Ja­cob’s is cream of cracker crop

One brand of crack­ers may look like the other, but that is far from the case – even when the name is the same

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Nutrition - Rose Costello Read­ing La­bels

As­low feel­ing of dread creeps over me these days as I go to ex­am­ine the pack­ets of old favourites from my child­hood. What se­crets lie hid­den in plain sight? What strange and un­likely in­gre­di­ents will be found on the list?

Some­times, a prod­uct that does not seem to have changed from the old days. That was the case with cream crack­ers. The savoury bis­cuit squares with the rounded cor­ners were in­vented in 1885 in Ire­land and made by Ja­cob’s. Its Tal­laght fac­tory closed in 2008, but the name car­ries on, thanks to in­ter­na­tional gi­ant Va­leo Foods.

Over the years, the pack­ag­ing and in­gre­di­ents have changed lit­tle. There is a fairly sim­ple list of in­gre­di­ents so long as you stick to the orig­i­nals. They have flour (wheat flour, cal­cium, iron, niacin, thi­amin), veg­etable oil (palm), salt, rais­ing agent (sodium bi­car­bon­ate) and yeast. Sodium bi­car­bon­ate is an­other name for bak­ing soda, a com­mon house­hold prod­uct found in bak­ing pow­der along with cream of tar­tar. There is lit­tle to see here save for the palm oil, which is used be­cause it is cheap even though the en­vi­ron­men­tal cost is high. Change the oil and the orig­i­nal cream cracker would be a winner.

That’s ex­actly what Ja­cob’s has done with its Cracked Black Pep­per crack­ers. They have: wheat flour, veg­etable palm fat (sus­tain­able palm oil), salt, yeast, black pep­per (0.65 per cent) and rais­ing agent (sodium hy­dro­gen car­bon­ate).

Ja­cob’s clev­erly re­minds us that its crack­ers are a “source of fi­bre”. To make that claim, there must be at least 3g of fi­bre per 100g or at least 1.5g of fi­bre per 100 calo­ries. With the clas­sic brand, thanks to the wheat there is 3.8g of fi­bre in each 100g. To put that in con­text, some salad leaves have about 1g per 100g. The black pep­per crack­ers here have 3.6g.

Iden­ti­cal in­gre­di­ents

Cream crack­ers are un­usual in that the in­gre­di­ents are iden­ti­cal across some brands. So Ja­cob’s clas­sic cream crack­ers ap­pear to have the ex­act same in­gre­di­ents as Su­pervalu’s, Carr’s, Lidl’s River­cote and Aldi’s Savour Bakes, even down to the en­vi­ron­men­tally un­sus­tain­able palm oil.

That does not hold true for Aldi’s Devon brand. In ad­di­tion to the usual in­gre­di­ents, these crack­ers also have E320, E321, and bar­ley malt ex­tract.

E320 is also known as buty­lated hy­drox­yanisole and E321 is buty­lated hy­drox­y­toluene. They are there to stop the prod­uct go­ing ran­cid, though it’s a mys­tery why they are not needed in the other brands. These crack­ers have just 3g of fi­bre per 100g and there­fore are not con­sid­ered a source of fi­bre. So, if you are in Aldi pick the Savour Bakes rather than the Devon.

Don’t bother with Ja­cob’s Light cream crack­ers ei­ther. The packet boasts that they have “40 per cent less fat Ja­cob’s Orig­i­nal Cream Crack­ers”. To achieve that, it uses: wheat flour, palm fat, bar­ley malt ex­tract, yeast, salt sub­sti­tute (potas­sium chlo­ride), salt, rais­ing agent (sodium bi­car­bon­ate) and an­tiox­i­dants (buty­lated hy­drox­yanisole, buty­lated hy­drox­y­toluene). So it’s essen­tially the same prod­uct as the much cheaper Aldi Devon cracker.

There are also gluten- and lac­tose-free crack­ers from Schar, which spe­cialises in food for those with spe­cial di­etary needs. These crack­ers also have lots of fi­bre, 5.8g per 100g, but that comes with a dizzy­ing mal­todex­trin.

Prod­ucts like these are the rea­son that di­eti­cians warn against avoid­ing gluten un­less you are gluten-in­tol­er­ant, coeliac or lac­tose-in­tol­er­ant. They are a bless­ing for those who need them but a waste for those who do not.

Many brands don’t say where their crack­ers are made, but it’s worth check­ing out the name of the com­pany on the back of the packet. You might be in for a sur­prise. Devon brand crack­ers are made in Malta by Con­sol­i­dated Bis­cuit Com­pany.

Even more sur­pris­ing is that Ja­cob’s comes in two guises: Ir­ish and Bri­tish. The Bri­tish brand is owned by United Bis­cuits and its crack­ers just don’t taste the same, though the packet says they are the “orig­i­nal and best”.

Prod­ucts like these are the rea­son that di­eti­cians warn against avoid­ing gluten un­less you are glutenin­tol­er­ant

list of more than 20 in­gre­di­ents and a hefty price tag. They cost about ¤4 a packet. It takes a lot to make these taste like the real thing. So the long list of in­gre­di­ents in­cludes un­sus­tain­able palm oil, uniden­ti­fied flavour­ing, uniden­ti­fied nat­u­ral flavour­ing and soya pro­tein. There is also sugar as glu­cose syrup and

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