Cheap and Dumb. It’s the trend.

So, I’ve been on a candy-cooking binge for the past few days. It’s the holidays, and I make lots of stuff for friends, relatives (hey, sometimes that’s the same thing!), and gifts/parties etc.

I’m good at it. My peanut brittle is famous, and a recipe I’ve not used in years for toffee that I brought back this year is receiving rave reviews. One of my secrets is simply good ingredients. Top quality in fact. The other is attention to detail. It’s critical in any candy making.

So that brings us to the title of this post. Let’s start with cheap. Our government would have us believe inflation is under control and food prices have been stable for years.

Uh…yeah. Buy sugar lately? The price per package is about 20% higher than 5 years ago…AND the package is 4 pounds instead of 5…a 20% reduction in product. Hmmm. I’m supposed to NOT notice?

Next, chocolate. Anyone notice when the chocolate chips packages went from a pound to 12 ounces? That’d be a 25% reduction in product…and the price is way up.

Speaking of chocolate…there’s a legal definition of the word chocolate…the USDA requires a certain percentage of the product to be cocoa in order to be called chocolate. As a result, there’s lots of products out there that aren’t chocolate…but they struggle to fool you into believing that they are with deceptive labels.

“Chocolate flavored chips” is not chocolate and contains no cocoa at all. The “flavored” part of the label was, of course, in type so small it can’t be read.

White chocolate is a little different story…there’s no cocoa in it, but it’s always been called white chocolate as it was made with cocoa butter and sugar.

I needed white chocolate…I eventually found it, but it took digging. The product mostly sold AS white chocolate? Heh…soy lectin, dried milk, and corn syrup. Barf. That’s not even a food!

Nestle has cheapened their chips. Not sure what they’ve done, but the quality and flavor is WAY down. I’ve quit using them. A year old package lost in the back of the pantry had better flavor. Gag.

There are good products out there, but you have to dig and be picky.

One more thing about food products…they don’t have to be labeled as to country of origin or manufacture. Bet you didn’t know that. Guess where lots of this crap is coming from? Wonder how much lead and asbestos and non-food or substandard stuff is in those products. The USDA says the shippers “police themselves” on quality, labeling, and contents. Great….

Oh, and the dumb part? Well, recipes, not to put too fine a point on it. Current recipes are assuming the average cook is too stupid to do anything correctly…thus, they publish a recipe that will work with a wide variation in instructions/etc…but they sacrifice optimal (read, “quality”) results. Fudge is a great example…you can make stuff that looks like fudge, and tastes kind of like fudge, using the currently published recipes…but if you want quality, the temperatures are absolutely critcial…they don’t even publish those anymore. “Microwave 12 minutes” just doesn’t cut it for real fudge.

Ah well. Live with quality. Keep your eyes peeled…and when your grocer stocks crap and tries to sell it as food…point it out to him. Ask him where the real stuff is, and if he can’t or won’t get it for you, there are grocers out there that will.

Daniel Meyer

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