higher than sunflower oil but not as high as coconut.

Besides yield, I also like that olives can be grown on land that wouldn’t be that useful for many other crops – like hillsides or dry, rocky ground. The trees provide stability that helps maintain soil health and get crops through droughts and water shortages. Of course, olives can also pose problems if farmed intensively. You would imagine that the olive oil used to make soap can also reduce waste, if it makes use of oil that wouldn’t sell for culinary use.

Kiss My Face – ownership

The company seemed to have a glitch in late 2018 and some (very loyal) customers had trouble finding their products. At that point, Kiss My Face was acquired by Aliph Brands and Aliph partnered with some new manufacturing partners. I’m not sure if there were financial difficulties or maybe the founders wanted to reduce their workload – they had been at it for over 35 years since establishing Kiss My Face in the 1980s. You can read about the founders in this blog post, or watch the short video, below:

The olive oil soap, mentioned in the video above, is still made in Greece, so perhaps not much has changed.

Ethical rating for Kiss My Face

Overall, I think that Kiss My Face deserves 4.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • This soap is vegan, as are all Kiss My Face products, except for a couple that include honey or beeswax.
  • Products were never tested on animals. Kiss My Face is PETA-endorsed as cruelty-free.
  • Kiss My Face use good ingredients for its whole product range – using olive or coconut oil for surfactants, combined with plant extracts and some organic ingredients.
  • The olive oil soap is packaged in paper that’s 80% recycled.
  • Kiss my Face are not as transparent about their operations as some companies like Dr. Bronner’s – it’s hard to find information on things like their energy use and whether ingredients are sustainably farmed or fairly traded.
  • Supporting LGBTQ and animal rights.
Kiss My Face olive oil soap – sustainability. Three varieties of Kiss My Face soap are shown - Pure Olive Oil, Olive and Aloe, and Olive and Green Tea. Underneath is a graphic showing an ethical rating of 4.5 (out of 5) Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Kiss My Face:

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

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating! Until next time, be excellent to each other.

Lärabar – social and environmental impact

I tried two kinds of Lärabar that I bought at the Grocery Outlet – I really liked one and the other is growing on me. First off, the ä in Lärabar is decorative – it’s not a Danish or Swedish company, but an American brand that’s now owned by one of the largest food corporations, General Mills. Lärabar founder, Lara Merriken, sold the company to General Mills in 2008 and remains an adviser (she wrote a letter at the time, addressing the sale). I’ll get to the social and environmental impact part later, but I’ll review the products first.

I don’t eat a lot of Lärabars as I’m not a big fan of dates and I’ve usually found that I’d just rather eat nuts or trail mix. The two bars that I tried for this post (all in the name of science!) are a bit more appealing for two different reasons. The first bar (Hemp Seed Brownie) is appealing mainly because it just tastes a lot better than other Lärabars that I’ve tried and in part because it contains hemp seeds. The second one (Apple Cobbler Protein bar) was attractive from a nutritional perspective more than taste – each bar contains 11 grams of protein (mainly from peas).

Lärabar – Hemp Seed Brownie

I love hemp for both health and sustainability reasons so I picked up a box of Lärabar hemp seed brownie bars a little while ago at the Grocery Outlet. The packaging and shape changed (see image below) and now they are marketed as a brownie rather than a bar. They’re especially good if they warm up a little bit in the sun (like in your bag while you’re hiking) because they become gooey and the chocolate flavor intensifies. It’s actually hard to find chocolate energy bars that really taste of chocolate, but these do : )

Lärabar – Apple Cobbler Protein bar

The newest products in the Lärabar range are high-protein bars that contain pea protein along with the usual mix of nuts and dates. I found them to be very compact and dense – even more than regular Lärabars – and it felt a bit like eating rations. Not that that’s always a bad thing – I actually like dense, high-energy food, especially for traveling or hiking. I also think that if we are going to buy packaged products then the product should be nutritious enough to justify the packaging.

Drinking water with these bars makes them more pleasant to eat – fluid intake is actually important for high-protein meals in general.

Lärabar – ingredients & nutrition

LÄRABAR Original Fruit & Nut bars are made by a simple process in which fruit, nuts, and spices are ground and mixed together. They are not baked or cooked. We use a handful of ingredients, as close to their natural state as possible. – Larabar

Here are some of the Lärabar certifications / features:

  • Gluten free
  • Kosher
  • Fair Trade Certified™ cocoa and coffee
  • Vegan
  • Non-GMO (not made with genetically engineered ingredients)

Hemp Seed Brownie – Ingredients

Dates, Cashews, Semisweet Chocolate Chips (Unsweetened Chocolate, Cane Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Vanilla Extract), Hemp Seeds, Cocoa Powder*, Sea Salt, Vanilla Extract

Although the packaging changed, the ingredients haven’t, and each bar/brownie provides 370 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid, ALA, thanks to the hemp.

Apple Cobbler Protein Bar – Ingredients

Dates, Almonds, Pea Protein, Apples, Cinnamon, Sea Salt

These bars are 21% protein – that’s 11 grams of protein per bar.

Lärabar – social and environmental impact. Ingredients and nutrition facts are shown for Larabar products, Hemp Seed Brownie and Apple Cobbler Protein Bar

Lärabar is owned by General Mills

Lärabar is now owned by General Mills and like some other companies owned by food giants (e.g., Kashi, owned by Kellogg’s) there are some discrepancies between the ethos of the smaller company and the parent. For example, Lärabar make a stance against GMO ingredients, while General Mills (and Kellogg’s too) funded campaigns to defeat labeling of GM food.

I’ve already reviewed a couple of products that are fairly ethical brands owned by a less-ethical giant parent corporation. For example, Sweet Earth pizzas (now owned by Nestlé) and Back to Nature cookies (now owned by B&G Foods). It’s good (if I’m thinking optimistically) that these multinational giants are attempting to include more ethical brands. The danger is that a smaller brand may become compromised if it switches over to using commodity supply chains of the parent company. So I try to take these factors into account when reviewing a brand that was once an independent company but is now owned by a larger corporation.

In 1999, General Mills launched a new division of its company called Small Planet Foods, dedicated to natural and organic products. You may have seen the brands in grocery stores: Muir Glen and Cascadian Farm. LÄRABAR will be part of Small Planet Foods, conducting business as usual and continuing to produce and innovate the healthiest foods possible. – General Mills

Ethical rating for Lärabar

Lärabar doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years – I actually wrote a review of Lärabar five years ago and rated the company 4 green stars for social and environmental impact. The fact that the company hasn’t changed is both good and bad – it appears to have maintained its standards but it would be nice if it had made some improvements on things like carbon footprint or agriculture.

Lärabar – social and environmental impact. An graphic of 3.5 Green Stars representing an ethical score is shown under an image of two Larabar products. The products are Larabar's Hemp Seed Brownie and a Protein Bar.

Overall, I think that Lärabar deserves 3.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Lärabar products are certified vegan (even those that contain chocolate).
  • Cocoa and chocolate chips are certified by Fair Trade USA.
  • Minimal processing of ingredients, which keeps the carbon footprint low, generally. A large part of the carbon footprint of processed food comes from the processing part, rather than the agriculture.
  • The box that that holds the bars is made of recycled cardboard and made with wind energy.
  • However, besides that outer box, Lärabar doesn’t report on carbon footprint or other metrics.
  • I’d be more supportive of Lärabar if they used organic ingredients and were more transparent on ingredient sourcing.
  • Lärabar was a woman-owned business, until sold to General Mills.
  • We would have to look to General Mills for reporting on sustainability – and General Mills has a fairly poor reputation for sustainability.
  • General Mills is, however, trying to improve this situation by starting a regenerative agriculture program, but it’s very small so far:

In the past year, we accelerated farmer adoption of regenerative agriculture practices on more than 70,000 acres in key regions where we source ingredients – getting us closer to our 1 million acres commitment by 2030 – General Mills 2021 Global Responsibility Report

Summary scores (out of 5) for Lärabar:

  • 4 gold stars for quality and value (hemp brownie) and 3 gold stars (protein bar)
  • 3.5 green stars for overall social and environmental impact

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

Spero vegan cream cheese – ethical review

Spero Foods sells a range of vegan cream cheese spreads that are made from organic sunflower seeds. Like everything else on this site, I discovered them at the Grocery Outlet – they cost $2.49, compared to the normal price of $5.99 at Whole Foods. I’m happy to say that they are now one of my favorite vegan cheese products, alongside Violife’s vegan feta.

About Spero Foods

Phäedra Randolph, a scientist who previously worked as a software developer, established Spero Foods in the Bay Area around 2017. Since then, the company has been attracting a lot of attention for a number of reasons. First, it’s a well thought out idea that has sustainability advantages over dairy and even compared to nut-based cheeses. Second, it’s a tasty and nutritious product and a significant step towards replacement of dairy with products that don’t compromise on flavor.

Spero Foods also have a vegan egg product called Scramblit but it looks like the company may be in the process of redeveloping and relaunching that product as The Egg.

Spero cream cheese review

Spero Foods currently make 8 flavors of cream cheese – three of which are sweet (strawberry, chocolate, and cinnamon). I bought three savory varieties at the Grocery Outlet – the original, the herb and the goat. I tried them in various scenarios – toast, crackers, and even tortilla chips, because they are light enough to scoop with a chip. I actually liked all of them about equally – even the original had a good flavor – and I think my favorite would depend on the situation. For example, the goat, which is a little tart, goes well with a spicy tortilla chip : )

There’s some similarity to one of my other favorite vegan cheeses (Violife’s feta) in that a lot of thought went into production and secret flavors. Besides the natural vegan flavors that go into Spero’s spreads, there are also probiotics – i.e., microbes such as lactic acid bacteria. This makes sense to me – cheese should contain microbes as they typically add a lot of the flavor and they are also good for gut health, of course. The Spero products are only available in the US for now but will eventually be going international, starting with Canada.

Spero cream cheese – ingredients and nutrition facts

There’s almost no difference between the flavors in terms of nutrition – the main ingredients in each case are organic sunflower seeds, water, coconut oil, salt, natural flavors, and probiotics. The only difference is the composition of the natural flavors and possibly the probiotics.

Spero vegan cream cheese – ingredients and nutrition facts are shown. The ingredients are organic sunflower seeds, water, coconut oil, salt, natural flavors, and probiotics.

Seeds are really amazing, nutritionally, because they contain everything required to start a new plant (besides sun, water, and soil!) and I always try to include them in my diet. Because sunflower seeds are the main ingredient, Spero cream cheeses are fairly rich in minerals and also high in vitamin E. Another aspect that I like is that the products are also fairly high in protein (around 10%, by weight) and lower in fat than most of the vegan cheeses that are primarily coconut oil.

How sustainable are sunflower seeds?

You can probably guess that sunflower seeds are a reasonably high yield crop – otherwise it wouldn’t make sense to use them as a source of cooking oil. Yield per acre of land is an important sustainability metric and others include agricultural inputs (water, fertilizer, pesticides), carbon footprint, and impact on soil health.

As you probably know, vegan cheese is generally a big improvement over dairy in terms of sustainability and ethics. Spero Foods goes beyond this by pointing out that cheese made from sunflower seeds is also an improvement over cheese made from almonds or cashews. Spero makes some bold claims when it comes to sustainability of sunflower seeds compared to the competition:

  • Sunflower seeds require 96% less water to grow than almonds.
  • Sunflower seeds require 97% less land to grow than cashews.
  • Sunflower seeds generate 99% less CO2, compared to dairy.

Spero doesn’t actually include a reference on its website for these claims (tsk tsk) and it would nice to see the assumptions – especially for the comparison to cashews for land use. It must factor in the fact that cashew trees need to grow for a few years before they achieve commercial yields but I’m not sure that it accounts for the higher yields of newer dwarf cashew varieties. The numbers for water consumption and CO2 emissions compared to almonds and dairy sound about right to me.

Spero vegan cream cheese – ethical review. A graphic shows the following three facts cited by Spero Foods on sustainability of sunflower seeds: Sunflower seeds require 96% less water to grow than almonds.
Sunflower seeds require 97% less land to grow than cashews.
Sunflower seeds generate 99% less CO2, compared to dairy.

If you want to read more about the benefits of sunflower as a crop, check out this 2017 paper. One benefit of sunflower as a crop that Spero didn’t mention is that those big beautiful flowers, when grown without insecticides, are a great support to pollinators.

Besides the carbon, water, and land footprints, one thing that I’m especially glad about is that Spero chose to source organic sunflower seeds. If you’re familiar with my posts then you’ve probably heard me expressing disappointment when companies chose to use conventional sunflowers (or soy) as most conventional crops in the US are treated with insecticides known as neonics (neonicotinoids). My recent post on the Green Stars Project site that takes an in-depth look into the risks associated with imidacloprid, one of the most common neonic insecticides used on crops like sunflower.

Ethical rating for Spero cream cheese

Overall, I think that Spero cream cheese deserves 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Spero Foods products are all vegan
  • The main ingredient, sunflower seeds, is organically grown  
  • The carbon, land, and water footprints are very low, compared to dairy – even compared to nut-based cheeses
  • Besides the low footprints, sunflower crops also support pollinators
  • The container is made from polypropylene, which may actually be slightly greener than PET.
  • I would prefer, however, that it was made from post-consumer recycled PET / polypropylene.
  • Woman-owned, mission-driven company

Summary scores (out of 5) for Spero cream cheese:

  • 4.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 5 green stars for social and environmental impact
Spero vegan cream cheese – ethical review. Three varities of Spero Foods cream cheese are shown with a graphic of 5 Green Stars underneath, representing a score of 5/5 for social and environmental impact.

Three other products that have achieved a score of 5 Green Stars so far on this site: Alter Eco truffles, Nature’s Path cereal, and Endangered Species chocolate. There is still room for improvement in all of these products but all three companies have done something big (or several things) to address social or environmental issues and improve life on this planet.

I think that Spero’s products also leave a little room for improvement but are certainly in the top 10% (in the cheese category) and therefore deserve this score. Processed food is a luxury and, considering our planet’s situation, all products should be developed with sustainability as the main criterion (and nutrition, second). I think Spero Foods have achieved this pretty well in the vegan dairy space.

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

Violife, Just Like Feta – ethical review

Violife has produced a vegan feta cheese, Just Like Feta, that’s probably the best vegan cheese product that I’ve had so far. It seems appropriate that Violife is based in Greece, where feta cheese originated. Typically, vegan cheeses like sliced cheddar and mozzarella are not really that appealing to eat on their own, but are alright when melted on toast or a burger. The Violife feta, however, is perfectly good to eat on its own, or (the way I’ve been eating it) in Greek salads. When combined with olives, tomatoes, etc., I really can’t tell that this feta is vegan.

The texture is about right for feta and, as it comes packed in a little brine, it tastes salty like regular feta. One of the ingredients is Glucono delta lactone, also known as gluconolactone, which is marketed for use in feta cheese because it adds a tangy taste. So, basically the cheese is salty, slightly tangy and approximates the texture of feta pretty well. If you’re not sure about vegan cheese, having perhaps tried some that feel like plastic and taste of nothing, I’d recommend giving it a try! It cost $1.99 at the Grocery Outlet, compared to a normal price of around $6.

In future posts, I’ll cover other cheese products such as spreads, cheddar, mozzarella, etc.

Plant-based cheese begins to take off

According to Forbes, in Jan 2020, plant-based cheese grew by 69% over the previous two years but still represents less than 1% of cheese sales. However, vegan cheese is getting better and it has been fun to try out the many brands that I’ve come across at the Grocery Outlet, from Miyoko’s Creamery to Violife, Daiya, So Delicious, and others.

Here’s how Miyoko Schinner (founder of the Miyoko’s Creamery, based in the SF Bay Area) describes it:

“Vegan cheese options were created for people who had become vegans or vegetarians who loved cheese and craved a replacement. While current offerings may have been reasonable substitutes that were ‘good enough’ for vegans, they do not taste and perform like cow dairy and have low if any appeal to omnivores,” she says.


Miyoko herself was one of the first people to market a cultured vegan butter that was head and shoulders above the kind of products that were available until then (like Earth Balance). Since then, Miyoko’s Creamery has produced pretty good cheese products that helped me kick the dairy cheese habit. Now I’ll include Violife’s feta too.

Violife, Just Like Feta – ingredients

Filtered Water, Coconut Oil, Potato Starch, Salt (Sea Salt), Glucono Delta Lactone, Flavor (vegan sources), Olive Extract, Vitamin B12.

As mentioned above, the glucono delta lactone adds a tangy taste and is made by microbial fermentation of glucose. According to Violife’s FAQs, “the vegan flavouring in Violife is derived via simple extraction or fermentation of plant based sources.” So they are not giving much away there. I like that Violife went to the trouble to add vitamin B12 to the product, helping vegetarians who may rely on dairy for B12 to switch to this plant-based version. Like most vegan cheese (and regular dairy cheese, for that matter) the product is predominantly fat. Here’s some nutritional information along with certifications and a few of the awards that Violife has picked up:

Violife, Just Like Feta – ethical review. A block of Violife's Just Like Feta is shown next to Nutrition Facts and certifications such as Vegan and non -GMO certified.

Ethical rating for Violife’s vegan feta

Overall, I think that Violife deserves 4.5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • It’s a certified vegan product as are all of Violife’s products.
  • The main ingredients (coconut, potato, olive) rank well for sustainability and there are no controversial ingredients like palm oil.
  • Being an EU product, the ingredients are a little more controlled than they would be in the US.
  • It’s a very good substitute for animal-based feta. As mentioned in my post on Fry’s BBQ pizza, this is important even as an ethical criterion because we aren’t so likely to move away from animal products unless vegan versions are actually tasty.
  • Packaging is about as minimal as it can be for this kind of product. See below for a note from Violife about switching to recyclable plastic for products such as its cheese slices.
  • Violife hasn’t done a very good job so far at communicating on sustainability. This is odd, for such a high-profile and award-winning vegan food company. However, I did get some responses from the company, which I’ll summarize after this video that introduces Violife.

Violife’s main ingredient: Coconut oil

Growing coconuts doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides. Furthermore as members of Sedex we procure ethically cultivated coconuts and our suppliers – also members of Sedex – forbid the use of monkeys and children for the collection of the coconuts. The coconut is harvested in Indonesia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea.

– Violife, personal communication

The first statement is not accurate: some coconut farms do use pesticides. Agricultural inputs such as pesticide, fertilizer and herbicide are usually quite low on coconut farms but it depends on the grower.

Violife Packaging

We are happy to say that Violife has already been conducting tests with recyclable materials in order to switch our packaging to eco-friendly materials and the time line for this is estimated for our tray packaging of slices to be March 2022 and for the grated bags, May 2022.

– Violife, personal communication

Violife company Sustainability

Regarding energy and water use, etc. please kindly note that we are currently working on the lifecycle assessment of Violife products in cooperation with an external agency. This project is very crucial for the company as in our notion is to hold scientific documentation for the evaluation of environmental impacts, such carbon emissions, use of water, land and energy, waste production and biodiversity.

– Violife, personal communication
Violife, Just Like Feta – ethical review. Violife Feta is shown and underneath is an ethical rating of 4/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Violife’s Just Like Feta:

  • 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 : )

Califia Plant Butter – ethical review

Califia have recently brought out two Plant Butter products and they are both on sale at the Grocery Outlet. They’re named Sea Salt with Avocado Oil and Sea Salt with Olive Oil, and are pretty similar in most respects. The ingredients are almost identical except that one contains pressed avocado oil and the other is made with pressed olive oil. Coconut oil is actually the main ingredient in both cases, so you may not notice a massive difference between them.

I’ve been buying less and less dairy since lockdown began and I owe it in part to the large variety of plant-based alternatives that are now on the market. I’ve already covered one of Califia’s plant-based milks, Califia Protein Oat Milk, and just finished evaluating a vegan feta cheese from Violife that I really liked. At some point, I’ll write a summary post of my favorite plant-based alternatives to dairy products.

Review of Califia Plant Butter products

I’ve used these products over the last two months and find them to work well in most situations – fresh bread, crackers, toast, etc. They are fairly dense, which I actually prefer, compared to some of the lighter (whipped) products that I’ve bought before. Being denser means that they take a tiny bit more work to spread, but with the upside that each tub lasts longer. The latter is more important to me as I’m trying to minimize plastic waste.

The Califia Plant Butters are quite cheap at the Grocery Outlet – prices range from around $0.99 to $1.99 per tub compared to a normal price of around $5. It’s a good opportunity for omnivores or vegetarians (like me) to try out new products that may help them kick the dairy habit.  

Califia versus Kite Hill butter

I already reviewed Kite Hill butter and think that the Califia butters are close to the Kite Hill product in terms of taste and spreadability, with Kite Hill having perhaps a slight edge. (Although, being more airy and spreadable, the Kite Hill product has the downside, mentioned above, of not lasting as long.) Both Kite Hill and Califia products include cultured (fermented) ingredients and I think that’s partly why both taste significantly better than older products like Earth Balance.

In terms of social and environmental impact I think that the Califia products are slightly better than the Kite Hill butter – see the ethical review later. Bear in mind, though, that both Kite Hill and Califia are much better than palm oil based products like Earth Balance.

Califia Plant Butter – ingredients

Plant Butter, Sea Salt with Avocado Oil

Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil, Water, Cashews, Tigernut Paste (Tigernuts, Sunflower Seed Oil), Fermented Oregano, Flaxseed and Plum Extract, Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Cultured Dextrose, Natural Flavor, Nutritional Yeast, Cultures, Beta Carotene (Color).

Plant Butter, Sea Salt with Olive Oil

Ingredients: Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Water, Cashews, Tigernut Paste (Tigernuts, Sunflower Seed Oil), Fermented Oregano, Flaxseed and Plum Extract, Sunflower Lecithin, Sea Salt, Cultured Dextrose, Natural Flavor, Nutritional Yeast, Cultures, Beta Carotene (Color).

Califia Plant Butter - ethical rating. Califia's two plant butter products are shown: Sea Salt with Avocado Oil and Sea Salt with Olive Oil. Underneath, the Nutritional Facts are shown for these two products.

What are tiger nuts?

The fifth ingredient in both products is tiger nuts – an ingredient that you don’t come across every day. Although they are called nuts, they are actually tubers that are found under the fast-growing yellow nutsedge plant. Also known as chufa, tiger nuts are grown across the world, particularly in Africa and South America, and are often eaten as snacks or made into a type of horchata.

“The tiger nut is between the tuber and the nut [in terms of nutrition],” says José Ángel Pérez Alvarez, a researcher at Miguel Hernandez University of Elche in Spain who studies tiger nuts. For instance, there’s less protein than a typical nut but more than the typical tuber. There’s more starch than the typical nut but less than the typical tuber.


Tiger nuts were revered by ancient Egyptians, featured in paintings and sometimes entombed along with Egyptians and their belongings. I like that Califia is including this unusual ingredient and that they are utilizing most of it – both the oil and also the fibers that contain beneficial prebiotics.

Take tiger nuts, or as they’re more poetically known – “earth almonds.” Not only do we use the naturally occurring oil they contain, but we use more of the nut in the spread, as well.


Resistant starch is a prebiotic. It’s the fibre that doesn’t get digested and makes its way to the colon to feed the microflora in our gut. Resistant starch also helps you feel fuller, longer.

The Chufa Co.
Califia Plant Butter contain tiger nuts (also known as chufa). The image shows the yellow nutsedge plant on the left. Top right is an image of dried tiger nuts. Bottom right is an ancient Egyptian tomb painting showing the preparation of tiger nuts.
The yellow nutsedge plant (left); dried tiger nuts (top right); and an ancient Egyptian tomb painting showing the preparation of tiger nuts (bottom right). Image credits: Wikipedia and NPR.

Ethical rating for Califia Plant Butters

Overall, I think that Califia Plant Butter deserves 4 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • They are certified vegan products, providing a more ethical alternative to dairy.
  • The main ingredient, coconut oil, is a sustainable crop, in general. Olives are generally better than avocados, so I would pick the pressed olive oil product over the avocado oil version.
  • Palm oil free.
  • Califia works on conserving water by working with farmers who use more efficient drip irrigation systems and also reclaiming all water from their manufacturing facility for use on nearby farms.
  • Califia makes a good effort at protecting bees and encouraging integrated pest management on supplier farms.
  • Califia did a decent job at using renewable energy in the past. However, the company missed the goal to transition to 100% renewable power by 2020 and now seems to be slipping behind.
  • I’d prefer if Califia sourced organic ingredients.
  • Packaging should be made with recycled plastic (rPET), as discussed in the post on Califia Protein Oat milk.
Califia Plant Butter - ethical rating. Califia's two plant butter products are shown: Sea Salt with Avocado Oil and Sea Salt with Olive Oil. Underneath is a graphic showing an ethical rating of 4 out of 5 Green Stars, representing a score for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Califia Protein Oat milk:

  • 4 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 : )

Endangered Species Oat Milk Dark Chocolate

Endangered Species Chocolate (ESC) has brought out a range of vegan “milk” chocolate bars made with oat milk! I picked up a bar at the Grocery Outlet to try out: it’s 55% cacao and called Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate. Normally it has a wrapper with zebra stripes (so it’s known as the zebra bar) but my version had Valentine’s Day branding. This is typical of Grocery Outlet’s approach – selling items at a discount because the packaging is no longer relevant. Who wants chocolate in a pink wrapper in March or April? I do, because it means less food waste!

I’ve always liked Endangered Species chocolate and often buy their 72% cacao bars (the chimpanzee bar) to use in baking. It’s definitely one of the cheapest chocolate bars from a company with an ethical mission. Their three-ounce bars, including the new oat milk bars, sell for around $3 normally and were on sale for $1.49 at the Grocery Outlet.

Endangered Species Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate – review

Like many people, I grew up loving milk chocolate like Cadbury’s Dairy Milk. Cadbury’s is now owned by Mondelēz International, which ranks fairly low, ethically speaking. Also, Cadbury’s products in the US are made by Hershey, which ranks even lower, and they totally suck. I’ve also found myself eating less and less dairy, especially since lockdown began.

In any case, I’m excited that vegan milk chocolate bars are on the market now. I expect that the Endangered Species bars aren’t the first on the market but this is the first one that I’ve tried. To be honest, I didn’t even really think of it as milk chocolate – I looked at the ingredients and imagined chocolate with oats. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I tried it – it really is a substitute for milk chocolate!

The texture is good – it’s not quite as creamy as the Irish-made Dairy Milk that I grew up with, but it’s not far off. Thankfully, it doesn’t have any of the chalkiness or grittiness that you find in low quality oat milk. Being 55% cacao, it’s less sweet than Dairy Milk and most mainstream conventional milk chocolate bars, which is also a good thing. I would buy it again and look forward to trying out the cherry and raspberry versions when I come across them.

Endangered Species Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate – Ingredients

The ingredients are simple:

Chocolate liquor, cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole grain oats, soy lecithin, vanilla.

Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla are traded in compliance with Fairtrade standards, total 83.7%. I’ll discuss the ingredients in the ethical review, coming up next!

Here’s the nutrition info and certification logos:

Endangered Species Oat Milk Dark Chocolate - Nutritional Facts and certifications (fair trade, vegan, non GMO, gluten free, kosher) are shown. On sale at the Grocery outlet

Ethical rating for Endangered Species Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate

I actually wrote a green Stars review of Endangered Species chocolate bars back in 2015, before the Green Stars Project site existed. I did some research this week to update this and contacted ESC for clarification on a few things. Some things have changed for the company but the ethos is similar and I’m maintaining the same rating of 5/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact. Here’s a summary of reasons for this ethical rating:

  • It’s a vegan product, with oat milk substituting for cow’s milk.
  • 84% of the ingredients are certified by Fairtrade America: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, and vanilla.
  • Endangered Species Chocolate purchases Green-e certified renewable energy to match 100% of its operations.
  • 10% of ESC profits are donated to non-profits that work towards conservation and protection of endangered species. Recent donations have been made to The National Forest Foundation and The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
  • Over $2.6 million has been donated to non-profits by ESC since 2016 and the company hopes to reach annual donations of $1 million soon. Annual revenue for ESC in 2018 was $38 million, so there are no major red flags there. (An unscrupulous company might cook the books so that booked profits are tiny relative to revenue.)
  • ESC’s approach is to commit to long-term partnerships with farmers in Côte d’Ivoire. A lot of the world’s chocolate is produced in West Africa, and Côte d’Ivoire in particular has many issues from child labor and forced labor to deforestation and some particularly nasty pesticides. So it’s good that some are trying to support sustainable agriculture and a better standard of living there.
  • On that note, ESC could do better at reporting on some farming sustainability metrics.
Endangered Species Oat Milk Dark Chocolate. An ethical rating of 5 out of 5 green stars for social and environmental impact is shown next to the product.

Endangered Species versus Alter Eco

I reviewed Alter Eco chocolate truffles back in December and it was the first product to score 5/5 Green Stars, so I thought it would be good to briefly compare the two chocolate makers. Both Alter Eco and Endangered Species Chocolate have offset their carbon footprints and source fair trade certified ingredients. Alter Eco is blazing a trail with its Alter Eco Foundation, which is working towards sustainable agroforestry, while Endangered Species Chocolate is blazing a different kind of trail with charitable donations to conservation funds and attempting to improve conditions in Côte d’Ivoire.

We do work with small farmer organizations versus mass growers which is great for a lot of reasons, especially the prevention of deforestation which is the number one environmental problem caused by cocoa farming in West Africa.

Whitney Bembenick, Director of Marketing & Innovation at ESC

So the two companies are both good for some overlapping reasons and some reasons that are unique to each company.

ESC may be lagging Alter Eco a little on sustainable agriculture (or at least reporting on it) but scores extra points for supporting conservation programs, working towards better conditions in Côte d’Ivoire, and for developing good vegan milk chocolate. While there’s some room for improvement in both companies, I think they are both in the top 10% in terms of social and environmental impact and therefore both deserve 5/5 Green Stars.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Endangered Species Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate:

  • 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 : )  

Grocery Outlet Wine Sale, Spring 2021

The Grocery Outlet spring 2021 wine sale starts on Wednesday, April 7, 2021 and runs for a week – all wines will be discounted by 20%. The Grocery Outlet was listed in 2020 by Wine Enthusiast as one of the top value-driven places to shop for wine in the US. Check out the longstanding GrossOutWine blog for current tips on top wines at the Grocery Outlet.

I’ve been thinking of how to handle wines here on Ethical Bargains, and have decided that one approach might be to look at various topics on sustainability in the wine industry. So what I might do is to feature a wine and then discuss one aspect of sustainability related to that wine (and perhaps Q&A with a winemaker) – it’ll be educational for me too! So, kind of along those lines, here are my two favorite Grocery Outlet wines right now:

Best wines of lockdown: Cardella Ruby Cabernet and Sangiovese

In second place…

Cardella Sangiovese 2014 (Fattoria Cardella – Vineyard 22).

3.9 points on Vivino.

$20, directly from Cardella

$6.99 at the Grocery Outlet ($5.59 during the 20% off sale)

And the winner is…

Cardella Ruby Cabernet 2014 (Fattoria Cardella – Vineyard 22).

3.9 points on Vivino.

$22, directly from Cardella (sold out)

$6.99 at the Grocery Outlet ($5.59 during the 20% off sale)

These wines won silver and gold, respectively, at the San Joaquin Valley California wine competition in 2017. OK – I know that’s a small competition that focuses on wines from the San Joaquin Valley – a region not really known for amazing wine. However, Cardella wines have regularly won awards at major events such as the Finger Lakes and Sunset International Wine Competitions.

Grocery Outlet Wine Sale, Spring 2021. Top picks are Cardella 2014 Sangiovese and Ruby Cabernet. Bottle labels are shown.

I had the Sangiovese first and was really happy with it – it’s one of my favorite grapes but it’s not that common in California. The wine is unusual, not just for being a Californian Sangiovese, but also in that the Cardella vines are located in the San Joaquin Valley, near Mendota, CA.  If you want to hear more about Cardella, check out David Wilson’s  podcast over on Grape Encounters – David was very excited to discover Cardella winery! And for a region known mostly for its massive agricultural output, it’s nice to see a San Joaquin Valley winemaker creating some excellent wines.

The Sangiovese is still on the shelves (in some stores – this is the Grocery Outlet so there are no guarantees!) and then last week I spotted another Cardella wine – Ruby Cabernet, also from 2014. Ruby Cabernet is also an unusual grape to come across, so I picked up a bottle to try it out. The top three-quarters of the cork was falling apart, so be careful when opening (perhaps this is why the wines are on sale at the Grocery Outlet). But the bottom quarter of the cork was still in good shape and the wine itself was fabulous!

The Ruby Cabernet definitely wins my Best Wine of Lockdown award, with the Sangiovese probably ranking second or third out of all the wines I’ve had over the last 12 months (and it has been quite a few).  The Ruby Cabernet seemed really consistent to me in that it tasted great straight after opening as well as 2 days later, and was almost as good on its own as with food. Maybe somebody can translate that into better-sounding wine terminology, for me?

I’ve been having the wines with things like the Fry’s Woodfired BBQ pizza that I just reviewed, Greek salad (made with vegan feta that I’ll be reviewing soon) and vegan bacon (also to be reviewed soon!) on sourdough.

“The Napa area says it makes the best Cabernet Sauvignon, in the Paso Robles area it’s the best Syrah, and the Lodi area claims to make the best Zinfandel. The San Joaquin Valley makes the best Ruby Cabernet.”

– Nathan Cardella, on Farm Progress

Wine sustainability topic: Water

The Cardella family, at least back in 2012, had a 3000-acre farm that included 1,000 acres of tomatoes, 500 acres of almonds, 300 acres of fresh-market onions, 150 acres of Pima cotton, and 500 acres of wine grapes. The vast majority of the grapes were sold to big wineries and only about 2% of them were used to make Cardella’s own estate wines.

In the vineyards, Cardella wine grapes grown for the large wineries receive 2.5 to 2.75 acre feet of water annually. The grapes for estate wines, which are grown differently, can get by with 1 to 1.5 acre feet of water.

This difference in the level of irrigation between the grapes grown for the large wineries and the grapes used for estate wines is interesting. Many crops like tomatoes, nuts, olives, and grapes are often more flavorful when provided with just about enough water to meet their needs. Try out some dry-farmed tomatoes if you don’t believe me.

A correlation between the quality of a wine and the level of water conservation is of course a good thing. It fits with a general rule of ethical consumerism to buy smaller amounts of higher quality things. In other words, don’t buy bad wine – If you’re on a budget then seek out good wine that’s on sale : )

Anyone who knows about farming in California’s San Joaquin Valley knows how scarce (and expensive) water is becoming. Cardella had to be as frugal as possible out of necessity by employing drip irrigation, and only as needed.

“Nathan Cardella credits the farm’s miserly use of water on several other factors. The farm’s 100 percent use of surface and subsurface irrigation saves large amounts of water annually.”

Farm Progress

I learned something interesting when researching water for winegrowing – several regions (in Europe) are required to rely on rainfall for irrigation.

To protect wine quality, 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. A look at the average rainfall for many of those regions, however, shows that they typically get plenty of rain.


So you could see this as a sustainability plus for wines from these regions.

Here’s another interesting article from SevenFiftyDaily on The Next Wave of Sustainability in Wine. A few quotes from it:

In Oregon, an organization called the Deep Roots Coalition has been spreading the gospel of dry farming since 2004.

Irrigation makes vines lazy, keeping them close to the surface of the soil. When they don’t get water from above, the vines seek moisture deep below the topsoil, which is healthier for the vines (even in drought conditions, the vines can still find moisture from deep below the top layers of soil).

Grapevines are able to adapt to dry conditions—on the Greek island of Santorini, for example, vines subsist on just a few inches of water a year.

Not saying that you want to seek out Santorini wine, but to be aware that some wines come with a much larger water footprint, depending on how and where the grapes were grown.


Fry Family Foods – Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza

I bought a new vegan pizza from the Grocery Outlet recently – Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza – and I think it’s most likely the best vegan pizza that I’ve ever had! A significant portion of my all-important (especially during lockdown) freezer compartment is now occupied by four Fry’s BBQ pizzas.

The South African brand was completely new to me – after expanding distribution in the UK in 2018, Fry’s has just started distributing to the US this yearlaunching in Sprouts stores as well as the Grocery Outlet). When I saw a selection of Fry’s vegan products in the Grocery Outlet freezer last month, I cautiously bought two items – vegan sausage rolls and the barbecue pizza. Since then, I’ve bought and tried a few more products from Fry’s range (vegan “chicken” nuggets and crispy “fish” fillets) so I’ll be covering some of them in a future post. But I’ll start with the pizza as that’s what I had first.

About Fry’s Family Foods

The Fry Family Food Company has been making vegan meat substitutes in South Africa since 1991. After becoming vegetarian in the 80’s, Wally and Debbie Fry experimented in their Durban kitchen, making plant-based sausages and other meat substitutes for themselves, and then for friends and neighbors, and it grew from there. You can imagine that there wasn’t quite so large a market for plant-based foods back then, so Fry’s did well to survive for three decades. Now it’s distributed to more than 30 countries and besides the main facility in Durban, SA, Fry’s has a headquarters in Australia and a contract production facility in the UK.

It turns out I’m not the only fan – Fry’s has been scoring high in the UK’s annual Vegfest awards, winning the best vegan “meat” award again in 2020. I have to admit that I wasn’t aware of these awards but I watched a bit of the 2020 award ceremony and saw that Fry’s was lauded for its longtime support and advocacy for initiatives like Meat Free Mondays. 

Here’s a pretty fancy video that tells the Fry’s story, complete with a reenactment of scenes from their early days:

Review of Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of BBQ sauce, so I really wasn’t expecting to love this pizza so much. It also appeared to be lacking in (vegan) cheese, so I thought it might not really taste like pizza. However, it tastes like it has cheese on it, so I inspected the ingredient list (see below) to figure out what was going on. There’s an ingredient sprinkled on top that’s cryptically called Vegetable Preparation and it basically fits the bill as a vegan cheese: It’s made mainly from veggie starch and coconut oil. The pizza works because of the way everything ties together – the grilled peppers, sauce, cheese, and vegan chicken strips. But the best thing about it is the crust – it’s a thin, flaky crust that’s like a cross between a good flatbread and Neapolitan pizza.

Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza – Ingredients

Because the ingredient list is so long (like many pizzas [so many parentheses!]), I’ve highlighted the main ingredients in bold font.

Soft Wheat flour (Gluten) (31%), Fry’s Vegan Chicken-Style Strips (11%) (Vegetable Protein [Soya, Wheat {Gluten}], Vegetable Oil [Sunflower Seed], Flavouring, Maize Starch, Yeast Extract, Potato Starch, Wheat Flour [Gluten], Thickener [Methyl Cellulose], Salt, Garlic), Tomato Passata, Tomato Pulp, Vegetable Preparation (Water, Modified Potato and Maize Starch, Vegetable Oil [Coconut Kernel], Vegetable Protein [Rice], Salt, Vegetable Fibre [Acacia Gum, Chicory], Flavourings, Stabilizer [Tara Gum], Colourants [Calcium Carbonate, _-Carotene], Preservative: Sorbic Acid, Vitamin B12), BBQ Sauce (8%) (Water, Beer Stout [Barley], Sugar, Tomato Puree, Vinegar, Modified Starch, Molasses, Salt, Garlic Puree, Smoke Flavouring, Spice [Mustard, Cayenne, Cumin]), Water, Grilled Red Peppers (4%), Grilled Yellow Peppers (4%), Red Onion (4%), Vegetable Oil (Sunflower Seed), Vegetable Oil [Olive Fruit] (Extra Virgin), Salt, Yeast, Vegetable Oil [Olive Fruit], Sugar, Oregano, Basil.

Fry Family Foods Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza nutritional information chart.

Ethical rating for Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza

Since I’m going to review several products from Fry’s Family Foods, I thought I would start by doing this review without looking for any information besides what’s on the packaging. The point of that is just to give an idea of how to write a Green Stars review without having to do much or any research online, as many people don’t have time for that. In future reviews of Fry’s products, I’ll add more information as it becomes available.

Fry Family Foods Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza is shown with an ethical rating of 4.5 out of 5 green stars for social and environmental impact

So, based purely on the information available on the packaging, here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza. I’m scoring it 4.5/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

  • It’s a completely vegan product, as are all of the company’s products
  • It’s the best vegan pizza I’ve ever had – this is important (even as an ethical criterion) because we aren’t so likely to move away from animal products unless vegan versions are actually tasty.
  • The pizza contains no palm oil, being made instead mainly from (more expensive) coconut, sunflower and olive oils.
  • The ingredients are not organic but are listed as GM-free.  This is a complicated issue (see my post on the Impossible Burger for a bit more info on it) and while I would prefer organic ingredients, being GM-free does at least imply some independence from the Agrichemical industry. I’ll provide some more info in future posts on Fry’s here and I’m also in the middle of writing a few posts on the Agrichemical industry over on the Green Stars Project.
  • There’s a fair bit of international shipping involved (with refrigeration) in getting this pizza to me as it’s made in Italy. The weird thing about pizzas in the US though (including Trader Joe’s pizzas) is that almost every pizza I’ve ever examined or bought here has been made in Italy.
  • Packaging is minimal, with a very light plastic wrap and outer box.

One thing to bear in mind in general is that pizza’s remarkably easy to make at home, so perhaps I should feel guilty that so much of my freezer real estate is taken up by frozen pizza. Perhaps I could defend it by pointing out that making pizza at home might involve buying (vegan) cheese, tomato sauce, etc., all of which has to be packaged and shipped too. A more general defense, however, is that transportation normally constitutes only a small part of food’s carbon footprint, compared to growing and processing ingredients. There are some exceptions, of course, such as items transported by air.

Overall, “food miles” do not matter as much as other considerations when deter-mining the carbon impact of food production, consumption, and disposal (except perhaps for fresh food that is air freighted). Minimizing food waste and composting the unavoidable food waste could have a much larger benefit than switching from a distant supplier to a local supplier. – Wakeland et al.

The good thing about doing ethical evaluations (even brief ones like this one) is that they help us evaluate broader life choices.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Fry’s Smoky BBQ Woodfired Pizza:

  • 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 : )  

Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap

I normally only buy food items at the Grocery Outlet but on a recent trip I needed soap and decided to check their supply. There are plenty of not-so-sustainable products at the Grocery Outlet so I wasn’t surprised to see a whole lot of Dove soap. Dove, made from palm oil by Unilever is one of the worst choices when it comes to ethical soap. However, there were also two brands that I’ve bought before – Kiss My Face (to be reviewed later) and Tom’s of Maine. I bought one of each and tried out the Tom’s soap first – it piqued my interest because it’s something new: probiotic soap!

How does prebiotic soap work?

First of all – what are prebiotics? Well, you know how important the microbes in your body are? You can take probiotics such as live yoghurt that contain beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus, etc.) or you can eat food that contains prebiotics, which encourage the growth of these beneficial bacteria. In general the beneficial bacteria thrive on things like soluble fibers, which you can get from a diet of veggies, or as a supplement like inulin (not insulin – inulin is a form of soluble fiber). So that brings us to soap – what’s the deal with prebiotic soap? Because you don’t eat soap, right?

As a microbiologist, I know how important the microbes in and on are bodies are. Most of us know that gut health is really important, but we are only starting to think about the microbial population (microflora) on our skin.  I first heard about this after reading about a couple of scientists who had changed their routine – David Whitlock, an MIT chemistry graduate who hasn’t showered for years and is now developing a microbial spray designed to break down ammonia on our skin. Then there’s James Hamblin, lecturer in public health at Yale who weaned himself off soap and deodorant and recently published the book, Clean: The New Science of Skin and the Beauty of Doing Less.

I don’t think either of them will be using the Tom’s of Maine product, since neither of them uses soap, but I think they’d be interested in the results. The first questions you’d have to ask yourself are: Why put the prebiotics in soap? Aren’t you just going to wash them right off your body? Wouldn’t they be better in a spray or moisturizer?

Perhaps small amounts of the inulin that’s in the soap may stay on your skin but that begs a follow-up question: Is it known that inulin on your skin will have the same beneficial effect as inulin in your food? I don’t think this question has been answered yet (I did search the science literature but found nothing concrete) and my feeling is that the product received FDA approval on the basis that it’s safe, but that doesn’t mean it’s effective.

I guess the proof would be in the pudding (or in this case the showering) and this may be more obvious to people with skin conditions. I’ve used the Tom’s of Maine prebiotic soap for about two weeks now and have found it to be perfectly fine. I can’t really comment on the impact on my skin microflora but as far as soaps go, I quite liked it : )

Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap – Ingredients

Here are the ingredients for the Fresh Apple variety that I bought – the Rose-scented version is basically the same (just a different fragrance). 

Sodium Palmate*, Sodium Cocoate or Sodium Palm Kernelate, Water, Glycerin, Inulin, Fragrance**, Sodium Gluconate, Sodium Chloride, Fructose, Glucose, Sucrose. *Rainforest Alliance Certified **natural

Note that sodium palmate is basically detergent made from palm oil – and as you probably guessed the sodium cocoate and sodium palm kernelate are made from coconut and palm kernel oil, respectively. I’m never particularly happy to see the word “or” in an ingredient list – it’s usually an indication of a larger company that’s switching between commodity ingredients based on market prices. So, let’s get to the ethical review!

Tom's of Maine Prebiotic soap is shown with an ethical rating graphic of 2.5 out of 5 green stars for social and environmental impact.

Ethical rating for Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap, which I’m scoring 2.5/5 Green Stars.

  • Tom’s of Maine was a pretty responsible company that was acquired by a large multinational corporation, Colgate-Palmolive, in 2006. Sadly, Tom’s of Maine stopped reporting on corporate responsibility after that.
  • Tom’s of Maine is a certified B-corporation, achieving an OK score of 93.6 (80 is the minimum score to qualify).
  • Tom’s of Maine doesn’t test products on animals while Colgate-Palmolive still does, but is acknowledged by PETA to be working towards regulatory change to reduce requirements for animal testing.
  • 100% of Tom’s energy usage was offset by wind energy credits, post-consumer recycled cardboard is used for packaging and vegetable-based inks for printing. Or at least that was true when Tom’s of Maine reported on sustainability and Corporate Responsibility. Now it’s all mixed into Colgate Palmolive’s reporting.
  • Last year Tom’s of Maine developed a recyclable toothpaste tube, a step forward for the industry.
  • This particular soap is vegan, cruelty-free, and packaged in a cardboard box (no plastic wrap).
  • 10% of Tom’s of Maine profits go to good causes in Maine, such as the Nature Conservancy.
  • The primary ingredient of this soap is palm oil. It’s certified by the Rainforest Alliance but note that the next ingredient may be palm oil (Sodium Palm Kernelate) that’s not Rainforest Alliance certified (no asterisk).
  • As a subsidiary of Colgate Palmolive, I think it’s likely that Tom’s of Maine palm oil sourcing overlaps with that of Colgate. Colgate-Palmolive gets a mediocre score on the WWF palm oil scorecard – about a B.
  • You can read about Colgate-Palmolive’s palm oil sourcing policy here – the policy states “no deforestation of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forest or High Conservation Value (HCV) areas” but doesn’t exclude deforestation in general.
  • Ethical Consumer gives Colgate-Palmolive and Tom’s of Maine their worst rating in the soap category.
  • Bottom line – I’d rather be cautious and avoid products made from palm oil where possible – unless a company provides a lot of information to assure customers that the palm oil is truly sustainably sourced. Soap can easily be made from sustainable vegetable oils, for example olive oil or coconut oil.

So, not a fantastic score, and that’s mainly because of the palm oil. Tom’s of Maine is a pretty responsible company in many other ways and some of their other products would get a much higher ethical rating. But I will only support products made from palm oil if I have a high degree of confidence in the company’s sourcing policy.

I actually thought that Tom’s of Maine would do a better job on palm oil sourcing (that’s why I picked up the soap) but now that I know more I won’t buy Tom’s of Maine palm oil soaps unless their policy improves. I hope they do tackle this because Tom’s of Maine tries to be a leader in some areas, like the development of its recyclable toothpaste tube. Its parent company, Colgate-Palmolive, has a track record that isn’t terrible – it’s just not good enough. This soap is still more responsible than several mainstream soaps like Dove soap, made by Unilever. However, I think there are much better options out there, as far as social and environmental impact goes, such as Kiss My Face olive oil soap, Dr. Bronner’s soap bars and Alaffia soap.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Tom’s of Maine Prebiotic soap:

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

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

Sierra Nevada Wanderland nectarine ale

I picked up a six-pack of Wanderland nectarine ale from Sierra Nevada, on a recent trip to the Grocery Outlet. It’s a German-style Kölsch made with nectarines that are grown near their brewery in Mills River, North Carolina. At this time of the year I’d normally be drinking wintry ales and barrel-aged beers but things are different this winter. I really like this beer and think it’s perfect for an afternoon outdoor gathering – the only kind of gatherings happening for most of us at the moment.

Wanderland breaks the mold of this style of fruity beer, with 7.5% alcohol and dry-hopped with lupulin, for some hoppy citrus without the astringency.  It just became available in Jan, 2021, and so far has accumulated a pretty good score of 84 on Beer Advocate. A six-pack of Wanderland Ale cost $8.99 at the Grocery Outlet, compared to a regular price of $11.99 at BevMo. As I mentioned in my post on Deschutes Obsidian Stout, beer isn’t sold a massive discount at the Grocery Outlet, but prices are usually a little cheaper than other stores. The selection of beer at the Grocery Outlet is also becoming more interesting – and more current too, with Wanderland released by Sierra Nevada only last month. It’s vegan, by the way.

Sustainability in brewing

Over on the Green Stars Project I’ve written about sustainability of your local pub, featuring examples like Sierra Nevada’s taproom in Berkeley, Torpedo Room.  Going out for a pint of draft beer is one of the best ways to reduce your impact since packaging is reduced to a minimum. Getting a growler of beer to go is probably the next best thing, assuming you reuse the growler several times. Sadly, the Torpedo Room is closed due to Covid-19, but do check it out when it opens again, if you find yourself in the Bay Area. They have some impressive beers on tap. Meanwhile Sierra’s taprooms in Chico, CA, or Mills River, NC, are open for business.

Anyway, the main things to look out for if you’re searching for a sustainable beer are commitments to a low-waste footprint and efficiency in the brewery (water, energy, etc.). Check out the post on Deschutes Brewery for a comparison to this post – both Deschutes and Sierra Nevada are leaders in sustainability among the medium/large breweries. Sierra Nevada, in particular, was a major influence in the emergence of the craft brewing industry and has been a sustainability leader since the 1980s. More detail in the ethical review, coming right up!

Sierra Nevada Wanderland nectarine ale - ethical rating. An bottle of Wanderland nectarine ale from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., along with label art details, are shown above an ethical score of 4.5 out of 5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Ethical rating for Sierra Nevada Wanderland ale

Here’s a summary of how I feel about the social and environmental impact of Sierra Nevada Wanderland nectarine ale, which I’m scoring 4.5/5 Green Stars.

  • Sierra Nevada’s main brewery in Chico, California, was listed as a platinum level Zero Waste Facility all the way back in 2013 – 99.8% of their brewery waste is diverted from landfill. Waste is fed to their state of the art composter and the compost is used on their estate fields.
  • Going back over three decades, Sierra Nevada has set the bar on sustainability – not just among breweries but for companies in general. Their sustainability map gives a nice overview of how this is applied at the brewery.
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing doesn’t generate all of its energy needs on site yet but has made good strides towards this goal with solar panels, fuel cells, and microturbines. The fuel cells and microturbines are powered by biogas generated by treating their wastewater in anaerobic digesters.
  • The carbon dioxide that’s generated during brewing is collected and reused for packaging beer. Most breweries release the CO2 into the atmosphere and then purchase more for packaging the beer.
  • Sierra has multiple programs for conserving water such as rainwater collection at its Mills River brewery.
  • They’ve also addressed packaging, with high recycled content – and recyclability of course.
  • In Chico, Sierra built its own rail spur to reduce trucking miles.
  • They usually don’t use organic grains or hops though (except for their estate ale), something that Bison in Berkeley and a few others are doing. Organic beers seem to be slow to catch on because they are expensive to make (and for hops there are yield issues) – New Belgium, another great sustainable brewery, withdrew its organic Mothership Wit beer due to lack of demand.
  • To fill the gap here, Sierra could share more about sourcing of barley and hops (farming practices employed).
  • They had a “Farm with Your Brewer” program to encourage farmers to use sustainable practices (no-till; dry farming; minimization of fertilizer and pesticide) but I’m not sure if it’s still in practice.
  • Sierra makes biodiesel from used fryer oil from the Brewery restaurants.
  • Sierra’s east coast brewery in Mills River, NC, became the first brewery in the US to achieve LEED Platinum status (LEED = Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Summary scores (out of 5) for Sierra’s Wanderland nectarine ale:

  • 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 : )