It turns out that frozen sweet potatoes:
- do taste okay, not great, but okay.
- are three to four times more expensive than fresh sweet potatoes!
- have 50% to 68% more calories than fresh sweet potatoes roasted at home!
- are made with a whole long list of "other" ingredients.
THE BACKGROUND Last summer, my favorite busy mom brought sweet potato fries to a pool party. I was a late arrival so only a few scraps were left but even cold, the sticks of baked sweet potato were pretty tasty!
Fast Forward Three Months, as I set out to try frozen sweet potato fries for myself. I gotta tell you, I was fully prepared to "love" these products. I expected to extol the virtues of "convenient whole food" from the freezer, like peas or corn or broccoli or cauliflower or spinach. I imagined doing a post with three or four different spice mixes for sweet potato fries. I was going to love these, readers were going to love them too! I cooked and ate them before looking any deeper.
THE TASTE TESTS I baked up two different packages of frozen sweet potato fries, unknowingly setting up a David and Goliath smackdown. This was entirely unintentional: I'd never heard of either company until I started writing this post, their products were the only two in my local supermarket, Schnucks.
Sweet Potato Julienne Fries from the privately held New York company Alexia which claims to be 'reinventing the frozen food category'
Sweet Potato Crinkle Cut Fries (pictured) from McCain, the $6 billion Canadian company known for frozen food products
HANDS-ON TIME A+
Alexia: 1 minute
McCain: 1 minute
TIME to TABLE B-
Alexia: 35 - 40 minutes (including 15 minutes to preheat the oven)
McCain: 35 minutes (including 15 minutes to preheat)
Alexia: Good enough, especially hot-hot from the oven, after that, soggy and unappealing. They were pretty crisp, though not like fast-food fries, say.
McCain: The same pros and cons applied here. I liked these slightly better, but it might have been the eye appeal of the crinkly fries.
INGREDIENT LABELS D+
Whew, I'd imagined a one-item ingredient list, you know, sweet potatoes but these long lists of ingredients sent on the hunt for definitions. I really should have checked the labels beforehand, to know what I was getting into. I'm not a chemist or a food scientist, just a home cook so my interpretations of the ingredients are [shown in brackets].
EXPIRATION DATES C- & A+
Alexia: The package reads, "6180 0076 10 Sell By 6180 03 17 12". I suppose this means that the product should be sold by March 17, 2012 (about 18 months from purchase) but if so, maybe they could just say so?
McCain: The package reads, "Best Before Jun 2011" (about 9 months from purchase). Okay, that's clear, thanks.
CALORIES per SERVING Note: Both companies use a three-ounce serving. For apples-to-apples comparison with other recipes from A Veggie Venture, I'm using four-ounce servings.
THE CALORIE IMPACT
Alexia: There are 48% more calories in the Alexia frozen sweet potato fries than fresh sweet potatoes roasted at home.
McCain: There are 68% more calories in the McCain frozen sweet potato fries than fresh sweet potatoes roasted at home.
Alexia (regular sweet potato fries): $3.19 - $3.68 per pound (15-ounce package on sale for $2.99, regular price $3.45)
Alexia (spicy sweet potato fries): $4.26 - $4.90 $ (15-ounce package on sale for $3.99, regular price $4.59)
McCain: $2.69 per pound ($2.69 for 16-ounce package)
For comparison, Fresh Sweet Potatoes: $1.19 ($1.00 per pound store price, adjusted to $1.14 per pound for 2 ounces inedible skins plus $.05 estimate for olive oil and salt and pepper for roasting)
THE COST IMPACT
Alexia (regular sweet potato fries): 2.7 - 3.1 times more expensive than roasting at home
Alexia (spicy sweet potato fries): 3.6 - 4.1 times more expensive
McCain: 2.3 times more expensive
PRICE PREMIUM for TIME SPENT
To compare, I washed, peeled, sliced, oiled and seasoned two sweet potatoes weighing a little more than a pound. It took 10 minutes, including measuring, weighing, dropping the dishes into the dishwasher. At the costs shown above, that 10 minutes is the equivalent of:
Alexia (regular sweet potato fries): $12 - $15 per hour ($25,000 to $31,000 per year)
Alexia (spicy sweet potato fries): $18.50 - $22.25 per hour ($38,300 to $46,300 per year)
McCain: $9 per hour ($18,700 per year)
The common wisdom is, "Consumers are willing to pay for convenience." Apparently we are, in both dollars and calories, all to save 10 minutes. Time is precious but my goodness, are these the consequences of saving time so that we can, what, watch more TV? take a run? "talk" to our friends on Facebook? toss a football with the kids in the backyard? check e-mail? sleep? (Yes, GOOD things can happen with an extra ten minutes.)
But I'm so conflicted. I WANT frozen sweet potato fries to be better. I WANT our best food companies to deliver convenience and good nutrition and a good value. I WANT to say, "Yes, frozen sweet potato fries are good for us!" Surely, surely, human ingenuity can do better.
~ Delicious Microwave Sweet Potato ~
~ Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Tagine ~
~ Sweet Potato Casserole ~
~ more sweet potato recipes ~
from A Veggie Venture
~ Rustic Mashed Sweet Potatoes & Carrots ~
~ Turkey Sweet Potato Soup ~
~ Chicken Cider Stew ~
~ more sweet potato recipes ~
from Kitchen Parade, my food column