Category Archives: degustation

Duncan’s Degustations – Dr Oetker frozen pizzas

Like a gift from the heavens, a PR person offered me frozen pizzas to sample. I’m really not the ideal candidate, but with my Duncan’s Degustations series underway, how could I resist the opportunity to add to my spectrum of likely-ick experiences?

Offered a sample from the range of four flavours of Dr Oetker Pizza Ristorante pizzas, I asked for one. To my dismay, I was sent eight (8, acht!) of Herr Doktor Oetker’s frozen creations. It was already a hard ask for me to contemplate one, let alone multiple frozen pizzas.

I can’t recall when I last (pre-Oetker) ate a frozen dough disc with topping. I mean, I don’t even buy takeaway pizza. I make my own pizza. Often. Bottom to top. Sometimes it even has pineapple on it.

Dr Oetker, well established German ingredient company (nowadays prominent in preprepared foods, basic cookbooks including one classic translated into English, plus shipping and finance), has for some reason decided to expand into the Australian market with, of all things, imported pizzas. That’s right. Your supermarket freezer cabinet contains pizzas imported from Europe. How’s that for pointless food-miles? At least the origin isn’t fudged (in fact, the packaging is distinctly international), unlike the bread and pastries at Woolworths which are no longer clearly marked.

Back to the food-tasting side of this. You remove the very flat pizza from its shrink-wrap plastic cover (tasty touch that) and pop it in the oven at 220C for 11-13mins. And out comes…

Having eight of these buggers, I had to share them around. My parents were more than a little resistant, but bravely agreed to try Mozzarella. My nice neighbours are more open to preprepared foods, so I thought they might offer a different perspective on all flavours. And Mittens and I ate the Spinaci and the Funghi. (Curiously, perhaps for quarantine reasons, there are no meat pizzas (except tuna) being imported into Australia, despite the German range being about 50% meaty.)

Surprisingly, the tasters’ opinions were very similar:

  • Assertive but not stale herb/garlic aromas.
  • A fairly pleasant but bland taste for all varieties tested.
  • A thin, crumbly pastry base (parcooked) with an unpleasant, pasty-doughy mouthfeel.

The underside before baking (parcooked base).

This is one of those rare food products which is entirely edible, but left the tasters cold. In an emergency, I would willingly eat these pizzas. Given a choice, I’d choose a chunk of cheese or an apple or a slice of toast with Vegemite instead. Surely any food should evoke a stronger preference than this, whether positive or negative? What a strange achievement by Dr Oetker’s food technologists.

Duncan’s Degustations – KFC’s The Double thingamajig

As far as I can recall, I’ve never voluntarily entered a KFC “restaurant”. It’s not snobbery. It’s revulsion. The same revulsion I experience when contemplating a McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks/Burger King. Occasionally, social pressures mean I have to tag along. Sometimes it means I eat a piece of chicken.

If you have to dine in the enemy’s clutches, you might as well make it an experiment. As KFC’s “The Double” (known as the Double Down overseas) is the latest nutritional-outrage-fuelling fast food product, it seemed like an ideal target for the second epsiode of Duncan’s Degustations!

Marketed as “manfood”, and characterised by the use of fried chicken fillets in lieu of the customary burger bread (enswathing bacon, sauce and cheese), the product is the perfect object of loathing for seemingly every anti-chauvinist and every nutritional nagging person.

What does it taste like?

Okay, so the bread is gone, leaving only moist or fatty elements. If someone tells me that the outer elements are fried chicken, I would anticipate some crispness or textural contrast. Instead, there’s moist chicken coated in a very thin layer of soggy “crust”. You bite into The Double and it’s, um, almost denture friendly. Soggy “crust”, moist chicken, thin slices of fast food cheese (not at all as putridly foul as the McDonald’s version), some thin slices of bacon, all kept together somewhat by sweet, characterless BBQ sauce.

Except for its novelty, this product is neither daring nor delicious. Even real KFC lovers would be somewhat disappointed, I think. It’s a dull gimmick.

As for the much criticised nutritional aspects of the product, there’s not much reason to lose sleep over The Double either.

KFC’s The Double weighs approximately 212 gm, which is not excessive for a light fast food “restaurant” meal. The sodium levels are horrendous, even compared to many other products at KFC, but the total energy isn’t markedly different from KFC’s products of equivalent weight and carbohydrate is in fact lower, thanks to the absence of any bread. Naturally, add-ons would change the total meal values, but that’s too variable to consider.

kJ total fat sat. fat sodium carbohydrate
KFC The Double,
original recipe, 212gm
1939 22.3 12.3 1681 17.8
KFC Snack Box,
original recipe, 195gm
2087 26.6 12.1 797 41.6
KFC Original BBQ, Bacon
and Cheese Burger, 213gm
2061 19.6 7.5 1369 46
McDonald’s Big Mac,
200gm
2060 26.9 10.6 958 35.1
McDonald’s Crispy
Chicken Deluxe, 240gm
2350 25.7 6.2 1020 52.3

I can see no reason to eat this product, but no doubt many people will try it once. There’s no point in journalists and nutritionists harping about this particular product, as in most regards it’s no more unhealthy than the other high-fat, high-carb, high-sodium, low-fibre stuff from fast food “restaurants”, which the typical eater will return to once they have tried the new and novel.

Duncan’s Degustations – Betty Crocker Super Moist Devil’s Food Cake

ATTN: Ms Betty Crocker, c/- General Mills
SUBJECT: Betty Crocker Super Moist Devil’s Food Cake vs me, Mittens and Mum

Dear Betty,

I’ve long been in awe of your ability to sell buckets of ready-to-use frosting to the masses. I can remember how Australians called it icing, too, before you (or cupcakes) arrived.

The idea of tubs of icing fascinated me. It seemed naughty, perverse, and maybe a bit like dipping into a pot of yumminess. But I never tried it.

I’m writing to you, Ms Crocker, as part of the opening episode of a new occasional article series on Syrup & Tang, called Duncan’s D├ęgustations. As a public service (or personal torment) I’ll be exposing myself to foods I would normally be sceptical about for one reason or another, just to see if my prejudices are unfounded. I’ve chosen one of your products as my first subject.

I haven’t made a packet cake since, oh, about 1986, and even back then I could tell that my Mum and White Wings had rather different concepts of “cake”. For one thing, there was that signature artificial taste and smell, slightly metallic, and a little reminiscent of some plastics. There’s been seemingly no decline in the popularity of packet cake mixes, and the daredevil in me decided I just had to try one in 2011. Surely, surely, the intervening years would have seen such a rise in food technology skill and knowledge that a packet cake could, in fact, achieve some deliciousness, Betty?

Now, I noticed you have three types of chocolate cake: Super Moist Chocolate Fudge Cake, Super Moist Devil’s Food Cake, and Decadent Chocolate Mud. I can’t say that your boxes were at all informative about the difference between these, and the ingredients lists were so similar (apart from chocolate chips in the mud cake, if I recall correctly) that any product differentiation seemed to lie largely in the names. I chose the Devil’s Food Cake.

The ingredients list: Sugar, wheat flour, cocoa (8%), vegetable oil, raising agents (500, 341 [a sodium carbonate and a calcium phosphate]), dextrose, thickeners (1422, 466 [acetylated distarch adipate and carboxymethyl cellulose]), emulsifier (471 [glyceryl mono-/di-stearate]), wheat starch, whey powder, salt, flavour, antioxidants (306, 320 [tocopherols and butylated hydroxyanisole]). And the consumer must add water, oil and eggs. None of the additives are problematic, to my knowledge.

Now, Betty, I know you’re a figment of someone’s imagination, and your real-life minions at General Mills aren’t likely to be letter-readers, so permit me to cut to the chase. My co-eater Mittens and I made your cake. It was, indeed, very pleasantly “moist” in the mouth (though to be technical, moist relates to moisture, not the soft, oily nature of your cake).

I tried it out on my Mum, without telling her that it was cake mix cake. She was very polite about the texture. That’s all. Then she asked me if it was a packet cake.

Ms Crocker, we found your cake bitter, undersweet, not particularly chocolatey, and a touch metallic. In fact, in most regards it was very much the same as the packet cake I made in 1986. What’s more, the stingy portion of frosting you included (that sachet doesn’t stretch very far now, does it!) did nothing to make things better. It’s disappointing enough that the frosting only stretched to the thinnest of coatings, but why did it have to taste salty and (again) a touch metallic? Is this the foul substance people buy in those tubs, for reasons that now entirely escape me?

Mittens wonders what differentiates your cakes from the likes of, say, this:

I would be ashamed to serve this sorry excuse for cake. Your website says its “Made in Australia from the best quality ingredients we can find in Australia and around the world to deliver a superior product”. Try harder, Betty.