What’s re­ally in a pep­per­oni pizza?

For a start, there’s very lit­tle meat. And that’s a good thing

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health | Nutrition - Rose Costello

What top­ping do you like on your pizza? Pep­per­oni is my favourite, but maybe you go for ana­logue. I’m more of a dig­i­tal jour­nal­ist my­self these days, but ana­logue is a listed ingredient on food prod­ucts in­clud­ing at least one pizza. Rest as­sured, how­ever, it has lit­tle or noth­ing to do with com­put­ers. The Ox­ford dic­tio­nary de­fines an ana­logue as “a com­pound with a molec­u­lar struc­ture closely sim­i­lar to that of an­other”.

In the food in­dus­try, ana­logues are made to look, feel and taste like meat, but are made from plant pro­teins with flavour, fat and colour. A shop­per might call it im­i­ta­tion, sub­sti­tute or fake meat. Ana­logue can also be used as a filler in meat to make it go fur­ther. It’s con­ve­nient for veg­e­tar­i­ans and ve­g­ans who want the taste of meat with­out the killing, but what is it do­ing as an ingredient in Gi­gan­tic Dou­ble Pep­per­oni pizza from Green Isle Foods?


The main ingredient in this pizza is wheat flour, but the next ingredient af­ter wa­ter is listed as “ana­logue (9 per cent)”. What makes up the ana­logue is listed in brack­ets as: wa­ter, palm oil, milk pro­tein, potato starch, salt, emul­si­fy­ing salts: dis­odium phos­phate, tri cal­cium phos­phate; colour: beta carotene). We know from the colour­ing listed that the ana­logue looks or­ange.

That may ex­plain why the dou­ble pep­per­oni pizza has just 6 per cent pep­per­oni, while a Good­fel­las Stonebaked thin pep­per­oni pizza has 10 per cent pep­per­oni listed. It’s a way to get a meaty pizza with­out as much ac­tual meat.

This is not a ques­tion of one brand be­ing bet­ter than the other, how­ever. Un­til re­cently, both brands were run by Green Isle Foods, which is owned by 2 Sis­ters, a huge Bri­tish food group which is in turn owned by Boparan Hold­ings. Good­fel­las is now one of the stable of brands owned by No­mad Foods, an­other UK-head­quar­tered food gi­ant. But you won’t see that on the la­bels of any of these prod­ucts.


The rest of the long list of in­gre­di­ents in­cludes spices, pep­pers, tomato puree and moz­zarella. There are ni­trites in the meat, listed as a preser­va­tive. Ni­trites have been clas­si­fied as prob­a­bly car­cino­genic to hu­mans by the In­ter­na­tional Agency for the Re­search of Can­cer, but the amount is likely to be low as there re­ally isn’t much meat. Mod­er­ate con­sump­tion is ad­vised. There is also sugar and dex­trose, as there seem to be in most pro­cessed prod­ucts now.

The piz­zas are “Pro­duced in Ire­land”, which gen­er­ally means made in Ire­land with in­gre­di­ents from overseas. So the com­pany pro­vides em­ploy­ment here, though its par­ent is in the UK. Still, it would not be my first choice. But then, nei­ther would Good­fel­las thin pep­per­oni pizza.

These are also made in Ire­land, but it costs more for a smaller pizza. What sur­prised me about this is the cheese. The third ingredient on the list is “moz­zarella cheese with starch (17 per cent)”. It then ex­plains that that is made up of milk, skimmed milk pow­der, potato starch, salt and whey pro­tein con­cen­trate. So the cheese is bulked up with potato and whey, which is a by-prod­uct of cheese-mak­ing. What a labyrinthine world is food pro­cess­ing.

Other than that, it’s not a bad choice if you don’t mind the usual ni­trites, anti-cak­ing agents, an­tiox­i­dants and added sugar in the form of dex­trose.

Then there is added “smoke flavour”, as there is in the Green Isle pizza too. This flavour can be cre­ated by “ther­mal degra­da­tion” of wood, or in a lab­o­ra­tory.

The EU has strict rules around the use of smoke, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to tar lev­els. Health con­cerns aside, I find it adds a harsh woody flavour and leaves an af­ter­taste.

Buf­falo moz­zarella

A sur­pris­ingly good choice is Lidl’s Gus­tosa “Stonebaked Ital­ian Pizza”, which is part of the Deluxe range. The packet says it is “Ital­ian made stonebaked pizza, gen­er­ously topped with buf­falo moz­zarella, smoked salami, spicy salami and prosci­utto ham, fin­ished with a gar­nish of pep­pery rocket leaves”. So it’s top marks for mar­ket­ing be­cause Lidl’s idea of gen­er­ous is not mine. Also, the stone it was baked on is prob­a­bly in a fac­tory. On the plus side, it says it was “Made in Italy”.

If the fac­tory used Ital­ian flour, which is very fine, that may ex­plain why the base has a bet­ter taste and tex­ture than other sim­i­lar prod­ucts. Some good pizze­rias im­port Ital­ian flour to achieve that ef­fect. With fewer ad­di­tives and preser­va­tives, it would be an even big­ger win­ner.

The Gi­gan­tic Dou­ble Pep­per­oni pizza from Green Isle Foods has just 6 per cent pep­per­oni, while a Good­fel­las Stonebaked thin pep­per­oni pizza has 10 per cent pep­per­oni listed

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