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Taste test: new foods from Nature Valley, Steak n Shake, Bertolli, Cole's

Every so often, our judges try some of the new foods to hit grocery store shelves, which gives them a chance to taste products they normally wouldn't buy. The tasting featured this week confirmed that our panelists likely won't be buying any of these new items. Three of the four foods we tried were designed to go from the freezer to the microwave. While frozen foods are convenient, the quick heating process often is the downfall of good flavor. Judges said the microwave also destroyed some of the texture and taste of the products. Hopefully, our next batch of new foods will be more appealing.

Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent

ProductNature Valley Baked Oat Bites Cereal Steak n Shake Double 'n Cheese Steakburgers Bertolli Three Cheese Marinara 'Torta' Cole's Pretzel Sticks filled with Pub Cheese

These oddly shaped squares of cereal tasted sort of healthy and sort of sweet. Judges liked the taste well enough, but questioned whether it was a necessary option in the cereal world. "I probably wouldn't eat it for breakfast," allowed one judge. "But it would be a nice, crispy treat. It would look great in a Chex Mix medley." Another said it tasted "exactly like a granola bar" with cinnamon and sweet overtones.These frozen steak burgers were heated in the microwave oven according to package directions. They looked very appetizing as they were being served. However, that appeal didn't hold up on first bite. The buns tasted more like foam, and the burger turned out to be too tough for some panelists. "This has lots of meat but it's gristly," said one judge. "The bun is squishy and, with the molten cheese, it's really messy to eat." A couple of judges blamed the microwave for the destruction of the flavor. " 'Microwaving' and 'burgers' should never be in the same sentence," said one panelist. "This is a black eye for the Steak n Shake brand."Bertolli's Italian meat and cheese pie reminded judges of a pizza pot pie. The crust was surprisingly crisp and crumbly, even after being heated in the microwave oven. But the tomato sauce was a bit too assertive for some tasters. One really liked the herbs baked into the sauce and the crust of the pie, suggesting it would be great, with a salad, to serve at a children's sleepover. Another panelist didn't object to the pie but questioned whether the food item was a necessary addition to grocery store freezers. "For pot pies, I prefer chicken or beef," said another.In previous tastings, Cole's brands of frozen breads have done pretty well with our panelists. That was not the case with these pub-cheese-filled pretzel sticks. "These are soft, doughy and extremely salty," said one judge. None of the judges liked the flavor or feel of the cheese, saying it may have contributed to the spongy, squishy texture of the overall pretzel stick. "It's the Pillsbury Dough Boy gone bad," said one judge. Another said, "It's sort of like desperation food — college stuff."

they buy?
Two of the four judges said yes.One of the four judges said yes.One of the four judges said yes.None of the four judges said yes.
Shopping information$3.77 for an 11-ounce box from Walmart.$5.99 for a 10.6-ounce box of two (5.3-ounce) sandwiches from Publix.$3.49 for a 10-ounce torta from Publix.$2.99 for a 12-ounce box of five pretzels from Publix.

Panelists: Janet Keeler, assistant professor of journalism at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and editorial director of; John Hehn, foodie and owner of All Brite Lighting & Power Design Inc.; Mary Jane Park, executive director of the St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District Association; and Laura Reiley, Times food critic.

Send suggestions for product testing to: Taste section, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or email them to Please put TEST SUGGESTION in the subject line. To read past Taster's Choice columns, go to

Serving sizeThree-fourths cupOne sandwichOne tortaOne pretzel
Fat/Fiber6g /3g30g / 1g38g / 7g8g / 0g
Sugars/Sodium13g / 160mg5g / 720mg9g / 1160mg2g / 580mg
Carbs/Protein7g / 34g23g / 29g18g / 66g6g / 24g

Taste test: new foods from Nature Valley, Steak n Shake, Bertolli, Cole's 02/29/16 [Last modified: Monday, February 29, 2016 10:17am]
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