It's not sour cream. It isn't whipping cream. It doesn't quite seem to be cream cheese. But it's all over TV ads and prominently displayed in the grocery cooler, coupons waving atop smartly-colored tubs. What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is "cooking creme"?
I first saw an ad for cooking creme while I was on the elliptical machine at the gym, and I almost lost my stride trying to figure out what this new "creme" was. It promised, brightly, to save me from "chicken fatigue."
I checked it out at the store (it was sitting next to the cream cheese). I saw, not to my surprise, that the ingredients were not exactly confined to pure dairy. They included whey protein concentrate, cheese culture, tapioca starch, various gums, and even sugar. The stuff comes in several flavors, too, including "southwest."
Philadelphia has launched this "cooking creme" with fireworks and a huge advertising budget. They say that it's a "creamy and spoonable" version of cream cheese, designed to be stirred into simple sautéed or baked dishes. Philadelphia and Kraft Foods are putting major money behind this product, as they told Advertising Age: "We're going big. We've got a huge marketing campaign scheduled against it."
• Kraft Puts Big Bucks Behind Philadelphia Cooking Creme Launch at Advertising Age
But a huge advertising budget doesn't really begin to address my deep ambivalence about this "cooking creme." Let me be absolutely clear. I have no problem with quick weeknight meals and meal helper shortcuts. I embrace them, in fact. I have all sorts of cheap, convenient staples in my cupboard to dress up inexpensive weeknight meals (capers, canned tomatoes, packaged tuna, whole-milk ricotta). So the convenience factor of the "cooking creme" isn't what fuels my bemusement. No, I am taken aback by the sheer marketing cynicism behind this product, the naked implication that cooks need the most dumbed-down, simplified product possible. ("Cooking creme"?! Can you think of a more condescending, pretentious name? Not even "cooking cream"?) The advertising campaign is insulting and demeaning — not unlike most packaged food advertising of course, but this time it really got me.
Why not throw their advertising power behind simple, well-known products made only of real dairy? Sour cream, crème fraîche, even good old cream cheese? The effort and money behind this made-up product just boggle my mind.
What do you think about this stuff? Have you tried it? Are my doubts unfounded — perhaps this is a good new tool for the cook's arsenal? It's a hard sell, folks — why not just use cream cheese, crème fraîche, or plain old sour cream?
(Images: Faith Durand)