Frozen Sweet Potato Fries:
Are They Worth the Price? the Calories?

Frozen Sweet Potato Fries (Crinkle Cut Fries from McCain)
Today's product review: A look at what I thought was a promising development in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store, sweet potato fries. How do they taste? Are they worth the money? I suppose I shouldn't be shocked -- shocked! -- but I am.

It turns out that frozen sweet potatoes:
- do taste okay, not great, but okay.
- are three to four times more expensive than fresh sweet potatoes!
- have 50% to 68% more calories than fresh sweet potatoes roasted at home!
- are made with a whole long list of "other" ingredients.

THE BACKGROUND Last summer, my favorite busy mom brought sweet potato fries to a pool party. I was a late arrival so only a few scraps were left but even cold, the sticks of baked sweet potato were pretty tasty!

Fast Forward Three Months, as I set out to try frozen sweet potato fries for myself. I gotta tell you, I was fully prepared to "love" these products. I expected to extol the virtues of "convenient whole food" from the freezer, like peas or corn or broccoli or cauliflower or spinach. I imagined doing a post with three or four different spice mixes for sweet potato fries. I was going to love these, readers were going to love them too! I cooked and ate them before looking any deeper.

THE TASTE TESTS I baked up two different packages of frozen sweet potato fries, unknowingly setting up a David and Goliath smackdown. This was entirely unintentional: I'd never heard of either company until I started writing this post, their products were the only two in my local supermarket, Schnucks.
Sweet Potato Julienne Fries from the privately held New York company Alexia which claims to be 'reinventing the frozen food category'
Sweet Potato Crinkle Cut Fries (pictured) from McCain, the $6 billion Canadian company known for frozen food products



HANDS-ON TIME A+
Alexia: 1 minute
McCain: 1 minute

TIME to TABLE B-
Alexia: 35 - 40 minutes (including 15 minutes to preheat the oven)
McCain: 35 minutes (including 15 minutes to preheat)

TASTE B-
Alexia: Good enough, especially hot-hot from the oven, after that, soggy and unappealing. They were pretty crisp, though not like fast-food fries, say.
McCain: The same pros and cons applied here. I liked these slightly better, but it might have been the eye appeal of the crinkly fries.

INGREDIENT LABELS D+
Whew, I'd imagined a one-item ingredient list, you know, sweet potatoes but these long lists of ingredients sent on the hunt for definitions. I really should have checked the labels beforehand, to know what I was getting into. I'm not a chemist or a food scientist, just a home cook so my interpretations of the ingredients are [shown in brackets].



EXPIRATION DATES C- & A+
Alexia: The package reads, "6180 0076 10 Sell By 6180 03 17 12". I suppose this means that the product should be sold by March 17, 2012 (about 18 months from purchase) but if so, maybe they could just say so?
McCain: The package reads, "Best Before Jun 2011" (about 9 months from purchase). Okay, that's clear, thanks.

CALORIES per SERVING Note: Both companies use a three-ounce serving. For apples-to-apples comparison with other recipes from A Veggie Venture, I'm using four-ounce servings.


THE CALORIE IMPACT
Alexia: There are 48% more calories in the Alexia frozen sweet potato fries than fresh sweet potatoes roasted at home.
McCain: There are 68% more calories in the McCain frozen sweet potato fries than fresh sweet potatoes roasted at home.

PRICE D-
Alexia (regular sweet potato fries): $3.19 - $3.68 per pound (15-ounce package on sale for $2.99, regular price $3.45)
Alexia (spicy sweet potato fries): $4.26 - $4.90 $ (15-ounce package on sale for $3.99, regular price $4.59)
McCain: $2.69 per pound ($2.69 for 16-ounce package)
For comparison, Fresh Sweet Potatoes: $1.19 ($1.00 per pound store price, adjusted to $1.14 per pound for 2 ounces inedible skins plus $.05 estimate for olive oil and salt and pepper for roasting)

THE COST IMPACT
Alexia (regular sweet potato fries): 2.7 - 3.1 times more expensive than roasting at home
Alexia (spicy sweet potato fries): 3.6 - 4.1 times more expensive
McCain: 2.3 times more expensive

PRICE PREMIUM for TIME SPENT
To compare, I washed, peeled, sliced, oiled and seasoned two sweet potatoes weighing a little more than a pound. It took 10 minutes, including measuring, weighing, dropping the dishes into the dishwasher. At the costs shown above, that 10 minutes is the equivalent of:

Alexia (regular sweet potato fries): $12 - $15 per hour ($25,000 to $31,000 per year)
Alexia (spicy sweet potato fries): $18.50 - $22.25 per hour ($38,300 to $46,300 per year)
McCain: $9 per hour ($18,700 per year)



NOW WHAT?
The common wisdom is, "Consumers are willing to pay for convenience." Apparently we are, in both dollars and calories, all to save 10 minutes. Time is precious but my goodness, are these the consequences of saving time so that we can, what, watch more TV? take a run? "talk" to our friends on Facebook? toss a football with the kids in the backyard? check e-mail? sleep? (Yes, GOOD things can happen with an extra ten minutes.)

But I'm so conflicted. I WANT frozen sweet potato fries to be better. I WANT our best food companies to deliver convenience and good nutrition and a good value. I WANT to say, "Yes, frozen sweet potato fries are good for us!" Surely, surely, human ingenuity can do better.







© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2010


17 comments:

Is there a reason why we cant cut up fresh sweet potatoes and freeze them ourselves? Seriously! I don't know much about preparing foods for freezing.

by cooking at home not only do you save money but health. why save money to waste health on creepy ingredients. it is a shame food consumers have learn chemistry and food science to make food purchases that don't sabotage our health.

i second the request for real convenient food minus the factory made chemicals. i could live with much less shelf life.

loved your post.

you are so great-I just had Alexis sweet potato fries last night and boy was it easy-but after reading your article NOT worth it-please help and teach us how to cook them

Bravo. I LOVE this post. Great info and it just proves a point in black and white. Well I guess orange too.

So if you really want frozen sweet potato fries save your money on buying them from those bags and make your own. Over the weekend is when I do some bulk cooking and prep. You can peel and cut up your fries. Place them on a tray and freeze so they don't stick together. Then when they are frozen put them into a bag. When you want fries put them into the oven and cook. Usually same time and directions as frozen. Maybe a little longer but not usually. If you want you can pre-bake a little but for me that's just extra time.

LOVE your post. Going to go share it now.

And this is only the "tip of the iceberg"! When did we get so LAZY?! Fresh bought basic food is always better than anything manipulated and bagged for mass consumption. Thanks for your time and effort to educate. If a person can't take 10 minutes to feed one's own body and the bodies of those we love...we are really in trouble!

Thank you for the hard work to break down the details, very helpful. I did turn away from a frozen package because of the price. Didn't even look at the ingredients

Leave the skin on and use a mandolin to julianne the potatoes - 5 minutes tops - not even long enough to preheat the oven. If you toss with olive oil in a bowl you will use less. I'm not sure why. Just one of those silly things my mom taught me!

ps... still raving over your stuffed pumpkins! making them again this weekend!!

Excellent review! I also tried the frozen product; even cooked them on the grill; and we still threw them out. Sometime a person just has to take the time and use the real thing.

I’ll be sticking to my old recipe, thanks!

When are THESE COMPANIES GOING TO LEARN that we JUST WANT ONE ingredient,maybe two or three AT THE MOST. Why all the nonsense -(UNNECESSARY) ingredients? Are they promtoting some more of their own chemicals and food additives?

Great review! I've had these and wasn't impressed either. Thanks!

Great review. I had lost a lot of faith in you after your so-flattering review of Monsanto and their trademarked onions. Keep up the good work; integrity is key! We all need to keep letting food companies know that we expect clarity and honesty.

I think the reason I like them (we use OreIda - fewer caloies, but less fiber, too) is because I can never get the made from fresh fries to come out crispy. They're either soft or burnt. Any recommendations would be great!

Thanks for the great information on the frozen sweet potato fries. I have seen them in the grocery store and often thought about buying
them. I think I will just keep making my own!! I sure enjoy your recipes and column.

Thanks for the info! We bought Alexia sweet potato fries in an attempt to get the kids to eat sweet potato fries. They, so far, have resisted all of my homemade attempts. And since they had no interest in eating the frozen variety, back to homemade I go! I have seen sweet potato spears in the produce aisle before...just as easy as buying the frozen variety and, hey, ONE ingredient! Sweet potatoes!

I LOVE this blog! Thanks so much for the recipes, the comments, and your impassioned championing of real food. (And the WW points info is a bonus!)I subscribe to both your blogs and, while I get behind occasionally, I always enjoy them.

Very good observations and comments about the convenience packaged frozen sweet potato French fries! The Alexia brand was acquired by Con Agra back in 2007. If you have tried the Alexia tater fries back back then, you will have likely noticed that it did not have any visible coating or batter-like substance on it. The current iteration of the Alexia sweet potato fry-type product has a very visible coating, most likely to help maintain "crispness" or flavor? I am not an expert on these things, but very likely the batter or coating is responsible for much of the "added" ingredients.

Great blog!

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