I was reminded while doing some grocery shopping recently just how important it is to pay attention to what you put in your cart and how you can't always trust your old stand-by brands, especially when those brands start showing up on products outside the area the company built its reputation on.
Case in point: Land O'Lakes®. I've always thought pretty highly of their dairy products and it really didn’t surprise me when I noticed their name on some bags of powdered hot chocolate mixes. What did surprise me was the phrase on the front of a bag of Land O'Lakes Triple Chocolate International Drinking Cocoa™ ... "Brimming With Chocolatey Flakes."
Just between you, me, and everyone else who is going to read this–chocolatey is shorthand for faux-chocolate. Even though the FDA legalized white chocolate in 2002 (a crime against chocolate according to most chocolate lovers) they actually do regulate the use of the word chocolate very closely; a food or ingredient must contain a minimum percentage of ingredients that actually come from a cocoa bean in order to call itself chocolate.
So, when Land O'Lakes says that their Triple Chocolate International Drinking Cocoa is Brimming With Chocolatey Flakes what they're really telling you is not to expect much actual chocolate in the product. A glance at the lengthy list of ingredients reveals just how true this is.
The first two ingredients are sugar and more sugar and next comes partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil before we get to any cocoa. Then comes non dairy creamer which consists of even more sugar in the form of corn syrup solids, more partially hydrogenated tropical oil (coconut oil this time), sodium caseinate (the first dairy ingredient), followed by a couple of di- and tri- phosphowhatsitsz. The next ingredient, in bold, is an acronym, something you don't see very often on ingredients labels: DATEM. DATEM stands for diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides and is an emulsifier. (A search of the FDA database linked to the cocoa products regulations above provided the answer to this one. DATEM is on the list of (and I quote), "Direct Food Substances Affirmed as Generally Recognized as Safe." All I know is that if I handed a sentence that awkwardly constructed into my high school English teacher I would have flunked. Badly.) An anti-caking agent precedes more cocoa powder which in turn is followed by two more types of sugar, natural [finally something natural!] and artificial flavorings, salt, and three different gum thickening agents.
Don't Be Fooled by Good Marketing
Label copy suggests that LO'L "... traveled the globe to bring [us] the finest cocoa powders ... then [they] added chocolatey flakes for an extra special indulgent touch." Chat/texting-savvy folk will immediately recognize that LO'L is suspiciously close to LOL. Mere coincidence? Maybe. But I was certainly ROTFLOL.
More profound irony can be found in the directions on how to make a cup brimming with chocolatey flakes: "Note: Due to the authentic ingredients of cocoa powder and chocolatey flakes, extra stirring may be necessary."
Authentic chocolatey flakes. Now there’s a concept.
Further exploration reveals that International Drinking Cocoa Brimming with Chocolatey flakes is a source of natural antioxidants and can be a part of a healthy lifestyle if consumed in moderation. "Contains" is another bit of marketing shorthand for not all that much. The FDA also regulates words associated with health claims. A Good source must contain at least 10 per cent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA); an Excellent source must contain at least 25 per cent of the RDA.
But Let's Not Completely Blame Land O'Lakes
To fully understand how LO'L International Drinking Cocoas got made, it is necessary to keep on reading the label. It turns out that LO'L isn't entirely responsible. They licensed their name to an outfit called Precision Foods. I don't know precisely who got the best of that deal, but I know that it wasn’t the consuming public who have come to trust the LO'L brand which is, in the company’s words, "Where Simple Goodness Begins™." Simple Goodness? As a long-time chocophile I know that Simple Goodness in a drinking chocolate is two ingredients: really good chocolate and the freshest possible whole milk.
Now that's simple goodness.
(And no, I can't tell you what authentic chocolate flakes taste like. A 12.5oz bag—enough for "10 Glorious Servings"—set me back nearly $7. I saved the receipt and I am returning them right after I get done posting this.)
About the author: Clay Gordon has been writing about chocolate since 2001 and is considered a pioneer of the genre of serious criticism about chocolate. His thoughts on chocolate have appeared in the pages of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Week, among many others. He has appeared on Oprah, on programs aired on Food Network and History Channel, and has been a regular guest on Martha Stewart Living Radio. Clay's first book on chocolate, Discover Chocolate was selected as a finalist in the International Association of Culinary Professionals' 2008 Cookbook of the Year Awards. A serious chocolate educator, Clay has created and moderates an online community for chocophiles and aspiring chocophiles, The Chocolate Life as well as helping create and lead tours for serious chocolate fans for The Chocolate Lovers Travel Club.