Sunday, May 16, 2010

Girl Scout Cookie Snackdown

Ah, spring. Such exciting things start to happen with the onset of warmer weather. Green grass appears, the snow melts away, and of course, little girls in uniform hawk cookies outside grocery stores every Saturday.

That's right, it's Girl Scout Cookie season! And time to enjoy my personal favorites: Samoas. Unfortunately, in Central Iowa no one is familiar with the delicious cookies I call Samoas. I searched high and low, but no matter who I asked, I was greeted either with a blank stare or a matter-of-fact statement: "They're called Caramel DeLites now."

But why the name change? I was curious, so I did a little research. Turns out there wasn't actually a name change, there's no regional difference, and there was no coordinated campaign to make the Samoa name more politically correct (one theory I heard more often than the others). There are simply two separate companies that do the baking for Girl Scouts, and each bakery uses different names for what are ostensibly the same cookies. Depending whether the Girl Scouts in your area have contracted with Little Brownie Bakers or ABC Bakers, the "same" cookie could go by different names. Caramel DeLites vs. Samoas, Shortbreads vs. Trefoils, Peanut Butter Patties vs. Tagalongs. It's all quite complex.

Thus assured that my favorite cookies were simply masquerading under a different name, I bought a box of Caramel DeLites. Upon tasting the first cookie, however, I felt there was just something missing from my traditional favorite. Was I imagining things, or was there really a clear difference between the two? How would I ever solve the mystery? The only way to get a definitive answer seemed clear: a side-by-side comparison. After receiving a shipment of Samoas from my brother in Minneapolis, I was ready.

Clearly the two cookies are packaged to appear as though the boxes contain the same product. Look closely, however, and you'll see minor details like differences in the shape and size of the box. The photos of the cookies might also tip you off that they aren't quite the same. The Samoas are pictured with a dark chocolate ribbon, while the Caramel DeLites appear to be made with milk chocolate.

Let's see how the cookies stack up nutritionally:

Both boxes list a serving size as two cookies. The Caramel DeLites have 140 calories and 7 grams of fat per serving, while the Samoas pack a slightly heavier punch at 150 calories and 8 grams of fat. However, the Caramel DeLites have considerably more sodium per serving - 85 mg vs. 55 for the Samoas - and more sugar too.

The ingredients listed on each box are nearly identical, though there are a few minor differences. It's no surprise that sugar is listed as the first ingredient for both cookies, but vegetable oil and flour are second and third for the Samoas where the Caramel DeLites list flour and corn syrup.

The Caramel DeLites also contain artificial colors, an ingredient not listed on the box of Samoas.

Upon opening each box, you can start to see clear differences.

First, the packaging. There are 15 cookies in both boxes, though the Samoas (left) are packaged in clear plastic while the Caramel DeLites (right) have a foil wrapper.

As for the cookies themselves, they have distinctively different colors and textures. You notice toasted coconut in the Samoas right away, and the cookies are striped with dark chocolate. The Caramel DeLites, on the other hand, have milk chocolate stripes and a flatter top.

The Caramel DeLites have a more uniform appearance, while the toasted coconut in the Samoas gives the chocolate stripes a more uneven (and almost homemade) look and feel.

The cookies are nearly identical in size and shape.

Let's take a look under the hood:

Again, the toasted coconut in the Samoa keeps it from looking too uniform, while the creamier-appearing Caramel DeLite looks smooth and heavily coated in chocolate.

Enough looking at these cookies, let's see how they taste!

The answer: VERY different. The first bite of the Samoa revealed crispy toasted coconut, a substantial shortbread filling, a chewy ribbon of caramel (visible in the photo above the shortbread), and just a touch of rich dark chocolate. All the flavors balanced eachother out; I didn't notice any particular flavor that was stronger than another, and the cookie was sweet but - thanks to the bittersweet dark chocolate - not overly sugary.

On the other hand, the Caramel DeLite is made without toasted coconut so the cookie was much chewier - the crunch I enjoyed in the Samoa was completely absent here. This cookie had a sweeter taste - there was a pronounced milk chocolate flavor which took over and left me with a sugary aftertaste. While the shortbread in the Samoa held up to the caramel and coconut, the Caramel DeLite's shortbread crumbled immediately upon the first bite. Between the sweet, processed chocolate taste and the lack of texture, everything melted together in your mouth and I was left with the overall flavor of... corn syrup.

Let's taste these cookies again:

Mmmm, delicious. Now for the other cookie:

Whoops, let's try that again. Now for the OTHER cookie:


So much for the taste test. There's a clear-cut winner here.

Overall, a panel of independent taste-testers (OK, it was Charlie) agreed with me that the texture and flavor of the Samoa (the original) is far superior to the Caramel DeLite (the impostor). While the Samoa has a good crunch from the toasted coconut and shortbread and just the right amount of chewiness imparted by the caramel ribbon, the Caramel DeLite has no crunch to speak of and tastes overly processed. The excessive amount of milk chocolate renders the other flavors difficult to find, and is in the end just too sugary.

Samoas: 5 stars. The classic.
Caramel DeLites: 3 stars. Would work in a pinch, or on a desert island, but if you can find Samoas, don't even bother with these cheap imitations.


  1. Oh, woa to the poor Girl Scout who comes selling Caramel DeLites!

  2. Wait, did I get the first shout out on the blog? Charlie, can I get a ruling on this? Does the "our" in the first post count as a shout out?

  3. Ooo, I dunno. She didn't say "Trevor", she just said "my brother in Minneapolis." HOWEVER, I'll give you some credit since you DID just finish a triathalon (something I probably will never do). =)

  4. You go Megan. I totally agree with your findings. Bring back the Samoa's to Iowa!!
    Love the article. I am growing Lemon herbs this year and have a great green bean recipe if you would like.

  5. Great article! Can't wait to see what else you come up with. Hugs!

  6. This is great. We will take the caramel delites off your hands if you don't like them ;) But agreed- Samoa's are much better!

  7. I agree Samoa's taste better. When I order Samoas from my co-worker and receive Caramel deLites instead I'm disappointed. I can't stop eating Samoas, but the Caramel delites are too sweet and two cookies is good for the week. I don't like the misrepresentation if you are selling Caramel delites say that. Please, do not feel like the cookies are inter-changeable.