Simple cake mix

Further evidence, if Mr. Tidbit needed any, that major grocery manufacturers want to hop onto the "natural" or "simple" bandwagon: Purely Simple white cake mix from the Pillsbury branch of J.M. Smucker. The box front proclaims "Simply no colors, preservatives or artificial flavors," and indeed the only entries in the eight-item ingredient list that probably aren't in your kitchen are xanthan gum and natural flavor. Pillsbury's regular Moist Supreme classic white cake mix has a 22-item ingredient list, of which 16, for example propylene glycol esters of fatty acids (which Mr. Tidbit learned is an emulsifier and stabilizer) and BHT (an antioxidant), are unlikely kitchen staples.

Mr. Tidbit counted the flour in the Moist Supreme mix as just one ingredient of the 22, although it is enriched flour, which appears in the list as "enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid)." The Purely Simple mix lists just "wheat flour." Because very few people rely on cake mix to meet their vitamin requirements, omitting the niacin, iron, thiamin, riboflavin and folic acid from the Purely Simple mix probably isn't a substantial loss. It is, rather, an indication of how hard manufacturers work to shorten the ingredient lists of "natural" or "simple" products. (Iron is the only one of these five nutrients that appears on the mixes' "Nutrition facts" lists. A serving of regular Moist Supreme cake mix contains 6 percent of the daily value for iron; a serving of Purely Simple mix contains 2 percent.)

The prepared mixes were indistinguishable, but the "Best if used by" date on the Purely Simple mix was about a year away; the Moist Supreme date was about six months later. That's what at least some of the extra ingredients are for. And there is one other significant difference between the Moist Supreme mix and the Purely Simple mix. You know what's coming, don't you?

At one supermarket, the Moist Supreme mix was $1.99. The Purely Simple mix was $3.19 — 60 percent more.

Quinoa bars

Quaker offers a different appeal to the new-age consumer: quinoa granola bars. Quinoa is the first ingredient in the Chocolate Nut Medley version, but there are a whole lot of other grains and nuts — and plenty of preservatives.

Al Sicherman