Posted by Linda Bonvie
July 22, 2014
Now that blueberry season is upon the land, a lot of people may be thinking about how great some of those nutrition-packed little fruits would taste inside of some homemade muffins.
But just what constitutes a homemade muffin nowadays? Do those made from packaged mixes really qualify? And does the quality of the ingredients really measure up to the ones used in your grandmother’s (or great-grandmother’s) recipes?
Well, that all depends. That is to say, it depends on the kind — and the brand – of muffin mix you use.
Like the pancake mixes and syrups discussed in this blog last week, the muffin mixes available in supermarkets vary widely in terms of what goes into them, and some are just plain awful. You just have to be aware of the vast differences in these seemingly similar products – and read the list of actual ingredients they contain.
Let’s talk about the worst first. And “bottom honors” in that category go to Betty Crocker Blueberry Muffin Mix — the kind that comes in a plastic pouch that “makes 6 muffins”– and Jiffy Blueberry Muffin Mix, readily recognizable by its mini-box, which has similar ingredients.
For starters, while both have “blueberry” in their names, neither contains actual blueberries. In fact, if you look very carefully at the Betty Crocker mix, you might be able to make out the words “imitation blueberries” and “artificially flavored,” which appear in letters that are barely distinguishable from the red background on which they appear.
Much easier to read, however, are the health claims on the bottom of the pouch– like 120 calories, 120 grams of sodium. 12 grams of sugars and just one gram of saturated fat (or 4 percent of daily value) per ¼ cup mix – which attempt to disguise just how unhealthy this product really is. For example, while recent research has exonerated saturated fat as a threat to cardiovascular health, trans fat in the form of partially hydrogenated oil, or PHO, is now held responsible for an average of 7,000 fatal heart attacks a year – and this particular mix contains enough PHO to actually register 0.5 grams of trans fat on the Nutrition Facts panel. By contrast, most products containing PHO get away with pretending to have “zero trans fat,” due to the FDA loophole that discounts any amount under that. But maybe that’s because there’s additional PHO in the “artificial blueberry flavor bits.”
Like some of the pancake mixes we discussed, these products also contain aluminum in the form of sodium aluminum phosphate, which has now been directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. And that’s not to mention the artificial colors in those artificial blueberry bits.
Now, you might think the Betty Crocker Wild Blueberry mix, which comes in a box, is better by virtue of the fact that it includes a can of actual blueberries. Well, that is an improvement of sorts. But it still contains both PHO (although not quite as much, since it claims zero trans fat) and aluminum – as does Krusteaz Wild Blueberry Muffin Mix, which also provides a small can of actual berries.
A better option on the ‘standard brands’ scene
A surprisingly superior alternative, however — perhaps reflecting that some “standard brands” are starting to become more responsive to health concerns — is Duncan Hines Simple Mornings Blueberry Streusel Premium Muffin Mix, which not only has real blueberries, but claims to have “Real Ingredients, Nothing Artificial.” And indeed, there’s nothing on the ingredient list that would seem to belie that claim – no PHO, no aluminum in its baking powder, no artificial colors or flavors (it also makes a point of having “no high fructose corn syrup,” although we were unable to find any listed in even the worst mixes).
Organic ingredients, of course, are still your best bet from a health standpoint for several reasons, and for those consumers who prefer to use them whenever possible, we recommend the Organics brand of apple cinnamon muffin mix put out by European Gourmet Bakery. All you have to do is add fresh or frozen blueberries.
But what’s important to remember is, healthy “homemade” blueberry muffins are easy enough to make —without having to start from scratch. And given the abundance of blueberries in season (and the fact that they’re available in frozen form year-round), any product that contains trans-fat filled “artificial blueberry bits” deserves to be laughed off the shelf.