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SUGAR-FREE CHOCOLATE PUDDING CUPS

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ItÕs easy to make instant chocolate pudding from a boxed mix. But itÕs not as easy to make the sugar-free variety. Instead of stirring up rich and smooth, the sugar-free puddings often turn out grainy. Premade pudding cups, though, are as silky smooth as homemade. The schoolteachers who made up our special back-to-school panel were asked to take a bite of each brand, but Òin fairness to the pudding industryÓ they voluntarily scarfed down every ounce of the samples. While they ranked them in order of their favorites, the teachers said they would happily include any of the brands in their own lunch boxes. Kathy Saunders, Times correspondent

Product/serving Jell-O a 3.75-ounce cup HuntÕs a 3.5-ounce cup Swiss Miss a 3.5-ounce cup Hannaford a 3.5-ounce cup
Calories Fat / Fiber 60 1.5g / 1g 60 3g / 0g 70 3.5g / 0g 60 2g / 0g
JudgesÕ comments Dark and richly colored, smooth and shiny. ÒThis looks like it has to taste good,Ó said one judge. They all agreed the Jell-O brand did not have a fake-sugar aftertaste. Thicker than the others. One judge described it as fudgelike and sticky. Panelists said it had the strongest chocolate flavor. The teachers on our panel compared this pudding to chocolate mousse, apple butter and chocolate frosting because of its thickness and creaminess. The flavor wasnÕt as strong as the others, but the texture was a winner. SweetbayÕs pudding brand was dark and shiny but the taste did not deliver as much as the competition. Judges said it tasted a bit like yogurt and had a slight, ÒfunnyÓ aftertaste.
Shopping information $2.89 for six (3.75-ounce) cups from Publix. $1.25 for four (3.5-ounce) cups from Publix. $2 for six (3.5-ounce) cups from Publix. $1.99 for six (3.5-ounce) cups from Sweetbay.
Panelists: Kim Thomson and Tami Gower, fifth-grade teachers at Pasadena Fundamental Elementary School in St. Petersburg; Rosella Sunnucks, media specialist at Pasadena Fundamental; and Steve Sims, theology teacher at Tampa Catholic High school in Tampa. All foods were tasted blind.

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