Splenda is the brand name of a product sweetened by means of sucralose, a substance derived from sucrose, better known as table sugar. Making sucralose involves changing the structure of the sugar molecules by substituting three chlorine atoms for three hydrogen-oxygen, or hydroxyl, groups. According to manufacturer McNeil Nutritionals, part of Johnson & Johnson, sucralose provides no calories because the body doesn't metabolize it as sugar. McNeil also says that the granulated form of Splenda (the Splenda available in packets is not the same) can be used cup for cup to replace sugar. We tested this assertion in our recipes for sugar cookies and blueberry cobbler.
The sugar cookies made with Splenda had a texture that was markedly different from those made with granulated sugar, being so soft as to almost melt in your mouth in the way cookies made with confectioners' sugar do. The cookies made with regular sugar were more substantial and had a definite chew. The Splenda cookies also looked different; they didn't brown at all, and they were puffy. The "real" sugar cookies browned nicely around the edges and, compared with the Splenda batch, were fairly flat. Flavor-wise, the Splenda cookies tasted, well, sweet. On a negative note, they were lacking in the caramel flavor that developed in the regular sugar cookies as they browned. On a positive note, the cookies made with Splenda were also lacking the artificial flavors that just about every other sugar substitute brings with it.
Tasters noticed similar differences in the cobblers, although this time differences in the level of sweetness were more notable. As with the sugar cookies, the biscuits in the cobbler made with Splenda didn't brown, but they also tasted less sweet and were not as tender as the biscuits made with sugar. The berry filling made with Splenda also tasted less sweet, and it was more liquidy. Even though in this case the flavor differences were more marked, tasters were again pleasantly surprised at not being able to detect artificial flavors in the cobbler made with Splenda.
Overall, then, the cookies and cobbler made with Splenda were not on a par with those made with sugar—differences in texture and color were the most significant—but for someone on a sugar-restricted diet, we thought they would be better than no cookies or cobbler at all. We appreciated the fact that Splenda added sweetness without adding other, undesirable flavors. It bears noting, though, that Splenda does add another thing that most other sugar substitutes don't add: calories.
How can a product that calls itself a "No Calorie Sweetener" have calories? Because it meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's technical definition of a "no-calorie" food, which for sugar substitutes means having no more than 5 calories per serving. According to the manufacturer, 1 cup of Splenda contains 96 calories. In contrast, 1 cup of granulated sugar (the amount used in our sugar cookies) contains 768 calories.
But if the body doesn't recognize Splenda in the way it does sugar, as the manufacturer says, where do the calories come from? In the case of granulated Splenda, the answer is maltodextrin, a bulking agent similar to cornstarch. Without it, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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