Product Recoil: Ingredients

see copyright notice. Page created 31-Jan-2023. Use the button groups above to navigate quickly around the site.

Note: This page reflects my general experience, illustrated by example items from retailers that happen to be local to me. I've tried not to identify them explicitly, as I believe the highlighted issues are widespread across the retail sector.

Away, with words

How many times have you bought what looked like a premium product, containing top quality ingredients, only to be disappointed by its bland taste? Alarm bells should always ring if you spot the word with on the label. As in made with, baked with, something posh and expensive. Chances are, the bulk of it will consist of something much cheaper and a lot less glamorous!

[Product name, description and ingredients]

Take this box of delicious-sounding nibbles. What could be tastier than Gruyère and Rosemary? But further down the pack we find that they're made with Gruyère. Finally, on the back, the plot unravels in the ingredients list; it's French Gruyère (not, as you might expect, Swiss), and it's the second listed cheese, the first being a hitherto unmentioned Gouda (surprise - they're made in the Netherlands!). The kindest thing I can say about the snack is that I found its flavour to be very, very subtle.

Olive oil is another premium ingredient that's often given undue prominence on the label. Again, look for made with olive oil, and I guarantee you'll find it's out-bulked by other oils and/or fats. As I write, I'm looking at another pack of nibbles - Fennel Seed Tarallini - with a striking circular flash on the front, bearing the words crisp baked and extra virgin olive oil. This time you have to scrutinise the back label to find the inevitable with. And then, sure enough, the ingredients list goes ...Olive Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Still, at least all the oil's Olive. In fact this snack is very nice!

Sugars in a Pickle

Now to pickles, and in particular chutney. My faithful old Concise Oxford Dictionary defines the latter as a "pungent orig. Indian condiment of fruits, vinegar, spices, etc". No mention of sugar as a major ingredient, and indeed I don't want to spoil any savoury dish with over-sweet condiments; one of my favourites is a piccalilli that weighs in at just 11.5% sugar content. But sugar is cheap, and extends shelf-life, which I guess is why it's becoming hard to find pickles that aren't sickly-sweet.

[Two versions of onion chutney product]

After trying a number of caramelised onion chutneys, I found one with an outstandingly rich onion flavour, and a sugar content of 31% - a little on the high side, but better than most. I happily bought jars of that product until early in 2021, when I noticed the label had been given a makeover.

Bizarrely, the product barcode was unchanged - but that was about all. A glance at the "old" and "new" ingredients reveals the extent to which the recipe had, in my opinion, been dumbed-down. Most significantly, the sugar content was now a whopping 49%. No wonder they'd added the description Sticky & Sweet. Even the weight had gone up, presumably because of the extra sugar. It's worth noting, btw, the incorporation of several types of sugar - sugar, Muscovado sugar, treacle. This is a common practice, and I have a suspicion it's to avoid the stigma of "sugar" having to be declared as the first item in the ingredients list.

Another significant change was that they'd hidden all the nutritional information behind a peelable back label, which I found hard to prise off in the store without disfiguring the product (I bet they'd thought of that). Back home, I immediately, er, tasted the difference - and duly tried to complain. Then I hit another barrier; this retailer no longer published an email address for correspondence! After spending nearly half an hour on the phone to their helpline, and trying 4 times to email my complaint (with supporting photos) in ways they suggested - all of which bounced straight back - I gave up and emailed the CEO's office. Back came a reply that addressed none of my points in detail, merely stating that recipes were occasionally altered "dependent on a number of circumstances". I was thoroughly annoyed by all of this, which is why I've called it out here!

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