Universal Press Syndicate

Tropicana Pure Juice. Valencia, Valencia With Pulp, Valencia With Mango, Raspberry Acai, Pomegranate Blueberry, Indian River Grapefruit, and Peach Papaya Mango. $2.49 per 12-ounce and $4.49 per 1-liter and 54-ounce bottle.

Bonnie: "Pure" was a poor choice of names for Tropicana's new premium juice line, considering that Tropicana already produces "Pure Premium" juice. How much purer could this be? I wondered. But this 100 percent Valencia juice tastes as if you're standing in an orange grove in Florida drinking fresh-squeezed. It's that delicious. By contrast, Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice is a blend of Valencia, Hamlin and pineapple oranges.

I'm not a grapefruit lover (it's too acidic for me), and this new, sweeter Pure Indian River version didn't make me into one. I still would recommend it to anyone who likes grapefruit and who isn't taking a cholesterol-lowering drug. That's because grapefruit juice can interfere with your liver's ability to metabolize those medications. (Check with your health-care professional first.)

I'm not wild about the others in this new line because their blends aren't as "pure" — they contain juices other than what's in their variety names.

Carolyn: "Pure" is Tropicana's answer to Minute Maid's successful Simply Orange Juice brand, down to the attractive, clear-plastic container. Like Simply, Tropicana Pure's orange juice is premium not-from-concentrate. The difference is that Pure's orange and grapefruit juices come from a single variety of orange instead of a blend, thus giving them distinct, delicious flavors. (In the case of the Valencia, it's almost like tangerines.) They are juice varietals, if you will, that taste close to fresh-squeezed.

The Pure juice blends are also good but different. For one thing, many of the juices are from concentrates. For another, the Raspberry Acai and the Peach Papaya Mango are almost as rich and thick as smoothies — too rich and thick to drink at breakfast if you want to do any actual work before 2 p.m.

As a practical matter, Tropicana might want to rethink the 12-ounce bottles. They are extremely difficult to open and even harder to reopen once the sugary juice has gotten into the cap grooves.

· · · · ·

Chocolate Mix Skittles. 79 cents per 2-ounce bag and $1.49 per 7.2-ounce bag.

Bonnie: Why are Skittles such a success? Kids like to mix and match the different fruit flavors of these hard-shell chewy candies in their mouths, my sons explained to non-Skittle-eating me. That's unlike M&M's, which are also multicolored but are all the same flavor.

So will kids like these new Chocolate Skittles? Yes, if they like regular Skittles and chocolate, as these are a medley of chocolate-inspired flavors, such as brownie batter, chocolate pudding and s'mores.

Nutritionally, original and chocolate Skittles are of no real value, because they basically consist of sugar and fat (the latter from saturated hydrogenated palm oil). And since the Chocolate Skittles bags are smaller, they're more expensive than the original.

Carolyn: Not to contradict your sons, Bonnie (who are, admittedly, closer to childhood than we are), but I always thought kids liked Skittles because of how much they get for their money: lots of little pieces of candy that — because they're chewy — take a long time to eat. These are attributes shared by Chocolate Mix Skittles.

If the ability to mix and match different flavors is also important, these new Skittles will flop, because even with the helpful color-coded names on the package, I found it hard to distinguish the chocolate pudding flavor from the chocolate caramel, s'mores and brownie flavors: They all taste like tiny, sugar-coated Tootsie Rolls.

I don't actually think a sugar-shell coating helps Tootsie Rolls the way it does smooth milk chocolate. That's why I recommend that fans of sugar-coated chocolate candies stick to M&M's.

· · · · ·

Birds Eye Steamfresh Rice. Long Grain White Rice, Whole Grain Brown Rice, and Long Grain White Rice With Mixed Vegetables. $1.69 per 10-ounce bag.

Bonnie: Birds Eye Steamfresh has done it again. When it introduced vegetables in microwaveable pouches, it won Supermarket Sampler's coveted Golden Shopping Cart for best new product of 2007 and a Featured Bite status on my blog, BiteoftheBest.com. (I write that one not with Carolyn, but with my culinary offspring, aka, my two sons.)

These new Steamfresh Rice offerings are just as remarkable. No seasoning, no oil — nothing but the rice and, in the mixed veggies one, corn, peas and carrots.

I especially like the brown rice version, as it's a whole grain. I only wish Birds Eye would make its Steamfresh rice and veggie variety with brown rice.

Carolyn: Rice rivals pie crust in cooking difficulty. Even after 25 years of cooking rice, mine still frequently ends up wet or with grains encrusted on the bottom of the pan. This is not to mention the time it takes.

No wonder rice has recently been the focus of interest of food technologists. A few years back they developed precooked, shelf-stable rice in pouches and cups (sold under the Uncle Ben's Ready Rice and Minute Ready to Serve! brand names). Now there's frozen rice in a microwavable bag. All reduce preparation to less than two microwave minutes, or about one-twentieth the time it takes to make brown rice from scratch. Both taste great, although as with processed dinner entrees, Steamfresh's frozen tastes slightly "fresher" than Uncle Ben's and Minute's shelf-stable rice.

The downside? Steamfresh's occupation of precious freezer space and the low-quality veggies (especially compared to the premium ones featured in original Steamfresh). That's why I'd recommend only the Steamfresh Rice's nonvegetable varieties to people with big freezers.


Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fanatic and author of "Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods That Changed the Way We Eat" (Quirk). Each week they critique three new food items. For previous columns, visit www.supermarketsampler.com, and for more food info and chances to win free products, visit www.biteofthebest.com. © Universal Press Syndicate