Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cookies for Breakfast, Literally (And Chocolate, Too!)

Today I want to talk about toast. Actually, the things you put on it. I made an interesting discovery soon after arriving in Maastricht, one that made me kind of excited, to be honest: the Dutch put sprinkles on their toast. Observe:

 Called hagelslag in Dutch and usually eaten on buttered toast for breakfast (the butter helping the sprinkles to adhere), these were invented by Gerard de Vries in 1936 for a company called Venz, and are named after hail, apparently a common weather phenomenon in the Netherlands (looking forward to that)*. The picture you see above is a box of extra puur, or extra dark, chocolade hagelslag by De Ruijter, the biggest producer of bread toppings in the country. The box says it’s at least 45% cacao, which is why it can be called chocolade; if it’s under 35% cacao, it has to be called “cacao fantasy hagelslag” (perhaps implying that it’s pretending to be chocolate. Or that it wishes it was chocolate?).

There’s plenty of variety when it comes to this stuff. Here’s part of the Jumbo supermarket’s selection (like all photos on this blog, you can click to enlarge):

 As you can see, they’ve got both dark and milk versions, as well as other flavors like fruit and aniseed (these have no chocolate in them). There are also similar products such as vlokken, or flakes, which are just what they sound like: flakes of chocolate, available in dark, milk, white and in combination. Muisjes (little mice) were actually my first introduction to this type of Dutch food (and are the oldest such product, invented in the 1800s): they’re candy-coated aniseeds and are traditionally eaten to celebrate the birth of a baby on top of a crispy bread-like thing called a beschuit, or rusk. The candy is colored: boy babies get blue and white, girls get pink and white. I had beschuit met muisjes at the Jumbo grocery store, which was offering them to customers in celebration of the opening of its 200th store (I don’t think the 200th store was the particular branch I was at, I’m not sure where it was opening). They’re actually pretty good, although I am not normally a huge fan of anise-flavored things; they gave the very plain, dry rusk a pleasant sweetness but, despite the anchoring layer of butter, tended to scatter everywhere when bitten into. So a word of warning: hagelslag and muisjes make a fun but very messy breakfast treat.

On to the next item: in a previous post I espoused the glories of Nutella, and also mentioned that stores in Maastricht stock various similar sweet, pseudo-healthy spreads (yay, alliteration!). Besides the chocolatey versions, I mentioned speculoos pasta (speculoos cookie spread). Since I am a fan of the cookies and since our jar of Nutella was running low this morning, I decided to give it a whirl. Here’s another picture in case you forgot what it looks like and don’t feel like finding that other post (I will eventually include links back to old posts when I mention them, promise!):

 Now, when I initially saw this crunchy speculoos paste on the shelf, I assumed that it was some sort of peanut or other nut butter flavored with speculoos spices, with bits of cookie mixed in. But I was wrong. Here’s the list of ingredients, translated with some difficulty (using a crappy free online translator) by yours truly:

  • Speculoos, which in turn contains:
      • Wheat flour
      • Sugar
      • Vegetable oil
      • Molasses
      • Risjmiddel which I think is either baking powder or soda
      • Soy flour
      • Salt
      • Cinnamon
  • Rapeseed (canola) oil
  • Sugar (again!)
  • Lecithin
  • Citric acid

In case you couldn’t work it out from the ingredients list, basically this is a spreadable cookie. Which would be fine, mind you, if it didn’t also say this on the side of the jar (in both Dutch and French, by the way):

Rich in unsaturated fat
Source of Omega 3
Without coloring agents
Without added flavorings

Now, that last one just doesn’t make any sense: of course they added extra stuff to it, that’s what makes it taste good and keeps it spreadable. It’s there in the ingredients, which obviously don’t simply list “speculoos.” Just literally grinding up a bunch of cookies would not produce anything close to a product meant to be spread on bread. So that’s just nonsense.

Equally nonsensical, though not perhaps from a marketing standpoint, is trying to pass this off as anything remotely good for you. I mean, come on, a source of Omega 3? From where, exactly? I never realized vegetable fat and sugar were so healthful. I believe the company behind Nutella recently got sued for this same sort of thing, branding their product as a healthy breakfast food when in reality it’s more like putting frosting on your toast. Not that I’m necessarily against that, mind you (I’ve been known to eat both frosting and Nutella straight from the jar/can), but it’s downright misleading to pretend that Nutella is as healthy as, say, peanut butter, which is what the advertisements were implying. At least Nutella does have hazelnuts and skim milk in it (listed after the sugar and hydrogenated vegetable oil, of course), which do legitimately contain some healthy fats and protein. The speculoos spread has absolutely zero nutritional value as far as I can tell.

And you know what? It’s absolutely delicious.

* As always, most information in this post is brought to you by Wikipedia. Some of it, however, comes from another blog I stumbled across recently called The Dutch Table, by a Dutch expat living in the U.S who is cooking and baking her way through the culinary repertoire of her home country. If you find any of the food-related topics I have discussed on this blog at all interesting, definitely check out The Dutch Table; as a native Limburgian, I assume this woman knows what she’s talking about, and the dishes she recreates (with recipes included) look scrumptious.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, we should definitely have spreadable cookies in the US! I'm gonna put it in Nabisco's suggestion box I think. And yea I always laugh at those Nutella commercials, they make it sound like the best thing to feed your kids in the morning.