Thai Jasmine Jell-O

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When I was a kid, my mom used to make almond Jell-O, a traditional Taiwanese dessert. She would add almond extract and milk to plain Knox Gelatin, chill it until it set, cut it into cubes, and serve it with ice and canned fruit cocktail. Last time I went to Taiwan, this refreshing dessert was everywhere.

I once tried making a dairy-free version by using almond milk instead of cow’s milk. You’d think that would work, right? But it didn’t. The almond milk didn’t play well with the gelatin and I ended up with a clumpy unappetizing mess.

Shopping at a Bangluck Market Thai grocery store, I came across a mix that looked a lot like my childhood comfort dessert, except that it’s jasmine instead of almond flavored. It contains non-dairy creamer instead of milk (although it isn’t safe for people with milk allergies because of the casein). The name could be better — “agar” makes me think of a petri dish — but the photo on the package sold it.

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And it’s easy to make. You simply add the mix to water, boil and stir. I poured the mixture into a wide, shallow dish so that the cubes wouldn’t come out too big when I cut them. I waited for the agar to cool before putting it in the fridge, and then discovered that it had already set at room temperature. Food science, man.

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When I added the fruit cocktail, it tasted very much like almond Jell-O… except not almond-y. The jasmine flavor was nice and subtle. If you’re a fan of jasmine tea, you’ll love it. My husband, who doesn’t care for almond Jell-O, actually liked the jasmine much better.

Bangluck Market is full of treasures like this, including Thai chile powder and roasted rice powder — two ingredients necessary to make a proper larb (Thai meat salad) — and some odd snack foods, such as potato chips that tasted like Froot Loops. I highly recommend you stop by the next time you’re in North Hollywood or the Thai Town section of Hollywood Boulevard.

BANGLUCK MARKET, 12980 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, CA 91605
BANGLUCK MARKET, 5170 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027

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Dairy-Free Mango Lassi

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Less than a week after I swore off dairy-free yogurts because all the ones I tried were horrible, I bought another one. Go ahead and laugh. But I finally found a good one! Hooray!

It’s called Coyo Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative and I found it at Bristol Farms, an overpriced gourmet supermarket in LA that you should never shop at unless you have money to burn. This 5.3-ounce cup cost $3.69. But you know… research.

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I was willing to give this one a shot because it only has four ingredients and they all sounded reasonable: coconut cream, tapioca, pectin and probiotic cultures. It’s dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and GMO-free.

And I’m happy to report that it tastes great!

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It tastes mostly like coconut, with a good dose of yogurt-y sour. Unlike the other dairy-free yogurts I’ve tried, it’s actually white, rather than an unappetizing beige.

It’s also super thick and creamy. In fact, you can even use it in place of whipped cream, which I did with the leftovers after I made my mango lassi. Just add some honey to take the edge off the tartness and you’ve got a healthy dessert topping.

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This yogurt was perfect as the base for my mango lassi. Just as I was resigning myself to a life without lassi, along comes Coyo! At $3.69 a cup, it’s a “sometimes treat,” but I encourage all you lassi lovers to try it at least once.

Here’s the recipe. The rose water is optional, but adds a lovely flavor. You can find it in most Persian markets.

Dairy-Free Mango Lassi

3/4 cup frozen mango chunks
1/2 cup Coyo Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative (Natural)
1/4 cup almond milk
1 teaspoon honey
1 pinch cardamom
1/2 teaspoon rose water

Combine all the ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Makes one serving.

Good Karma Dairy-Free Yogurt

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You’d think I’d have some good karma from diligently trying all these dairy-free yogurts. After all, back in my dairy-eating days, I never even liked yogurt that much. But now I’d give my left nut to find a dairy-free yogurt that tastes half as good as Yoplait.

Good Karma Dairy-Free Yogurt is made from flaxmilk. I’ve never tasted flaxmilk straight up, so I can’t tell you if this yogurt tastes like it. What I can tell you is, it’s awful. And my hopes were not high, since I hated both the coconut-milk-based So Delicious yogurt and the almond-milk-based Almond Dream yogurt.

My expectations sank even further when I removed the lid and saw this yellow clumpy mess.

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After a vigorous stirring, it looked slightly more palatable, but not much.

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I mustered up my courage and put a spoonful into my mouth. The first flavor that hit me was intense sweet, followed quickly by sour. I thought, “This tastes like a condiment.” Condiments are often vinegar-based (sour) and contain a lot of sugar (sweet). This yogurt tastes like something you’d dip a Chicken McNugget into! I know yogurt is supposed to be sour, but this sour just tasted wrong.

After the initial sweet-and-sour flavor assault, I was left with a weird aftertaste that I can only describe as “unnatural.” I read the ingredients and found “pea protein isolate,” which has been in some other vegan products I’ve tried and didn’t like. I also found “cane sugar,” something I never want to see on an ingredients list. I mean, if you’re drinking a Coke, I suppose cane sugar is better than high fructose corn syrup… but it’s still sugar. And I don’t want sugar in my yogurt.

Needless to say, I’m giving a big thumbs-down to Good Karma Dairy-Free Yogurt. The stuff tastes nothing like yogurt. I know I keep saying that about dairy-free yogurts, but it’s true. I’m officially done with trying them unless someone has a recommendation. If you’ve had one that actually tastes like yogurt, let me know in the comments section!

Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Caramel Almond Brittle

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This is the fourth Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy ice cream I’ve reviewed, so I’m going to make this one short. This flavor reminded me of Häagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche, although less rich and more crunchy. The caramel swirls are smooth and just slightly salty, and the crunch of the almond brittle gives the texture a nice balance.

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The only thing I don’t like about Caramel Almond Brittle is its strong almond-extract flavor, which shows up mostly as an aftertaste. Incidentally, I mentioned this almond-extract flavor in my review of MALK almond milk. If you like that flavor, you will like this ice cream. If not, my recommendation is to steer clear.

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None of the other Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy ice creams I’ve tried — P.B. & Cookies, Chocolate Fudge Brownie, and Chunky Monkey — have this almond-extract flavor, despite all of them being made with an almond milk base. So my guess is they added that flavor to Caramel Almond Brittle to boost its “almondness.”

I still haven’t lost faith in Ben & Jerry, though. My hope is that they’re working on Non-Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. Until then, P.B. & Cookies is still at the top of my list.

Starbucks Toasted Coconut Cold Brew

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Doesn’t this photo look delicious? Just look at that creamy swirl and the beads of condensation on that mason jar. And that creamy swirl is actually dairy-free coconut milk! As a lactose-intolerant coffee drinker, I was super excited about the Toasted Coconut Cold Brew, a limited-edition offering from Starbucks.

But I’m here to warn you that Starbucks is the king of the bait-and-switch. They roll out new drinks constantly, advertising them with beautiful photos like this. If you’re like me, you get sucked into the fantasy and you order it. And then what you get is exactly like every other drink on their tired old menu: bitter, burnt-tasting coffee in a plastic cup.

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Now, of course, I knew my drink wasn’t coming out in a mason jar. There’s only one place I know of that serves to-go drinks in glass jars and that’s Bearology, a boba tea kiosk in the Westfield Santa Anita Mall. (They recycle the jars if you bring back the empties and give you a discount if you order another drink.)

But I’d be willing to overlook the sad plastic Starbucks cup if the drink lived up to its promise. When I read “Toasted Coconut,” I imagined a roasted flavor akin to the marshmallow in a s’more. But it had no such flavor. After I got home, I looked up the drink online to figure out what went wrong. Here’s how it’s described.

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The key word is “sweetened.” When I read the ingredients list, I realized that the purported toasted coconut flavor comes from “toasted coconut syrup,” which I did not have in my drink because I asked the barista to make mine unsweetened. She failed to mention that without the syrup it would just be a plain old iced coffee.

And Starbucks iced coffee (like all Starbucks coffee) tastes bitter, like it sat on the burner too long before they chilled it. It’s supposedly “cold brew,” meaning it was never brewed hot, but if that’s true I don’t see what the point of cold-brew is. It’s just as bad.

As for the “float of coconutmilk,” that is blatant false advertising. There was no “float.” As you can see from the photo above, the iced coffee just came out with coconut milk mixed in and nothing floating on top.  Plus, there was no coconut flavor whatsoever. Again, that might’ve been because the flavor comes from the syrup, but good coconut milk should taste like coconuts.

What really annoys me is that I wouldn’t have ordered this drink if I knew it would taste exactly like Starbucks regular iced coffee. I am a sucker for novelty and advertising. Well, you know what they say: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  Or as The Who put it, won’t get fooled again!

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More ridiculous Starbucks advertising. Not gonna do it!