Sunday, March 13, 2011

Is America too Sweet or Britain too Bland?

On a recent visit to the States, Mike noticed that his taste buds had "evolved".

Mike:

I was surprised, on our recent visit, at how sweet America was: the beer, the bread, the pretzels (sugar-coated pretzels—honest to God) and even, oddly enough, the candy.  And if it wasn’t infused with sugar, it was too salty and/or covered in cinnamon.  After nearly ten years in UK, I found it all a bit too cloying.

During our stay, we bought a box of Whoppers, the US version of Malteasers (or, if you prefer, Malteasers are the UK version of Whoppers) and after eating three I felt, literally, nauseous.  The coating was some sort of concoction found only in a laboratory and the center was compact and shockingly sweet.

We found it difficult to order coffee from Dunkin Donuts because they routinely put one or two measures of sugar in a cup.  “Regular” means cream and sugar; to get a coffee with milk only required conversations and confirmation with several employees and a confusion of clerks trying to figure out coffee without sugar.

Conversely, my wife and I had brought over a selection of sweets from an old fashioned sweet shop in our town as gifts for the children we would be seeing.  I am afraid the American children found them rather tame; they just weren’t sweet enough, or sour or tart enough.  Every US confection, it seems, has to be over the top and in your face. 

This got me wondering: are Americans unable to appreciate nuance?  Or are the Brits just too tame with their taste buds?  Are Americans missing out on the delicate blending of subtle flavors or are the Brits eschewing a marvellous taste sensation?

For my part, I favor subtly.  I realize that, while I was there, I enthusiastically sprinkled sugar, salt and/or cinnamon on everything I ate (and I suspect this practice has become worse during my absence) but now that my body has detoxified, it can’t handle the copious amounts of condiments any longer.

Toni:



Bland? Have you tasted Marmite lately?





While I do agree that American food has some strange stuff added to it, I wouldn’t call British food particularly bland.  Rather than sweet, there is often a surprisingly savoury taste when you least expect it. While Cumberland sausage can have a peppery bite to it, Americans actually build their sweetness into the sausage, with maple syrup mixed right in.

And then there are salads. A typical British salad is Coronation Chicken, with its strong curry flavour, whereas the American salads I was first presented with (in the South) mainly consisted of fruit and frothy bits. You’d be forgiven for assuming such sweet salads were in fact, dessert, except that they are often served with BBQ.

There’s a Jellied Waldorf salad here, and a recipe for Marshmallow Fruit Salad from the Internet, just in case anyone thinks I exaggerate:

1 large can fruit cocktail
1 can Mandarin oranges
1 (20oz) can chunk pineapple
3 oz. cream cheese
8 oz. Cool Whip
3 oz. strawberry banana Jell-O
1 bag mini marshmallows
chopped fresh fruit (bananas, grapes, strawberries) (optional)
Open and drain all canned fruit. If also using fresh fruit, chop and set aside in a bowl. Soften cream cheese in a large bowl.
Mix Cool Whip and dry Jell-O (just the powder) with the cream cheese. Make sure that all of the sugar/powder from the Jell-O is dissolved. Finally, add the marshmallows and canned/fresh fruit.

Mmmmm. Great with burgers!

22 comments:

  1. Arguments can be made in all directions on this one, I think. But, really, it all comes down to choices. There are absolutely delicious choices in both countries, sweet, savory, tart, spicy... Something for everyone.

    I would think as well, though this may well be an inflammatory comment, that preferred food "character" may differ according to the specific area of the country (especially in the USA) and socio/economic class under consideration.

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  2. Sigh. Will my pallet ever adjust to American levels of sweetness? Do I even want it to? I've already resigned myself to purchasing all chocolate when on bulk on trips back home. But how I miss Hovis wholewheat bread with its wonderful lack of molasses and as for the vegetarian baked beans - the closest thing to what I know to be baked beans - well, I shudder just to think of them.

    The epitome of American sugary 'candy' though, has to be the easter 'peeps' that my dear mother-in-law is guaranteed to give us and which will stay in the cupboard in all their food-colouring sugariness until I throw them out next year to make space for the more recent offering.

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  3. I'm an American and I think our foods are too sweet and too salty. The easiest way to lose a quick ten pounds is to avoid fast food and eating out all together.

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  4. A major problem is that American food often has high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS added. This is different from sugar (despite what the corn processors may have us believe) and the food manufacturers use a lot of it!

    British food does tend to be more on the savoury side. Bland? Not in the least......

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  5. American baked beans = yuck. However, I eat the British reduced sugar/salt variety and find even the regular British ones too sugary.

    I find American sweets to consist of mostly sugar with little other flavour, and considering that I eat dark chocolate, well, I'm not going to like the US version am I!

    But I do really like apple pretzels. Yum. And cinnamon's good.
    I may have to make apple crumble tomorrow...

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  6. I am a Southern gal and our traditional fare is very sweet indeed. I miss it, but i like most of the foods here in the UK. The bread is where I notice the biggest difference. Most American breads have lots of sugar in them while the English do not. it is a matter of taste. I find that if I don't likea ready-made version of something, I make my own. Makes it very simple.

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  7. I was actually going to write a blog post on this very subject! Bah, you beat me to it.

    Having just moved to the UK from the US I can tell you that the UK foods have considerably less salt and less sugar in their food stuff...also a heck of a lot less preservatives. (I found this out the hard way with a loaf of bread I bought that I thought would last more than 5 days) Even the exact same sugar cereal (Sugar Puffs (UK) to Sugar Smacks (US)) had a lot less noticeable sugar added to it.

    I find myself adding salt to a lot of foods I eat here that normally I wouldn't. I'm hoping that will change as my taste buds get used to the foods in the UK. Personally I could use less salt and less sugar in my diet. And while I was annoyed at first that I couldn't have that cheese toastie I had planned, having less preservatives in my food has got to be better as well.

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  8. It is virtually impossible to get bread in the US that doesn't have added sugar - we end up going to a special and rather pricey bakery to get 'normal' bread. The salt content of restaurant meals also seems higher than in the UK - my husband said he really noticed on a trip back to London how un-salty the chips tasted.

    However, Americans are definitely trying - my son's school has a special Nutrition Week next week to encourage more fruit and veg. Although they didn't take well to Jamie Oliver!

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  9. I was going to write the opposite point, actually. My husband and I find British food much sweeter and much saltier. We cook at home and rarely eat out in London specifically because the food is so plain or too sweet. No matter if we are eating Italian, Thai, Indian--restaurant food is much sweeter than in the US, or Texas at least. And salt is either all or nothing.

    In our 5 years, we have compared many labels. Breakfast cereals are sweeter. Cheerios made for the UK have a sugar coating (if you want the plain ones you have to buy imported Cheerios). I've not tried Sugar Smacks, though. Ketchup is a sweeter formula, relishes are sweeter and more common, salad dressing is much sweeter--my husband and I were shocked to see sugar listed second on a bottle of Caesar dressing our first months here. Even salsa has sugar in it. Non chocolate desserts are sweeter. Treacle tart, anyone? I've seen dips of avocado, yogurt, and honey (bit of a shock when I tried that). As for salt, British bacon and ham is much saltier than at home. First time I ate bacon here, I remembered the time we cooked a Virginia ham without soaking it. Now I've gotten used to British bacon and notice the lack of salt in bacon at home. At the butcher the other day, he and I discussed sausage, with him suggesting the "flavored" sage ones; I hadn't realized the cumberlands were plain pork, but that explains why I'm not fond of them and would often add sage or oregano or pepper to them before cooking.

    There are a few exception. US chocolate is sweeter, and usually waxier, true. If you are going though the gallery of regrettable food, you will find those horrible marshmallow things, but does anyone under 60 make those anymore? I'll also agree that the US restaurants salt food more, though I'd attribute that to the fact that British restaurants don't put much in their food at all. As for bread, and most other staples really--sausage, bacon, etc.--most bread companieshave more options than anyone knows what to do with. Honey, buttermilk, buttered split top, 100% whole wheat, gluten free, sugar free, rye, mulit-grain. Checking my loaf of Kingsmill whole wheat, it has about the same sugar as Mrs. Baird's whole wheat. (.3g less, but the slices are thinner). I think finding food for specific nutritional needs is far easier in the US.

    I'd bet that eating out in the US, you'd get more flavor but less health than in the UK, but if you are cooking at home, it is easier to cook healthy in the US. As for the gallery of regrettable food, that's actually a book, and this link to some old Weight Watchers cards is a riot.
    http://www.amazon.com/Gallery-Regrettable-Food-James-Lileks/dp/0609607820/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1300122166&sr=8-1

    http://www.candyboots.com/wwcards.html
    .

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  10. Aha! That explains why I lost so much weight living in the UK. The food wasn't as sugary as it was in the U.S. I thought it was because English food didn't taste that great. (I didn't actually notice the decline in my sugar intake as I often skipped the mains for the puddings. Yum!)

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  11. AHLondon sent this great comment, which for some reason, didn't post here:

    I was going to write the opposite point, actually. My husband and I find British food much sweeter and much saltier. We cook at home and rarely eat out in London specifically because the food is so plain or too sweet. No matter if we are eating Italian, Thai, Indian--restaurant food is much sweeter than in the US, or Texas at least. And salt is either all or nothing.

    In our 5 years, we have compared many labels. Breakfast cereals are sweeter. Cheerios made for the UK have a sugar coating (if you want the plain ones you have to buy imported Cheerios). I've not tried Sugar Smacks, though. Ketchup is a sweeter formula, relishes are sweeter and more common, salad dressing is much sweeter--my husband and I were shocked to see sugar listed second on a bottle of Caesar dressing our first months here. Even salsa has sugar in it. Non chocolate desserts are sweeter. Treacle tart, anyone? I've seen dips of avocado, yogurt, and honey (bit of a shock when I tried that). As for salt, British bacon and ham is much saltier than at home. First time I ate bacon here, I remembered the time we cooked a Virginia ham without soaking it. Now I've gotten used to British bacon and notice the lack of salt in bacon at home. At the butcher the other day, he and I discussed sausage, with him suggesting the "flavored" sage ones; I hadn't realized the cumberlands were plain pork, but that explains why I'm not fond of them and would often add sage or oregano or pepper to them before cooking.

    There are a few exception. US chocolate is sweeter, and usually waxier, true. If you are going though the gallery of regrettable food, you will find those horrible marshmallow things, but does anyone under 60 make those anymore? I'll also agree that the US restaurants salt food more, though I'd attribute that to the fact that British restaurants don't put much in their food at all. As for bread, and most other staples really--sausage, bacon, etc.--most bread companieshave more options than anyone knows what to do with. Honey, buttermilk, buttered split top, 100% whole wheat, gluten free, sugar free, rye, mulit-grain. Checking my loaf of Kingsmill whole wheat, it has about the same sugar as Mrs. Baird's whole wheat. (.3g less, but the slices are thinner). I think finding food for specific nutritional needs is far easier in the US.

    I'd bet that eating out in the US, you'd get more flavor but less health than in the UK, but if you are cooking at home, it is easier to cook healthy in the US. As for the gallery of regrettable food, that's actually a book, and this link to some old Weight Watchers cards is a riot.
    http://www.amazon.com/Gallery-Regrettable-Food-James-Lileks/dp/0609607820/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1300122166&sr=8-1

    http://www.candyboots.com/wwcards.html
    .

    ReplyDelete
  12. As an English person...... I do love savoury food rather than sweet and apart from chocolate which is the exception, I do love Marmite and cheese and crisps and quiches and pizza.... rather than puddings and I do hate having sweet and savoury on the same plate!
    Maggie X

    Nuts in May

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  13. Is the American diet too sweet? As the Diabetic nation of the world, I would sadly say yes. Thankfully the past two decades brought the whole foods & organic movements which made a more healthy impact, but more of us need to jump on that bandwagon (myself included)

    Speaking of British foodstuffs, I live in the Bay Area and fell in love with Glengettie Welsh tea when I happened upon it in Seattle. If anyone can point me to where I can find Glengettie in the San Francisco Bay Area I would be most grateful. It's not easy to find here. :(

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  14. Hey w ehad that marshmallow stuff at my international school's teachers' day lucnh. school is 50% American & it was strang ebut i had to be 'talked through' a lot of the dishes as I didn't really recognise quite what they were. Until I got to the potato salad. Aha I thought. I know what thi sis, but as I dipped my spoon in, it rebounded with a 'boing'. I asked what it was & was told it was 'ambrosia'. This confused me even more. Ambrosia to me is rice pudding. Turns out it was sweet, but it wasn't pottao salad.... It was mini marshmallows in a white jello type saucey stuff. It was 'on the line between the savoury main course dishes & the beginning of the desserts on the buffet table.
    I have to confess, I passed on that one.
    I also have a HUMMINGBIRD Bakery book. You know Tarek Malouf, the journo turned baker who cdn't get his favourite sweet treats in the UK so opened a bakery, then chains of them, then the book. He of the famous 'Hummingbird red velvet cup cakes' Nice reipes in principle but the quantities of sugar are UN believable!

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  15. Paradise Lost: where can I get a Hummingbird Bakery book? I haven't had a hummingbird pie since I moved here ;)

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  16. I have found the bread in the US to be sickily sweet, its like eating an iced bun. I have resorted to making my own bread every day of the week. When it comes to foods I think it is a matter of what your used to and what you grew up with. I have definately put on weight since moving here and do find it much more difficult to eat healthier. I don't think I will ever get used to american chocolate here, there is nothing better than cadburys. I did find some nice white chocolate in Aldi the other day that tastes just the same as aMilky bar.

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  17. I think the Brits have it right on this one (though I agree with Toni, Marmite is anything but bland!). Sometimes I am sickened by the amount of sugar in everything we buy, and I am afraid that my taste buds are now seared and unable to catch those subtle nuances. I'm trying to simplify my eating (less sweetener in the coffee, less salt and butter on everything) in an attempt to reclaim the lost art of tasting!

    -Abigail
    www.PictureBritain.com

    P.S. But I do love those marshmallow salads.... ;)

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  18. I agree a lot is sweet, but please: "“Regular” means cream and sugar; to get a coffee with milk only required conversations and confirmation with several employees and a confusion of clerks trying to figure out coffee without sugar." That's rediculous.

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  19. Definitely sweeter. When I first tried Loves bread in Hawaii I was floored by how sweet it was. Coming from New Zealand, our bread is not in the least bit sweet so I found it a weird combination to eat sweet tasting bread with poached eggs.

    The recipes I find online, hot dang, I have to half and sometimes use a third of the sugar in cake and ice cream recipes as it's so too overpoweringly sweet. That's with every US recipe I've tried, so I wondered if they're just used to that level of sugar on a daily basis?

    Don't get me wrong, I love me some Cinnabons and Sees Candies but the recipes I find from Paula Deen, Alton Brown and even Ina Garten to name just a few have tons of sugar in them.

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  20. Definitely sweeter. When I first tried Loves bread in Hawaii I was floored by how sweet it was. Coming from New Zealand, our bread is not in the least bit sweet so I found it a weird combination to eat sweet tasting bread with poached eggs.

    The recipes I find online, hot dang, I have to half and sometimes use a third of the sugar in cake and ice cream recipes as it's so too overpoweringly sweet. That's with every US recipe I've tried, so I wondered if they're just used to that level of sugar on a daily basis?

    Don't get me wrong, I love me some Cinnabons and Sees Candies but the recipes I find from Paula Deen, Alton Brown and even Ina Garten to name just a few have tons of sugar in them.

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  21. When I visited Germany I did notice a severe lacking of sweetness in their food, and that Germans (and I assume Europeans in General) don't consume as much candy and chocolate as Americans do. It made me realize that Americans have a love affair with sweetness. However not all American food is coated in sugar. A typical salad in America is not what you displayed, it is lettuce tomatoes cucumbers chicken etc.. But we do have many other types of salads like potato salad, fruit salad, tuna salad... But I do have to agree with you, if it's not super sweet, its super salty or super sour. We just like our intense flavors.

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  22. I've lived in America all my life and I agree that most sweet drinks/deserts/etc. are way too sweet. Especially sweet tea. I really do not understand why they have to make it so ridiculously sweet. It's like they dump a cup of sugar in each drink. So now I always just get unsweet tea and use half of a sweetener.

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