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Panera: Salad conundrum

Thai chicken salad at Panera

Thai chicken salad at Panera Credit: Panera

Lunch at Panera today. I tried a new menu item, “Thai chopped chicken salad,” and was pleasantly surprised. This big bowl contained romaine (my favorite workhorse lettuce), roasted edamame, roasted red peppers, roasted carrots, wonton strips and slices of grilled chicken breast all tossed in a “Thai chili vinaigrette” that, while sweet, was balanced with some nice heat. Strewn over that were chopped cashews and a peanut-sauce drizzle.

My pal wasn’t so pleasantly surprised. The “Asian sesame chicken salad” (chicken, romaine, almonds, sesame seeds and wonton strips) was effectively ruined by a tooth-numbing, candy-sweet dressing. Well there was a surprise involved: Turned out the offending dressing was Panera’s “Reduced-sugar Asian sesame vinaigrette” which owed its cloying sweetness to sucralose.

If you were a big national chain trying to offer an alternative to sweet salad dressing, why oh why would you choose an artificially sweetened one as opposed to, you know, an un-sweetened one?

(Here's the full ingredient list for "Reduced-sugar Asian sesame vinaigrette: water, distilled vinegar, soybean oil, sugar, sesame oil, maltodextrin, salt, contains less than 2% xanthan gum, sucralose, potassium sorbate [preservative], spice, onion, calcium disodium EDTA added to protect flavor, parsley.)

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