Archive for March 30, 2012

Organic chicken broth

Last night I hijacked my local eco-group meeting to run a blind tasting of organic chicken broth. In the line-up were 9 store-bought varieties and one home-made broth.

  • Shoppers’ Drug Mart Nativa Organic (700mg/47%)
  • Shoppers’ Drug Mart Nativa Reduced Sodium Organic (520mg/35%)
  • Pacific Organic (590mg/39%)
  • Pacific Low Sodium Organic (80mg/5%)
  • Swansons organic: Costco (570mg/38%)
  • President’s Choice (PC) organic (800mg/53%)
  • GoBio Organic (from cubes) (952mg/63%)
  • Harvest Sun Organic (from powder/cubes) (470mg/31%)
  • Better than Bouillon Chicken Base (from paste) (700mg/47%)
  • Homemade (no salt added)

This turned out to be an interesting experiment for two main reasons.

The first is that we did not agree at all on which was the most tasty chicken broth option. I had thought there would be one outright winner.

The second is the issue of sodium content. In the list above, the milligram figure in brackets is the sodium content per cup (250ml) from the product label. The percentage figure I calculated myself.

I know labels display this percentage, but I found a discrepancy in percentages between the different brands. So I went to the Health Canada site and found the recommended daily sodium intake at source. This varies from <500mg/day for children under the age of one, to a maximum of 1,500mg for a regular adult (older adults should have less).

I am not quite sure wherein the disconnect lies. Based on the percentages they offer, most of the nutrition labels seem to be using a much higher figure (between 2,350 and 2,600mg) for recommended daily intake. Am I missing something? I can’t figure out this systematic error, but it is significant enough to be pretty worrying. And this is on top of existing doubts about the actual measuring of nutritional value.

The bottom line is that store-bought chicken broth is salty, very salty. Some varieties certainly taste saltier than others, but all (with the exception of the Pacific low sodium) are big offenders. The two stand outs on the list are the PC product (claims 33% but 53% by my calculations) and GoBio (claims 40%, 63% according to me). Shoppers sells a reduced sodium version of its organic chicken broth, but don’t be taken in: this is not low sodium (still at 35%).

The only genuinely low sodium offering I found was the Pacific brand at 5% (and, of course, my own broth).

So what of taste? I imagined my homemade version (just boiled bones, no veg added this time) would win hands down. Instead, it elicited comments such as `not enough body’ and ‘innocuous’. I wondered whether that might be partly to do with how much salt people are accustomed to (I seldom add salt to my cooking) but, given the results below, maybe not.

Perhaps I am just used to my own stock and like it. Generally I found the store broths to be very single dimensional…little depth or body to the flavour (a common comment). But now to the results.

First the losers. Nobody had much good to say about the Pacific regular, Shoppers regular or Swansons. I, personally, hated the Loblaws/PC brand but others found it OK.

Overall the top scorers, interestingly enough, were the Shoppers reduced sodium and the Pacific low sodium. One taster liked the über-salty GoBio, noting that it was `delicious but a little too salty’ (another taster thought it  `chemically’).

So there you have it. An unscientific test but an interesting one, for sure.

Ideally I would always make my own broth, but I know that is not always going to happen. So, my choice from now would be the Pacific low sodium variety. The ingredient list is a bit worrying (containing, as it does, cane juice – i.e. sugar – and something called `organic chicken flavour’: what is this if not the whole product?).

The price tends to be a little higher than the store-brand varieties (round here it ranges from about $2.99 to $3.49 for a litre while other brands can be had for closer to $1.99 if you catch the sales or buy in bulk), but the absent sodium and robust flavour make it worth it, in my view.

My last observation is that that I struggle with buying any heavy liquid product that contains largely water (wine is exempt here!). It is a terrible waste of energy and packaging. The tetrapaks that house most broths are recyclable in most places but are one of the hardest and most energy-demanding products to recycle.

For that reason, and because I am originally from the UK where these are the norm, I have always favoured broth cubes. I was therefore disappointed that the 2 powder/cube products in the test did not score more highly. I found them both very salty. I’ll continue to keep the Harvest Sun product as a stand-by, but the GoBio ones have to go before my blood pressure goes through the roof.

Better than Bouillon products, which have recently appeared on many supermarket shelves around here, are also interesting. They are made in the US and come in multiple flavours from lobster to mushroom (not all organic). They are hands-down the cheapest option. A glass jar of paste costs around $7 but makes around 10 litres of broth, by my calculation. The paste will last for several months in the fridge, once opened. Salt content is at the high end and the broth itself is a little soapy. But for those days when you just have to make a soup but do not have anything else at hand, its another reasonable option.


No Sweat Sports Wash

Sports stuff can get stinky, really stinky. Especially if you have a horde of hockey-playing boys in your family, or are an adherent of hot yoga. In the battle against stink, it is tempting to reach for a heavily perfumed or aggressively chemical detergent. But there are alternatives.

In a previous post, my running friend Cindy noted that her homemade (very green) detergent worked wonders on her sports clothes. But I recognize that not everyone is up for cooking up their own detergent.

So, together with a few odour-challenged friends, I tried No Sweat, an eco sports wash made right here in Canada. It comes in two `flavours’: Citrus Rush and fragrance free, both of which are certified for front loading (HE) machines. I tried the Citrus Rush and found the perfume mild and natural, not overpowering at all.

Does it work? I thought No Sweat did a fine job, though I don’t really have stink problems (if you know me personally and disagree, do let me know…).

Two out of three of my friends who tried it were very impressed. The third was less convinced. Perhaps some odours are more stubborn than others.

How green is it? No Sweat claims to be the only sports wash (as opposed to general detergent) with eco logo certification in Canada. Its ingredients are proprietary and there is no listing on the bottle (which always makes me suspicious).

However, the company did share some details with me (I should say that they also sent me a sample bottle of No Sweat for free). The power of the formulation comes from ingredients which `oxygenate’ (using hydrogen peroxide). There is no chlorine involved. The makers tell me they are looking to develop an enzyme based formula too.

I doubt if the formulation is as benign as some of the mainstream green detergents, but it looks OK. The product is marked as an irritant on the label, but this is often the case with concentrated formulations.

Where is it sold? The list of stockists is well-hidden on the No Sweat website, but I have searched it down for you. You can find No Sweat mostly at yoga studios and sports stores throughout Canada and in some states in the US. In Canada it is also available at Mountain Equipment Coop. Otherwise you can buy it direct from the website.

How much does it cost? The thing that puts me off having a bottle of No Sweat at the ready for smelly loads is the up front cost. But maybe if I had serious odour issues my price threshold would be higher.

At MEC the price is $8.75 for a small bottle (16 loads). On the website you have to buy 4 x 500ml bottles at once at a cost of $36.99 (shipping to anywhere in the US or Canada included). In either case, that works out at close to 60c per wash, all in (compare that with about 23c/wash for my favourite Canadian-made green detergent, Biovert).

If you really love the stuff (and have a big laundry room), you can splurge and spend $85.99 for 4 very large bottles which will give you 375 washes at a per wash cost almost exactly equal to Biovert.

So there you have it.

If you try No Sweat, please do let me know how you fare. My sample size of 4 testers could certainly do with expanding.

Natural deodorant

Deodorant is a tough subject. Many people I have spoken to have said that they want to use a natural deodorant, free from nasty chemicals, but that they just can’t find one that does the job adequately. And, let’s face it, nobody wants to compromise in this area.

The problem with regular deodorants is the they tend to contain things you don’t really want on your very absorbent skin (e.g. parabens, propylene glycol and articifical fragrances). Anti-perspirants are even worse. They work on the principle of disabling your sweat glands (as opposed to just covering up the odour), so less sweat actually reaches the surface. Usually this is achieved using aluminum zirconium compounds.

If you feel more comfortable having aluminum in your garage than on your skin, you are right. It has been associated with all sorts of nasty effects. And, in any case, disabling sweat, when we do actually sweat for a purpose, seems like a bad idea.

So let’s assume we can live with sweat….but do not want to become malodorous. What then?

Your natural deodorant team (that is me and my friend Laurie Thomson whom I have consulted at length on this topic) are right on it, though we acknowledge that deodorant is a very personal choice (try a small version first, if you can).

Laurie is a serial deodorant experimenter. She lives in Toronto and shops at the Big Carrot, which, fittingly, has a big selection.

Her hands-down favourite is Alba Botanica Clear Enzyme deodorant stick, in lavender. It also comes in tea tree and aloe unscented. She tells me (and I quote) “It keeps me dry all day, even those days when I’m particularly nervous about having to give a presentation and I inadvertently wear a shirt containing synthetic fibres.” Yes, this happens.

The Skin Deep database gives this deodorant a 1, which is excellent. Alba Botanica is part of a large eco products holding company that brings you brands such as Earth’s Best, Imagine and Jason. Alba is based in Colorado, but the packaging claims that the deodorant itself is made in Canada. Perhaps a new area of comparative advantage for our economy??

Laurie also recommends Honeybee Gardens deodorant powder. She applies this deodorant when she has finished a yoga class and is in too much of a hurry to shower. It is also good when you want to mop up a bit of that summer sweat. It is phenomenally absorbent and smells nice too. The EWG rating is 0.

The powder is made from baking soda, corn starch, arrowroot and essential oils. Nothing more. So simple, you could make it yourself. But why bother, since it only costs $6.99 for 4 oz, which seems to last forever. As an added bonus, a portion of sales goes to breast cancer research. The company is also unusual in that it ships to Canada from its Pennsylvania base at the same prices as to the US (and they do mini samples of their lipstick and eyeshadow colours for only 50c each: what a great idea).

As for me, for the last several years I have been using a deodorant that sells at our local farmers’ market, under the Morrison Manor mark. It is lovely and fresh-smelling and works for me (though I have to say that I do not sweat much). But this is not much of a recommendation unless you live in Ottawa. And I do regret the non-refillable roll-on containers.

More recently I have been using a crystal deodorant. I have always been deeply sceptical of these, but I was sent one by Green Virgin Products (a small Florida-based company that sells soap nuts and other non-toxic items…and ships to Canada). I thought I should try it since it is the off-season for the farmers’ market.

To my surprise, it has worked really well. I did a very strenuous 2.5 hour cross country ski yesterday and, really, my shirt was rosebud-fresh at the end of it. Perhaps I should also experiment with using this to combat foot odor, as one reviewer suggests on the informative Green Virgin website.

From an eco and also a cost-saving perspective these crystal deodorants are certainly the best bet as they appear to last forever (thereby limiting packaging, etc.). I have been using mine for 2 months and see no dent in it. And they are cheap to start with at $5.99.

I don’t like the application (wetting it, drips down my armpit and no fragrance boost to kick-start my morning), but that is the only bad thing I have to say about it right now (I AM AFRAID THAT THIS IS NO LONGER TRUE. SEE MY COMMENT BELOW: MOST CRYSTAL DEODORANTS ARE MADE FROM AN ALUMINIUM COMPOUND). Some crystal deodorants also come in roll-on or spray-on form, though that seems to be missing the point a bit.

Last word, though, to Laurie, the natural deodorant queen: she tells me that both she and her sister used crystal deodorant in the past and that they worked well for a while but that after about 6 months they ceased to do so.

I guess I’ll be back to you in 6 months.

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