Bogus Butter Bake-Off

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! Cooking & Baking Sticks

By: Unilever

I Paid: $3.09 for a 1-pound box of four sticks (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 3stars

Marketing: 5stars

Cooking & Baking sticks, newly introduced to the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! range, are touted as a healthy stand-in for butter, with 50 percent less saturated fat. A series of TV ads directly challenges viewers to try the product and be staggered by the identical results. If nothing else, it’s a wise marketing move: Big claims prod people to act.

The only fair way to evaluate the stuff, therefore, is a head-to-head face-off, pitting butter against its vegetable oil– and whey-based substitute. Test number one: spread on toast. Subject A (butter) has the golden color and lip-smacking fattiness of … butter. Subject B (ICBINB!) is creamier in texture and less substantial, with less depth overall. I can absolutely believe it’s not butter, as it behaves more like a nonbutter spread; but in terms of taste, it’s a surprisingly faithful shadow of butter, almost like a butter lite. It’s certainly not unpleasant.

Test number two: sugar cookies. Even before the cookies have come out of the oven, an observation: The ICBINB! cookies are not browning as quickly. An extra three to four minutes are required for cookies that are still slightly less browned and a bit more spread out than their butter-based kin. As for taste, it’s close. There’s an oily finish to the ICBINB! cookie; the butter cookie has a more caramelized depth. The new product isn’t a train wreck, but it’s certainly no Doppelgänger.

Weil for Vital Choice Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Sausage

By: Vital Choice

I Paid: $25 for three boxes of two (3-ounce) patties per box (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 3stars

Marketing: 4stars

Dr. Andrew Weil made his name as an author and popularizer of alternative and holistic approaches to health and medicine. (In the mid-1990s, he penned a health advice column for now-defunct web magazine, and advised readers to eat vitamin C if they were going to take Ecstasy.) Now, he’s a bona fide brand; his benevolent, avuncular, Santa Clausian visage beams out at you from the package of any number of different products, including fruit and nut bars, antioxidant supplements, tea drinks, and the Vital Choice line of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon sausage patties.

At $25 for 540 calories of salmon, these patties may be among the most expensive frozen entrées you ever put into your mouth. That said, the box sure claims you get a lot for your money: Omega-3 fatty acids, organic herbs and spices, wild-caught salmon, no MSG, kosher certification, and a Marine Stewardship Council seal. These are certainly salmon sausage patties of the holiest level.

Taste is another story. The patties, which supposedly were developed using Weil’s input, are quite inconsistent in terms of flavor philosophy. The Spicy Chorizo Style is meek and underpowered, although it boasts a good approximation of sausagelike texture. The Italian Style is a bit of a bungle: The flavor of salmon and the spicing of Italian sausage are both distinctly present, but neither seems to acknowledge the other. It’s like watching two different TV channels at once. Best of the lot is the Savory Country Style, which really works—it almost tastes like an elegant version of turkey sausage, and could in fact sub for regular sausage in a recipe.

The overall thrust behind these entrées is pretty admirable, but it might behoove Weil and Vital Choice to go back to the test kitchen one or two more times.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow Chowhound on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.

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