Sunday, October 26, 2008

Golden Valley Natural - Buffalo Sweet & Spicy

Golden Valley Natural - Buffalo Sweet & SpicyWhen so much organic and "all natural" jerky in this country is made by Intermountain Natural, LLC, a beef jerky reviewer like me can't seem to get away from the stuff. The Idaho Falls, ID-based company makes that type of jerky for several store brands, including the "Golden Valley Natural" brand. Golden Valley Natural is actually a sister company to Intermountain Natural, being founded by the same guy, Roger Ball.

Golden Valley Natural was launched in 1999 and offers jerky in both "organic" and "all natural" styles. The All Natural line, which I'm reviewing here, contains no added hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, MSG, or artificial ingredients.

Intermountain Natural makes jerky for several store brands, including Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's. For those stores that want to offer jerky appealing to the health food consumer, but are not yet ready to do private labeling, the manufacturer offers the Golden Valley Natural brand. Many online stores like Jerky.com have carried Golden Valley Natural as well.

Ingredients

Buffalo, sugar, water, soy sauce, flavorings, apple cider vinegar, salt, paprika, smoke flavoring, citric acid.

Taste

The first taste from the surface of these pieces is a medium-level sweetness, with some slight smoky aroma. Moving into the chewing, I can get a bit of saltiness, and a few extra flavorings.

Those few extra flavorings is hard to discern, maybe some kind of chili powder. It's very faint, however.

For being a sweet & spicy variety, it's got a fair amount of sweetness on the surface the pieces, but almost no spiciness. I can get a faint tingle from some kind of spice in there, but I would not call this hot at all. It's actually very mild.

I taste no natural meat flavors. None. Zip. Nada. But being preservative free, it has a rather fresh taste.

It's not very salty either. Folks like me who don't like heavily salted jerky will find this having a perfect amount of saltiness.

The predominant flavor of this jerky is the medium-sweetness off the surface, followed by a slight bit of smoky aroma, and then the ever-so-slight bit of spice flavoring. Like with all the other jerkies made by Intermountain Natural, this stuff has very little taste, but doesn't necessarily taste bad.

Meat Consistency

These appear to be cuts of whole meat, sliced medium to thickness, and in small to medium sized pieces.

It's a soft & tender style of jerky, being semi-moist. I find it easy to tear apart, and easy to chew. It doesn't necessarily chew like real steak, however. It has a softened consistency, with some pieces going so far as being somewhat mushy.

It's somewhat clean, leaving my fingers mostly without residue except for just a little bit of red powder off the surface.

I also found a good deal of fat on these pieces. The fat didn't really add much to the taste, however. I also found a couple pieces with gristle, though still soft enough chew without notice.

Overall, it's a fair meat consistency, not really providing a steak-like chew, and a good deal of fat, though still being easy to eat.

Golden Valley Natural - Buffalo Sweet & Spicy

Golden Valley Natural - Buffalo Sweet & Spicy
Product Value

You can buy this Golden Valley Natural Sweet & Spicy buffalo variety from Amazon.com at a price of $38.86 for eight packages of 3.5 ounces each. That works out to a price of $1.38 per ounce, making this an average priced buy.

For general jerky snacking purposes, it offers a fair value at that price. Actually, it's only because of that lower price would it be a fair value. Otherwise, this jerky offers little taste satisfaction. The fact that it's easy to eat, and doesn't taste bad, gives it some snackability.

As a sweet & spicy variety, it offers a fair value as well. It's pretty much only a sweet variety. I really don't see this as being spicy. If you love the foods that are both sweet and spicy, I think you might be disappointed in this purchase. But if you like sweet jerky with just a touch of spice, then maybe it's a better value.

And as far as being a buffalo jerky is concerned, there's just no taste of the natural meat flavors in this, and that softened texture doesn't provide you with a steak-like chew. You'll have to decide if that's worth the money.

Rating

I'm giving this a fair rating.

It's saving grace is that this jerky doesn't taste bad, and that it's easy to eat. Otherwise, it provides very little flavor, only a medium-level sweetness and a tad bit of spice.

The level of fat and gristle was a also concern for me if I spent money on this. I think, however, that's just a hit-or-miss issue because I've had other jerky varieties from Golden Valley Natural that didn't have any of this. Even then, I didn't find that provide any chewing issues.

If you can manage to find this jerky at the same price I noted above, or lower, it might be worth having as part of high-protein-low-carb diet. It's very low in fat, at just 3.5gm for the whole bag, and contains no sodium nitrite.

But if you're going to have a beer with this, try a brown ale.

Rating: Fair

Buy this online:

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Whole Foods Market 365 Organic - Turkey Jerky - Fajita

Whole Foods Market 365 Organic - Turkey Jerky - Fajita365 Organic is the store brand of Whole Foods Market, a national chain of grocery stores that caters to a demographic of consumers who want something healthier and more environmentally conscious.

Well, I use the words "environmentally conscious" only because the company seems to put a lot of focus on that. I suppose if you consider most of the foods they sell are packaged in the same plastic that clogs up landfills and keeps us dependent on petroleum, it really isn't anymore environmentally conscious than the other grocery stores. But perception is reality as they say.

The 365 Organic line of jerky carries the USDA Organic seal. The package goes on to say that this turkey jerky is made from boneless, skinless, breast meat, which itself is a refreshing departure from all the other turkey jerkies filled with bones and skin.

This brand of jerky is made by Intermountain Natural, LLC, the same company that makes jerky for Trader Joes and the Golden Valley Natural brand. From what I've seen with Trader Joes jerky and 365 Organic, the two jerkies are exactly the same.

Ingredients

Organic turkey, fajita seasoning (salt, organic onion, organic garlic, organic spices [organic cumin, organic oregano, organic black pepper, organic cayenne], organic grill flavor), organic cayenne pepper, organic evaporated cane juice, water, organic caramel coloring, natural smoke flavoring.

"organic grill flavor"? WTF?

Taste

The first taste off the surface to hit my tongue is a slight sweetness, followed by a smoky aroma, I can also get a sense of some spices. Moving into the chewing, more of the spices come out, and that's about it.

The recurring theme I've noticed with any jerky made by Intermountain Natural is a good deal of blandness. There never is a lot of taste with their stuff. Maybe my tongue has become lazy, wanting foods that pack in more flavor. The same is true with this "Fajita" variety of turkey jerky.

I can taste a slight bit of the fajita seasonings, but only slight. The flavor just doesn't come out and grab me. That might be ok if this jerky could offer a great deal of the natural turkey flavors, but it doesn't. In fact, I taste no turkey meat flavor in this. I taste no meat flavors at all.

So what we have left is a slight sweetness off the surface, with a slight taste of the fajita seasoning.

I suppose it's not a bad tasting jerky. It still has a fresh taste, but just not much taste to enjoy. Of what fajita seasoning is there, I mostly taste the salt, black pepper, and garlic.

And as for that "organic grill flavor" listed in the ingredients list, I can't taste that either. I went out to my barbecue grill, and stuck my tongue on it to see if it resembled anything in this jerky, and it doesn't. I have a ceramic grill, and it seems to taste charred. Maybe if I had an organic grill it might taste more like this jerky.

Meat Consistency

These appear to slices of whole meat, sliced in medium to thick thickness, and in small to medium sized pieces.

I'd probably consider this a semi-moist jerky. I find it easy to tear apart, and easy to chew. In terms of chewing the way real turkey breast meat chews, it doesn't totally, though it's pretty close. Some of the smaller pieces were a bit mushy, while other pieces had the same dry, fibrous texture you'd expect from turkey breast.

It's a fairly clean jerky, those I find tiny fragments of turkey meat falling from this stuff on my lap.

Otherwise, it seems pretty lean. I found no fat, gristle, tendon, or connective tissue.

Whole Foods Market 365 Organic - Turkey Jerky - Fajita

Whole Foods Market 365 Organic - Turkey Jerky - Fajita
Product Rating

I paid $6.99 for this 3 ounce bag from a Whole Foods Market in Irvine, CA. That works out to a price of $2.33 per ounce, making this an expensive buy.

For general jerky snacking purposes, it's a weak value. For that amount of money, you're not getting a lot of taste. You will, however, get a great meat consistency, and for that reason, plus whatever taste you can squeeze from this, it provides some snackability.

As a fajita seasoned jerky it's also a weak value. I supposed it's true that this is fajita seasoned, and does resemble the seasoning you'd expect with fajitas, but you won't get a lot of its flavor. You'll get more fajita flavor from a couple chicken soft tacos from Taco Bell, and you'll spend less money doing so.

Rating

I'm giving this an average rating.

Again, it doesn't taste bad, it just doesn't have much taste. I wouldn't mind lightly seasoned jerky if I could only taste the natural meat flavors, but then this jerky has no natural meat flavors. All you'll get from this is that slight bit of sweetness off the surface, and a slight amount of fajita seasoning.

It still has some snackability just because it's got a great meat consistency, and because what flavor it does have seems to resemble something you'd expect from eating real fajitas. For that matter, it might make a good snack for doing something else, like watching sports, or driving down a long lonely road.

A good beer with this would be a honey blonde ale.

Rating: Average

Where to buy:
  • Whole Foods Market

Friday, October 24, 2008

Flying Elephant - Tofu Snack - Beef Flavored

Flying Elephant - Tofu Snack - Beef FlavoredSo why am I reviewing something called, "Tofu Snack" on a beef jerky review blog? Well, because it says it's "beef flavored", and because I can't read Chinese. For all I know, somewhere on this package it says it's supposed to be similar to jerky.

But truthfully, I'm reviewing this because I want to find a tofu-based jerky-alternative that actually tastes good. If you recall, I already reviewed several brands of tofu-jerky made by American companies that all got "dog treat" ratings from me. In those reviews I said that there's a lot of tofu-based snacks made by asian food companies that taste much better. Hence, I wanted to find one to review.

This brand of "Flying Elephant" is rather mysterious. I don't find anything on it through my Internet searches, but it's made in Taiwan and distributed to the USA by Walong Marketing, Inc., of Buena Park, CA. Walong specializes in distributing Taiwan-made foods to the States. So, can a Taiwan-based food maker do any better in making tofu-jerky than the American food-makers?

Ingredients

Soybeans, sugar, salt, chili, artificial roasted beef flavor (aromatic alcohols, palm oil, peanut oil), salt, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate, sorbic acid, FD&C yellow #5.

Taste

The first taste I get from the surface is a heavy sweet flavor, and an "oily flavor" if you can imagine that. Moving into the chew, I don't taste much at all, except for a slight "fried tofu" flavor.

This stuff tastes like fried tofu, and coincidentally, looks like fried tofu. It probably tastes more like tofu than any of the American-made tofu jerky alternatives. If you've ever had fried tofu, you might know the taste I'm talking about.

It still has an aroma and taste that resembles the American-made stuff I reviewed earlier, but not quite as terrible. I think I described that stuff as "half-soured milk that has been sitting in a bowl in Lucky Charms cereal". This "tofu snack" from Flying Elephant has a more fresh taste, though still sharing some resemblance to that half-sour milk, yet tasting more similar to real fried tofu.

As for being beef flavored, I don't know what they're talking about. I taste nothing resembling beef.

In terms of saltiness, there is a salty taste in there, but not strong at all.

The predominant taste in this is the sweet flavor, followed by the fried tofu taste as a close second. The third most dominant flavor is the combination of the palm and peanut oil.

Overall, it's "ok", in terms of taste if you happen to like tofu. If you don't like tofu in any way, shape, or form, you'll probably find this disgusting.

Meat Consistency

These are pieces of fried tofu, cut into bite sized pieces, and about the same thickness as thin sliced jerky.

It's very oily to the touch. I keep rubbing my fingers and wiping them on my pants with each piece.

But it's very easy to eat. Not chewy at all. As expected, it doesn't chew anything like meat. It kinda crumbles apart in my mouth, which is exactly the way fried tofu eats.

Flying Elephant - Tofu Snack - Beef Flavored

Flying Elephant - Tofu Snack - Beef Flavored
Product Value

I paid $1.49 for this 4.93 ounce bag at a 99 Ranch Market in Irvine, CA. That works out to a price of $0.30 per ounce, making this extremely cheap (as far as tofu-based jerky alternatives are concerned).

I'd say that this gives this an excellent value if you're a vegan/vegetarian looking for a beef jerky alternative. It's got a better taste, and a fresher taste, than any of the American-made tofu-jerkies I reviewed earlier. This stuff is also priced WAY more less.

For general jerky snacking purposes, it really doesn't hold up to eating real meat. It tastes nothing like beef (as the package claims to do), and doesn't really provide the chewing satisfaction. But even if you just evaluate it on its own merits, it still didn't provide much snackability for me. I still don't find myself wanting to eat more and more.

Rating

I'm giving this a fair rating.

While this "beef flavored" tofu snack from Flying Elephant tastes a lot better than the American-made tofu-jerkies, it's still not that great tasting and therefore doesn't get the higher "average" rating from me. But then again, for you vegans/vegetarians, you might see this totally the opposite, and may actually build a craving for this. For the most part, this is really just a sweet-oily snack in the form of fried tofu, and doesn't have much more taste than that.

But what I think makes this taste better than the American-made tofu-jerky is that it's pieces of whole fried tofu, instead of some other kind of blended or pureed concoction. That allows it to retain the true flavor of fried tofu, instead of some other kind of scientific-laboratory taste.

Perhaps if Flying Elephant could create a more American-looking package design, and get this into Whole Foods Market, I think they could put the likes of Tofurky, Tasty Eats, Primal Strips, and other tofu-jerky companies out of business.

Rating: Fair

Buy this online:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Texas Best Beef Jerky - Hot & Spicy

Texas Best Beef Jerky - Hot & SpicyThe Texas Best Meats story is probably the classic story of how the entrepreneurial spirit can take a small piece of America and turn it into a successful family business.

It started back in the 1980s when Troy Collier, a Texas native, began recreating the same beef jerky that his mother used to make. He launched the "Texas Best" brand name in 1989 after his customers said it was the best jerky in Texas. Since then he's gone on to produce sausages using the leftover trimmings from the jerky, and that's how he came up with name "Texas Best Meats" for his company.

Now days, he runs a BBQ catering service and a family-style restaurant, all featuring his famous meats produced from his own USDA inspected facility. He also sells his meat wholesale around the world. But it's still Collier's jerky that makes the Texas Best brand name famous.

Ingredients

Beef, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic pepper, onion powder.

Taste

The first taste I get from the surface is a slight bit of the worcestershire sauce, and a meaty taste, plus a bit of the chili pepper taste. The burn from the chili peppers starts coming through. Moving into the chew, I get some good natural meat flavors, and a slight salty taste.

For being labeled as a "hot & spicy" variety, it's fits the billing. I'm getting a medium burn, just enough to tingle my scalp with a bit of moisture. I can even taste the chili pepper's unique flavor to a small degree.

The predominant flavor of this jerky, however, is the natural meat flavors. It's got a bit of smokiness (the package says mesquite smoked). It has a smooth meat flavor, something that reminds me of the taste of pot roast.

In terms of saltiness, it's very light.

I don't really taste a whole lot of the worcestershire or soy sauce within the meat itself. I'd say it's largely tasted off the surface.

Overall this is a great tasting jerky that puts some good emphasis on the natural meat flavors, with a light salt taste, and good deal of chili pepper. It's not hot, but still hot enough to give you a decent burn, and even throw in the chili pepper's natural flavors.

Meat Consistency

These are strips of whole meat, cut into varying lengths, and cut very thick, about 1/2 to 1 inch widths.

For the most part this is semi-moist jerky, though some pieces being more moist than others. A couple strips were more on the dry side. The thicker cuts are rather tough to bite through; I found it easier to pierce with my canine incisors and then pull apart. The smaller cuts are much easier to bite through. Chewing is perhaps easier since the surface flavors will have you sucking on this for a bit before you chew.

And in terms of chewing, it doesn't exactly chew like a real steak, though somewhat. It tends to have a softer consistency once it moistens up in my mouth. I found a couple pieces that were borderline "mushy". But I also found other pieces were more similar to steak. If anything it's more like pot roast that has dried out a bit.

It's a fairly clean jerky also, leaving no residue on my fingers, but only some bits of chili pepper seeds falling on my lap and desk.

These strips appear to be very lean, I didn't really find any pieces of tendon, gristle or fat. There does appear to be a bit of a chewy ball that gets left behind in the chewing, but nothing that can't be swallowed.

Texas Best Beef Jerky - Hot & Spicy

Texas Best Beef Jerky - Hot & Spicy
Product Value

Jerky.com sells this hot & spicy variety at a price of $18.99 for two bags of four ounces each. That works out to a price of $2.37 per ounce, putting this into the expensive price range. Keep in mind that price also includes the shipping.

I think even at the higher $2.37 price per ounce, you're still getting a decent-to-good value with this jerky. I find it snackable with its natural meat flavors, it's chili pepper taste and medium burn, and the light taste of worcestershire sauce from the surface. Even the thick cuts of lean beef provide a layer of satisfaction for the meat snacker.

In fact it has a great value for jerky dieting. The 160mg of sodium per ounce is the lowest I've seen to date, and the same goes for the 45 calories per ounce.

Rating

I'm giving this a good rating.

This Hot & Spicy variety from Texas Best has its strength in its natural meat flavors, but then adds a plentitude of chili pepper seasoning, and a bit of worcestershire sauce taste off the surface. Those three flavors provide enough variety to maintain a great deal of snackability without creating a sense of blandness.

But while it's a really good tasting jerky, I still didn't get a sense of awe in eating this. It's a good tasting jerky all the way around, but nothing struck me as being exceptional enough to grab the "best" rating.

And while the meat consistency has its strengths and weaknesses, it's still more strong than it is weak. It's very lean cuts, and thick cuts at that, still provide a great jerky experience despite some pieces being rather tough to bite off, and the chewing not always providing a steak-like quality.

For my beer recommendation, a creamy stout would work well with this.

Rating: Good

Buy this online:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fatman's Beef Jerky - Original

Fatman's Beef Jerky - OriginalSometimes the best jerky is the simplest, the stuff that offers a strong taste of real meat highlighted by the marinade and seasonings. Perhaps it's the way jerky used to be, the way it was meant to be.

Having reviewed several varieties already from Fatman's Beef Jerky, that seems to be what this brand does well, emphasizing the real taste of meat, with just enough seasonings to make the jerky even better. While some of their varieties seemed to miss the mark on their advertised flavors, I found that their Cowboy Style and their Salt & Pepper were quite good, just like old fashioned jerky. And maybe that's what Fatman's really excels at.

The brand is owned by Red Meat Foods, LLC, a company started by Rick & Ellen Robey of Roswell, NM. Rick had previously owned and operated a holstein calf raising business and a USDA inspected packing plant. That gave him a good head start into the jerky making business. All of Rick's jerky is made at his facility using his own recipes. He uses only American-raised beef.

Ingredients

Beef, water, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, salt.

Taste

The first taste I get from the surface is a slight saltiness and a meat aroma. Moving into the chew, The natural meat flavors come out, followed by the soy sauce.

This jerky is largely dominated by its natural meat flavors and the soy sauce flavor. The natural meat flavors have a distinct taste that's similar to the center portion of a prime rib. The soy sauce flavor is rather mild tasting, not overly salty, but still very noticeable.

For being free of any added preservatives, this jerky retains a fresh taste.

The worcestershire sauce noted in the ingredients list is hard to taste, I don't really taste it, or otherwise it's lost in the soy sauce flavor.

Overall, it's a good tasting jerky; you can't go wrong when you have plenty of natural meat flavors, with a fresh taste, and free of preservatives. Even though it has a soy sauce flavor, there's still a blandness to this, but I didn't find myself getting bored with it. That taste of meat kept me reaching for more.

Meat Consistency

These appear to be slices of whole meat, sliced thin, and in small to medium sized pieces.

This is a thin dry jerky, being somewhat crunchy. It's very easy to tear apart, and very easy to chew. Once it moistens up in my mouth, it chews just like a real piece of steak.

It's also very clean in that these pieces left no residue on my fingers, and nothing falling on my lap.

Several of the pieces in this review sample have a good deal of connective tissue between the meat grains, but it's not chewy. This jerky is dry enough that it all chews up like meat. I didn't find any gristle or fat in these pieces.

Fatman's Beef Jerky - Original

Fatman's Beef Jerky - Original
Product Value

Fatman's sells all of their jerky varieties at a price of $7.99 for a four ounce package. That works out to $2.00 per ounce, putting this into the expensive price range.

For general jerky snacking purposes, it presents a good value. I found it very snackable with its strong meat flavor, great meat consistency, and it's ease in eating. But you might only find value in it if you prefer "simple jerky", not loaded up sugar, salt or preservatives.

Rating

I'm giving this a good rating.

This original variety from Fatman's is very snackable, and serves to do well in that regards. Above that, it gives out a great taste of natural meat flavors, and a great meat consistency. But after that, it doesn't have much else to excite me. I wanted to find that extra dimension of "wow", but just didn't find it.

But don't let that discount this jerky. There is indeed a demographic of "jerky purists" out there that want the taste of real meat, and little else to get in its way, with no preservatives, and no sticky sweetness. This jerky is for them. My palate, however, wants something more complex.

If you've never tried Fatman's Beef Jerky, this original variety might actually be a great starter to get familiar with its unique flavor and consistency. From there, graduate up to the Cowboy Style and the Salt & Pepper varieties.

A good beer variety with this would be a lambic.

Rating: Good

Buy this online:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cactus Jerky - Hot & Spicy

Cactus Jerky - Hot & SpicyI found this package of Cactus Jerky at a Whole Foods Market the other day, and found myself needing to try it, for one because I'm always willing to give something a try, and two because it sounded like something I had to get on this blog.

Dubbed as "cactus with a conscience", the package is marked with little signs and sayings on how good this is for your body. It mentions that it's, "not endorsed by the beef people, hee, hee". It goes on to say that this brand of cactus jerky originated at Rancho Santa Elena in Malibu, CA, where indians used to live. Except now, this stuff is manufactured in Mexico.

(And we all know how healthy processed vegetables are in Mexico, right?)

Anyways, this product is produced by Cactus Jerky, Inc., who has its main office in Corona Del Mar, CA, and apparently has a trademark on the words "cactus jerky". They go on to claim this product as "Vegan".

Ingredients

Cactus, teriyaki, organic cane juice, dried chile, fresh garlic, onion & spices.

Taste

The first taste I get from the surface of these pieces is a sweet taste, and a plant-like taste. The spiciness begins to work. Moving into the chew, I'm getting more of the sweetness, and more of the spicy flavor.

That "plant-like" taste is very similar to dried seaweed. Not the tissue-thin stuff used with sushi, but the thicker-salted cuts that Japanese folks like eat.

The predominant taste in the chewing is similar to black licorice, but not as sweet, and crossed with seaweed.

For being advertised as a hot and spicy variety, it does indeed stand up to that claim. I'm getting a moderate mouth burn, but not anything that makes me reach for something to drink. I'd rate it as "medium" on my hot scale.

I'm also getting a saltiness, but it's slight, and it's mostly something sits behind the cactus flavor, sweetness, and spiciness. The other spices of garlic, onion, and teriyaki are not well noticed.

Overall, the predominant taste of this jerky is that lightly-sweet black licorice taste with a resemblance to seaweed, with the spiciness coming in at second, and the saltiness coming in at third. In my opinion, I don't really find this to be all that appetizing. However, for being a vegan jerky, it's some of the best stuff I've had, second only to that Pineapple Jerky.

Meat Consistency

These are apparently slices of whole prickly pear cactus leaves (minus the needles), sliced average thickness compared to meat jerkies, and in strips of about 4-5 inches in length. When I hold a piece up to the light, I can see the "veins" running through it.

It's somewhat moist, but mostly as a gummy quality. It's just a little bit more dry than a piece of licorice, but just as chewy. Pieces of it get stuck to the recesses of my molars and feel like bits of slimy licorice. It does take some effort to bite off a piece, but it's not that bad if you bite through it with your canine incisors.

It's actually somewhat dry on the outside, despite the teriyaki coating, and leaves my fingers clean.

Cactus Jerky - Hot & Spicy

Cactus Jerky - Hot & Spicy
Product Value

I paid $3.99 for this 1.5oz package at a Whole Foods Market in Irvine, CA. That works out to a price of $2.66 per ounce, making this an expensive jerky.

For general jerky snacking purposes, it's provides a poor value. I didn't find much snackability in this. The taste is not very appetizing. I suppose if you like black licorice mixed with seaweed, you might like it. I'm not really much into gummy candy, so I don't really find much satisfaction in the way it eats.

As a hot and spicy variety, it does hold a decent value. It certainly is spicy, though not totally hot, more like medium. If priced lower, it would offer a better value.

Rating

I'm giving this a dog treats rating.

Actually, I was debating over "dog treats" or a "fair" rating. I chose dog treats because I really don't want to eat this again. The jerkies I've rated as fair I could still eat; they're just not anything that pleases me. This cactus jerky had a taste that I could stomach much better than the soy jerkies I've reviewed before, but I still felt like that little boy sitting at a dinner table, propping his head up with his arm, delaying over the broccoli.

However, I did actually eat the whole contents of this package. And believe it or not, I still have a teriyaki variety of this cactus jerky to go through.

To me, cactus jerky is another oxymoron. We Americans typically perceive cactus leaves as something you eat when you're stranded in the middle of a desert with no water. Except this jerky removes all the water from the cactus. So, the only point of eating this is to enjoy the flavor of cactus. I'm not sure that's a strong selling point. But since this company is targeting vegans for its sales, I suppose vegans are constantly searching for new foods, and here they have another one.

As for a good beer companion, any beer will do to get rid of that taste in my mouth.

Rating: Dog Treats

Where to buy:
  • Whole Foods Market

Monday, October 20, 2008

Umpqua Indian Foods - Brown Sugar

Umpqua Indian Foods - Brown SugarI think this "Brown Sugar" variety of beef jerky might be the first beef jerky I've tried that bills itself purely as being a sweet jerky. Looking at the ingredients list, I don't see any other seasoning or flavor aside from salt. I do like sweet jerky, but only if done right. That is, if it's going to be sweet, then make it sweet, and emphasize it. I've had other jerky that adds sugar to something that's already loaded up with other flavors, and somehow the sweetness doesn't meld into the jerky and ends up tasting strange. So, we'll see what we get with something as simple as this.

Umpqua Indian Foods is a brand belonging to Umpqua Indian Development Corporation, a company run by the Cow Creek Band of Indians in Roseburg, OR. Aside from running a successful casino, the band runs several companies designed to bring economic viability to an indian tribe.

The brand has been making beef jerky since 1998, selling it locally in nearby towns. Since then, they've managed to take things a step further by redesigning their logo, rebranding themselves as a gourmet jerky, and getting their product into more stores, catalogs, and e-commerce sites. The company claims they use only pectoral meat (from the shoulder area), instead of the Round which most jerky brands use. They say it makes their jerky more moist and tender.

Ingredients

Beef, water, brown sugar, maple sugar cure (salt, cane & maple sugars, dextrose, sodium nitrite).

Taste

The first taste I get from the surface is a lightly sweet flavor and lightly smoky aroma. I can even pick up a slight meat aroma. Moving into the chew, just a bit of saltiness comes out, and some light-tasting natural meat flavors.

After a few pieces of this jerky, it's pretty much on par with the other varieties I've tried from Umpqua Indian Foods, very light on taste. There really isn't any one particular flavor in this that dominates, but if I had to pick one I'd say it's the natural meat flavors.

And those meat flavors, while good tasting, and fresh tasting, is light. That is, this jerky doesn't give you much of it. It has a nice mellow and smooth flavor, but you don't get to enjoy much of it. It's probably good that this jerky doesn't have much other flavor to compete against it, or else you might never find it.

But for being billed as a brown sugar variety, I just don't get much sweetness out of this either. It's probably the same light sweetness that all the other Umpqua jerkies have. It's like eating any one of their other varieties, except without the added seasonings. In fact, I'm not sure if advertising this as a brown sugar variety is even warranted.

In terms of saltiness, it too is very light.

Aside from the natural meat flavors, the sweet, and the salt, there isn't anything else to taste. All of those flavors are light, which makes this jerky rather bland and uninteresting.

Meat Consistency

These appear to be strips of whole meat, sliced average thickness, and in small to medium sized pieces.

This is a dry jerky, though the photos below might make it appear more moist. It does retain a good amount of flexibility however. When Umpqua Indian Foods says that their use of pectoral meat makes this very moist and tender, it's bunk. I've found Wal-Mart's store jerky to be more moist and tender. I think Umpqua could do just as well with round meat, which will lower the cost, and maybe even produce more natural meat flavors.

But being dry, it's still easy to bite off a piece, and still easy to chew. And better yet, it chews like a real piece of meat, just like you'd expect from a steak.

There's a bit of oilness that's left on my finger tips. The vacuum sealed package perhaps draws up the oils from the meat. Otherwise, it's a fairly clean jerky.

I didn't find anything chewy in the way of fat, tendon, or gristle.

Umpqua Indian Foods - Brown Sugar

Umpqua Indian Foods - Brown Sugar
Product Value

Jerky.com sells this Brown Sugar variety from its website at a price of $35.99 for 16 ounces. That works out to a price of $2.24 per ounce, making it an expensive buy. Keep in mind that price also includes the shipping.

For general jerky snacking purposes, that price gives this a weak value. This jerky simply has little to offer in the way of taste. You might get a great meat consistency, but your taste buds are going to have to work pretty hard to give you any return on investment.

As a brown sugar variety, it's a poor value because I don't find this to be very sweet at all. It does have a sweetness on the surface, but only a light one, and at this price per ounce, you can find much sweeter jerkies out there for a lower price.

Rating

I'm giving this a fair rating.

It's not a bad jerky, it actually has a good taste, it's just very light on taste. And even with its great meat consistency, it's still a bland, boring jerky. That causes this to lose a lot of snackability.

I realize that Umpqua Indian Foods has worked hard to market this as a gourmet jerky, but gourmet it is not. It's actually right on par with the original variety of Oh Boy! Oberto, though I'd say even that stuff has more taste. This might work well as a snack food that gives your jaws a mild workout, while letting your mind focus on something else, like watching television or rearranging the songs on your iPod. But just for that purpose, it's an expensive buy.

I think a good beer companion for this is a hoppy tasting IPA.

Rating: Fair

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ring of Fire Beef Jerky

Ring of Fire Beef Jerky"I fell into a burnin' ring of fire. I went down, down, down, and the flames went higher. And it burns, burns, burns, this ring of fire".

Such was the testimony of one country crooner, describing a passion for something hot, relishing the rush of endorphins, but only getting burned in the end. That's largely what Mike & Diane's Gourmet Kitchen, Inc. has made a business of recreating with their popular brand of "Ring of Fire" hot sauce.

The El Cajon, CA-based company has enjoyed great success as a hot sauce manufacturer as evidenced by the many hot sauce blogs. The company got into making beef jerky about 10 years ago after Mike Greening, it's founder, had been making beef jerky for his own personal consumption. He would use his own Ring of Fire hot sauce as a marinade. It was a beef jerky distributor who had been selling his hot sauces that encouraged him to produce "Ring of Fire Beef Jerky" for resale. He hooked up with Glenoaks Food, Inc. of Sunland, CA, the maker of JC Rivers Jerky, to produce it. Glenoaks makes jerky without added preservatives.

Today, Ring of Fire Beef Jerky is sold in very few markets, with most of the sales coming from Ring of Fire's own website. The company largely uses this beef jerky as a promotional item, handing it out as a freebie for customers who buy their hot sauce in larger volumes.

Ingredients

Beef, soy sauce, Ring of Fire Hot Sauce, brown sugar, pineapple juice, hot pepper sauce, chili peppers, garlic, onion, black pepper, liquid smoke, white pepper, ginger.

Taste

The first taste I get off the surface of these pieces is a combination of sweet and the aroma of hot sauce. The burn from the hot sauce starts to work right away, while the unique flavors from the Ring of Fire sauce come into being. Moving into the chew, I can pick up some of the natural meat flavors.

I'd say the flavor that dominates this jerky is a combination of that sweet and hot sauce flavor. There's enough of that sweetness from the surface that it tends to last into the chewing, but it eventually fades away. The hot sauce flavor, however takes a little while to manifest itself, but it eventually becomes more pronounced.

Since I've never had Ring of Fire hot sauce, I can't actually attest to whether this jerky tastes like that brand of hot sauce or not. But I can tell you that this definitely has a hot sauce flavor, and not just "hot". That is, I can taste the vinegar in the hot sauce, it's garlic, and even a tomato-like taste. It's like everytime I chew down on this, a drop of hot sauce squeezes out.

As far as being hot, I'd rate this as medium-hot. Initially, I got a tingling on my scalp, and some moisture building up on my forehead, an indicator that the spiciness of this stuff is causing my heartbeat to quicken. Several bites into this, I have beads of sweat running down the back of my neck, my nose is starting to run, and my eyes getting misty. But I've yet to take a swig of water to quench the hotness, meaning it really isn't that hot. That's pretty much fine by me, because it let's me keep eating without interruption.

The natural meat flavors are present, but don't overpower this jerky. That might be ok because people would eat this jerky to enjoy the Ring of Fire hot sauce, not necessarily for the meat itself. It's for folks who want to experience the hot sauce in a beef jerky form factor. For being free of preservatives, it does have a slightly old/stale meat taste. But that hot sauce taste does a good job of diverting your attention.

The other seasonings in the ingredients list are hard to notice. I do taste a definite garlic taste, but I can't tell if that's from the Ring of Fire sauce or from the garlic seasoning itself. I can pick up some of the onion also. The saltiness is light. The soy sauce flavor can be found if you look for it; in fact you might also see this as a spicy teriyaki variety with the soy sauce, sugar, and ginger ingredients.

Otherwise, what you're getting from this jerky is a good dose of Ring of Fire hot sauce, with it's vinegar, garlic, and tomato flavors, combined with that sweetness from the surface. It's largely a "sweet & hot" variety. The natural meat flavors kinda sit in the background.

Meat Consistency

This appears to be slices of whole meat, sliced average thickness, and in medium sized pieces.

This is pretty much a dry jerky, even though the photos below make it look wet. It's the sugary glaze on the outside that makes it look that way. I found this rather easy to tear apart, and easy to chew.

It also chews like a real piece of meat, though somewhat tender.

One piece had a streak of fat in it, otherwise I found nothing chewy in the way of tendon, gristle, membrane other connective tissue.

Ring of Fire Beef Jerky

Ring of Fire Beef Jerky
Product Value

I paid $3.95 for this 1 ounce package at a Hot Licks store in San Diego, CA. I'll note that you can get this much cheaper by ordering it online directly from Ring of Fire at a price of $2.00 for the same package. But even at $2.00 per ounce, it's still expensive.

For general jerky snacking purposes I'd still say it has a great value, and that's largely because it has a great taste, and a great meat consistency. The flavor of this is very snackable, with a good deal of flavor complexity, and a strong burst of flavor throughout.

As a jerky flavored with Ring of Fire hot sauce, again I've never tasted that particular brand of hot sauce, so I don't know if you're going to taste something that tastes just like the sauce. However it is a hot jerky, though not that hot. But it definitely tastes like hot sauce, and not just hot. For that matter, I think it's also a great value.

Rating

I'm giving this a best rating.

This beef jerky from Ring of Fire Hot Sauce offers a hot-saucy flavor with all of its vinegar-garlic-tomato notes, combined with an excellent meat consistency. It's not just a hot beef jerky, it's a hot sauce beef jerky. But it's actually a sweet & hot jerky with a good deal of sugary sweetness from the surface to keep your sweet tooth in check.

Even though this particular jerky is not blazing hot, it's actually fine that way because it lets you eat this continuously without having to break for a swig of water. But then, that's only if your tongue has developed a tolerance for this stuff.

While the natural meat flavors in this are barely noticeable, the overall flavor of this jerky, or the many flavors of this jerky, I found tasty enough to warrant the best rating.

For a good beer companion, I'd recommend a creamy stout to sooth that burning tongue.

Rating: Best

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tanka Bar

Tanka BarTanka Bar is the name of an energy snack made from chopped buffalo meat and cranberries, similar to the traditional "wasna" and "pemmican" made by native American tribes. It's not really being billed as jerky, being it's more moist than jerky. It came out in September of 2007.

It's the creation of Native American Natural Foods, LLC, based in Kyle, SD, on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The idea is to combine high-protein buffalo meat with the antioxidant properties of cranberries, in an all natural product. The company uses a "secret", patent-pending herbal-based preservative.

Sales of Tanka Bars seems to be growing quickly based on the articles I read through a Google search. It's available in hundreds of stores across the country, and through its website.

Ingredients

Buffalo, died cranberries, water, salt & less than 2% of flavorings, red pepper, se salt, granulated garlic, granulated onion, lactic acid starter culture.

Taste

The taste off the surface of these pieces has something of a meaty aroma, but very little taste. Most of the taste comes from the chewing, which gives off mostly a meat flavor.

The taste of the buffalo meat resembles that of a salisbury steak from a frozen TV dinner, and that's pretty much the dominant taste of this Tanka Bar from start to finish. It's an "ok" taste as far as natural meat flavors go, but then it's far from inspiring. Looking closely at the meat, it appears that it's not just pure muscle, but pieces of other stuff (and I'm not talking about the cranberries either). The aftertaste I get from about three minutes of swallowing is very much the aftertaste of most chopped & formed jerkies.

The company claims it uses tart-sweet cranberries, except the cranberries in this have very little flavor. They have a soft-mushy texture, as if they had been cooked. I'm not sure they contribute anything to the bar in terms of flavor.

In terms of saltiness, there's very little salty taste.

Overall, the word "bland" comes to mind with the Tanka Bar. The additional seasonings might perhaps have saved it from tasting any worse. I'd say it's palatable for the general public, but only so far as finishing off the whole bar and not spitting it out. Maybe the British might enjoy this.

Meat Consistency

These are bars of similar shape and size as a Milky Way bar. It's a chopped & formed meat snack, with whole dried cranberries. The ratio of meat to cranberries seems pretty close to 50/50, with maybe the meat having a higher ratio.

It's indeed very moist, more on the line with being a kippered snack, though chopped & formed. It's very easy to bite off a piece, and very easy to chew. It pretty much falls apart in my mouth.

It's also somewhat oily to the touch. I find myself rubbing my fingers after touching it.

The meat in this is chopped extremely fine, there's nothing fibrous by appearance. It doesn't chew like meat at all. It's pretty much like that salisbury steak from a frozen TV dinner.






Product Value

I paid $5.99 for two Tanka Bars directly from its website. Each bar is one ounce. That works out to a price of $3.00 per bar, making this an expensive buy (in comparison with buffalo jerky).

For general meat snacking purposes, this presents a poor value mainly due to its high price and uninspiring taste. I'm not sure that Native American Natural Foods, LLC intended this to be a general purpose snack, anyways. They're billing it as a healthy energy snack.

But even as a healthy energy snack, it presents a poor value. I've had buffalo jerky with less fat and more protein than this. Even if you were dieting, this stuff contains more carbohydrates than some of the beef/buffalo jerkies out there, and costing much less.

For the most part, I think the Tanka Bar can be successful for the novelty factor, the fact that buffalo meat is being sold into an energy bar, and mixed with cranberries to boot, is something that even I couldn't resist trying. I think the packaging and graphics is very key to its success as well.

Rating

I'm giving this a fair rating.

I really didn't find anything exciting in terms of taste, and it didn't really have much of a snack factor for me. The only snackability came from its ease in eating.

The fact that it had cranberries in it really picqued my interest when I saw this product advertised online. I figured it would provide a very tart-fruity contrast to the salty-meaty buffalo taste, but instead the cranberries are largely tasteless in this.

And then of course the natural meat flavors are rather drab, and just on the good side of "yuck".

For a beer recommendation, I'd suggest a hoppy IPA to help cancel out the chopped & formed aftertaste.

Rating: Fair

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Golden Valley Natural - Buffalo Jerky - Peppered

Golden Valley Natural - Buffalo Jerky - Peppered"Buffalo is not an endangered species" reminds the folks from Golden Valley Natural on this package of peppered buffalo jerky. I guess I never gave that a thought, even though I do recall learning in school that buffalo had once been an endangered species. But it makes you wonder if Golden Valley Natural gets asked this question all the time.

The company, based in Idaho Falls, ID, is a sister company of Intermountain Natural, LLC, the meat processor that makes this jerky. The two companies were founded by Roger Ball, a veteran of the meat snack industry having founded the King B brand of jerky in the 1960s. Intermountain Natural is a private labeler focusing on making organic jerky and jerky made with all natural ingredients. They make jerky for such noted stores as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joes.

The Golden Valley Natural brand is often offered to those natural food stores that want to sell jerky but are not ready to run their own store brands. I've seen Golden Valley Natural in a handful of stores, as well as online stores.

Ingredients

Buffalo, sugar, water, soy sauce, flavorings, apple cider vinegar, salt, paprika, smoke flavoring, citric acid.

Taste

The first taste I pick up from the surface is a slight sweetness, a slight smoky flavor, and a faint pepper taste. Moving into the chew, I can "kinda" get some salty flavor, and a wee bit of natural meat flavors.

There really isn't a dominant taste in this jerky, but if I had to name one particular flavor that rises above the others, it's probably the black pepper. I do taste some of it in this jerky, but it's not very strong. However, it does build up its aftertaste over several pieces.

The natural meat flavors are not very noticeable, but I can detect them. The best way to find them is to first let a piece soften up in your mouth for several seconds. Then, start chewing it. Even then, it's still a faint flavor. And while Golden Valley Natural doesn't add any preservatives to this, I didn't find any kind of old or stale taste.

The sweetness I found on the surface is also very light. You probably won't notice it much if you're just snacking away. The same goes for the saltiness, it's very light in taste.

Overall, this jerky doesn't taste bad, but it just doesn't offer much flavor. I'd say it lives up to its billing as a peppered variety, though a light tasting one. Still, I want to find some kind of flavor to enjoy in this, but can't find anything that wants to come out and play. It's a rather bland tasting peppered jerky.

Meat Consistency

These appear to be slices of whole meat, sliced average thickness, and in small to medium sized pieces.

For the most part, it's a soft and tender jerky, or at least I think it's supposed to be. It seems to be on the tougher side of "soft and tender". I'm guessing that becauce buffalo is more lean than beef, it's not as soft as Golden Valley Natural's beef jerky.

I think that's fine actually, because of all the red meat jerkies I've had from Golden Valley Natural this chews more closely to real steak than any of their others. However, there are still some pieces in this package that feel a bit mushy.

This buffalo jerky is rather easy to tear apart, as long as its with the grain, and easy to chew as well. For the most part it's a clean jerky, leaving no residue on my fingers, but it does drop a decent amount of pepper on my lap.

In terms of finding bits of chewy chunks, I found one piece with a small piece of gristle on the edge. But because it was fairly small, it didn't really get in my way. Otherwise, this jerky seems to have an excellent meat consistency.

Golden Valley Natural - Buffalo Jerky - Peppered

Golden Valley Natural - Buffalo Jerky - Peppered
Product Value

I found this peppered buffalo jerky selling on Jerky.com at a price of $17.49 for two 3.5 oz bags. That works out to a price of $2.50 per ounce, making this an expensive buy. Keep in mind that price also includes the shipping.

For general jerky snacking purposes, that price presents a weak value mostly because this jerky doesn't offer much taste. Even though it has a great meat consistency, and eats easily, it satisfies me like a female stripper getting down to her underwear, and then putting her clothes back on and going home. This jerky looks and smells appetizing, but won't let you enjoy any taste.

As a peppered variety, it's perhaps only a bit better, but because of the higher price, it's still a lot to pay for peppered jerky.

But as a buffalo jerky, it's a poor value. That's because buffalo is supposed to provide more health benefits than beef, and this doesn't seem to provide much of an advantage. This buffalo jerky is 0.5 grams lower in fat compared to the company's beef jerky, but has the same amount of cholesterol. Otherwise, buffalo tastes exactly like beef with the exception that it's more lean. The only advantage I see in getting this buffalo jerky is that it chews more like steak than the company's beef.

Rating

I'm giving this an average rating.

I think I'm actually being generous by giving them the average rating. This jerky really doesn't offer much taste for the jerky lover, and because of that I'd normally give it a "fair" rating. But because it does live up to its peppered billing, and because this buffalo jerky chews more like real steak, I think it does rise above the other varieties offered by Golden Valley Natural.

Really, the only taste you're going to get out of this is the black pepper. Combine that with its great meat consistency, and it's enough to give this a snackability for me. It's not a bad tasting jerky, it just doesn't offer much taste at all.

I think a good beer with this is a hoppy, IPA.

Rating: Average

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