As you’ve probably gathered from the popularity of juice cleanses and Gwyneth Paltrow, health food is no longer just for West Coast crystal worshipers and people who hate fun. Sakara Life has changed the health food game through meal plans that are sensual and hip with an ingredient list that even your most annoying vegan friend would approve of. It’s not too surprising that founders Danielle DuBoise and Whitney Tingle can make things like “nutritional yeast” seem sexy. The two blonde bombshells are always photographed looking as if they’re on a lunch break while shooting a Terry Richardson editorial and this sex-appeal marketing strategy has reaped huge rewards. DuBoise and Tingle, who left their high-powered careers to start their NYC-based business, have attracted a fan base that includes Victoria’s Secret models and movie stars. Even with meal plans that cost a steep $85 a day for a week’s subscription, the company continues to gain popularity and now ships nationwide.
As an obsessive online review reader, I had to find out whether Sakara Life was the real deal. From all of my research, I was shocked to find that there was very little negative feedback of the company. Most of the criticism stemmed from how expensive the plans were (well, duh) but it was difficult to find any credible reviews that dissed the taste, portion size, or quality of the food. I was impressed and intrigued but also completely unwilling to fork over my savings for fancy superfood salads. So the question remained...
How does one get the Sakara Life experience without going broke?
Since most of the positive reviews raved about the dressings and sauces, I figured the best way to try out Sakara Life without buying a plan was to buy their salad dressing sampler for $54. The sampler comes with 6 mini bottles of their dressings, including Sesame Ginger Plum, Turmeric + Tarragon, Carrot Ginger Glow, Magic Mushroom, Green Caesar, and Youth + Beauty. In less than the estimated shipping time, I received a package with the dressings in an insulated box. The dressings were a little separated but this is to be expected with something made-to-order that isn’t full of processed junk (nothing a little shake wouldn't fix). The dressings are all “best used” before 2 weeks. After reading the fine print, it mentioned that all of the dressings would last up until a month except #5 (the green Caesar), which will only last 2 weeks. I attempted to create salads that mimicked what I had seen in pictures of Sakara Life meals and tried to incorporate as many healthy, colorful toppings as possible. After all, would you really be maximizing a $54 set of salad dressings if you put them on a few sad pieces of butter lettuce?
#1 Sesame Ginger Plum
Dressing Ingredients: Ginger, Umeboshi Plum Vinegar, Lime Juice, Tamari, Sesame Seeds, Rice Wine Vinegar, Toasted Sesame Oil, Sunflower Oil, Olive Oil
The first salad dressing is one of two Asian inspired dressings in the sampler. After tasting, I was disappointed that there was no sweetness. Even though the "plum" part of the name is from the Umeboshi plum vinegar, I was excepting a hint of plum syrup or fruit flavor and was mislead by the name of the dressing. It could just be a quality control issue but it tasted like the ingredients were not proportionally distributed. The rice wine vinegar overpowered all the other flavors, including the sesame and ginger, and it needed a little more substance to balance out the oil. It smelled so heavily of vinegar that I could smell it from across my table. Still, I like rice wine vinegar and use it in a lot of my own dishes so I wasn't too turned off by the taste. The salad was saved by the pieces of black plum I added, which complimented the vinegar flavor nicely and added much needed sweetness.
#2 Turmeric + Tarragon
Dressing Ingredients: Turmeric, Tarragon, Cashew Butter, Apple Cider Vinegar, Rice Wine Vinegar, Sunflower Lecithin, Sunflower Oil, Himalayan Salt, White Unpasteurized Miso
I was initially skeptical of this dressing because I wasn't wild about tarragon and, although the health benefits are undeniable, I take turmeric in supplement form because I'm not crazy about the taste of it. After having this dressing, I've been converted. This dressing would taste good even if you were eating a salad made of gym socks but it packed a punch when I paired it with cucumbers and carrots. The dressing was so tangy and refreshing, it almost made me want to pick up subsistence farming so I can grow my own salads (well...that sounds like work but you catch my drift). I'm much more of a salty tooth than a sweet tooth so I liked the flavor from the the white miso and himalayan salt. Overall, this was a 10/10.
#3 Carrot Ginger Glow
Dressing Ingredients: Carrots, Ginger, Tamari, Sunflower Oil, Toasted Sesame Oil, Sunflower Lecithin, Rice Wine Vinegar, Turmeric, Bee Pollen, Sesame Seeds
I thought this might be one of my top picks because I love ginger salads, even the ginger salads at strip mall sushi restaurants that are basically watery orange mush on lettuce. Even though I shook this dressing pretty vigorously, the dressing stayed separated and had too much oil in it. I was also bummed that there was more of a nutty taste than ginger. I like ginger salads to have a little citrus zing and I felt that this dressing had too much bee pollen and carrot, which weighed it down and didn't add much flavor. Adding pomegranate seeds helped elevate the flavor profile and gave it the tartness that it needed. In the end, it wasn't the worst ginger salad I've had.
#4 Magic Mushroom
Dressing Ingredients: Tahini, Garlic, Lemon Juice, Dijon Mustard, Reishi Mushroom Powder, Himalayan Salt, Olive Oil
I'm ashamed to admit that I'm a big fan of creamier dressings, which essentially negates any health benefits I might get from eating a salad in the first place. I try to resist all the trashy culinary contributions America has made, but a good, homemade Ranch can make me weak at the knees. I was hoping that this dressing might be a solution to my healthy vs. creamy dressing dilemma but no such luck. The dressing was incredibly thick and tasted stale, as though it was in a fridge too long. I tried to do a "protein bowl" concept so as to use the Magic Mushroom more as a dip than a dressing, but it was still barely palatable. I've never had Reishi mushrooms so I wondered if that was the ingredient that turned me off the most? I thought it might just be me but after my cousin tried it, she agreed that there was something unpleasant and bland about the dressing.
#5 Green Caesar
Dressing Ingredients: Olive Oil, Lemon Juice, Almonds, Garlic, Nutritional Yeast, Spirulina, Dijon Mustard, Chia, Hemp Seeds, Himalayan Salt, Black Pepper
I tried this dressing first because of its earlier expiration date and I attempted to imitate a caesar salad formula with pine nuts and a little mizithra cheese. As mentioned above, I'm a fan of creamy salad dressings and a huge fan of caesar salads. So a caesar salad that is healthy and has some tasty ingredients should be a winner, right? Wrong. So wrong. The dressing was so thick, chunky, and dark green that it initiated my gag reflex as I put it on the salad. I tried to pep talk my way into putting a forkful in mouth by telling myself "It looks like a thicker pesto, you love pesto!" For the record, it did not taste like pesto. The only ingredients I could definitively taste were nutritional yeast and spirulina. I was once tricked into buying a big container of nutritional yeast by a health nut who claimed it could help me wean myself off of cheese (a food I will forever be hopelessly addicted to). Health nuts have an interesting concept of what cheese tastes like. If cheese tastes like wood pulp, then yes, nutritional yeast tastes like cheese. The flavor of spirulina in the dressing immediately gave me a post-traumatic flashback to when I accidentally tasted too much of my Green Magma supplements and started to dry heave. We get it, health nuts, greens are good for you. But they can also taste like you're dying. That being said, this recipe needs to be altered ASAP because I wouldn't wish this repulsive green slime on my enemies.
#6 Youth + Beauty
Dressing Ingredients: Raw Honey, Lemon Juice, Dijon Mustard, Beets, Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil, Apple Cider Vinegar, Garlic, Black Pepper, Himalayan Salt, Beet Powder, Yumberry Powder
Would you trust a salad dressing that was Pepto Bismol pink? Yeah, me neither. After my green caesar experience, I felt burned by Sakara Life and didn't know if I could trust something that promised something as lofty as "youth and beauty". I figured at least I could get a pretty picture out of the salad so I loaded it with flowers, blackberries, bell peppers, and pine nuts. The dressing was very thick coming out, which, along with the pink color, was not a great visual. However, the dressing was exceptional. It was very tart, which I thought would be off-putting paired with the salad ingredients, but it actually elevated all of the different flavors instead of overpowering them. It was so addicting and versatile yet I couldn't differentiate any of the individual ingredients as being the stand out flavor. Maybe it's the Yumberry powder? (which, as it turns out, is a Chinese fruit and not the name of a My Little Pony). The tartness of the dressing really brought out the sweetness of the blackberries and the acidity of the dressing was neutralized by the bell peppers and pine nuts. It was the perfect finale to my Sakara Life experience!
THE FINAL VERDICT
My favorite dressings were the Turmeric + Tarragon and the Youth + Beauty, hands down. The Sesame Ginger Plum and the Carrot Ginger Glow were also pretty good for Asian dressings that also have health benefits. Would I buy this sampler again? Probably not, but I would maybe buy their sampler trio, which includes 3 full sized bottles for the same price. Would I buy a Sakara Life meal plan? Absolutely, but that might result in me selling my future children into indentured servitude to pay for it. For now, I'll stick to their boutique products.