Add boil­ing wa­ter . . . and a tail

A packet of ox­tail soup may be quick to make, but hardly seems worth the ef­fort

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

What is your favourite soup? If Knorr is cor­rect, then it is quite likely to be ox­tail, or maybe mush­room, or even chicken noo­dle soup, since all the brand’s pack­ets con­tain the words “Ire­land’s favourite soup”.

Hmm, surely if ox­tail is num­ber one in our hearts, then chicken noo­dle can’t also hold that place?

So is Knorr the most pop­u­lar soup brand? Per­haps. It cer­tainly was un­til it was over­taken by Cully & Sully, the Cork soup maker now owned by US food gi­ant Hain Ce­les­tial. Last year, how­ever, re­tail trade mag­a­zine Shelflife re­ported that in 2016 Cully & Sully had taken over the top spot from Knorr as “Ire­land’s num­ber one soup across chilled and am­bi­ent”.

Check out the small print at the bot­tom of the back of the Knorr packet and you will see that Knorr’s boast comes about thanks to its sales fig­ures from 2015. The packet says: “Nielsen to­tal soup MAT [mov­ing an­nual to­tal] vol­ume sales 52 w/e 29.03.15”. This means that the com­pany was top of the soup sales charts for the year end­ing March 29th, 2015, to be pre­cise. Per­haps Knorr is still the most pop­u­lar brand of packet soup that can be ready to eat in less than 10 min­utes.

In­flu­enced

I don’t think I care what soup my neigh­bour loves, but ac­cord­ing to Nudge the­ory, as ex­plained by be­havioural sci­en­tist Richard Thaler in his book of the same name, I prob­a­bly do. We are in­flu­enced by what oth­ers around us do and like to go with the flow, it seems. Fa­mously, Bri­tain upped its tax take by £200 mil­lion in one year by telling peo­ple that most of their neigh­bours paid their tax on time. Mar­ket­ing aside, what I re­ally want to know about my soup is what’s in­side and what the packet can tell me. It’s dis­ap­point­ing but not re­ally sur­pris­ing to find an unlovely se­lec­tion of pow­ders, fats and sug­ars. There is a dab of meat, but no an­i­mal fat or bone as there would be in a home­made ver­sion. The Knorr packet lists: wheat flour, po­tato starch, salt, palm fat, tomato pow­der (4 per cent), flavour­ings (con­tain milk), toasted onion pow­der (3.5 per cent), yeast ex­tract, mal­todex­trin, sugar, beef (1.7 per cent), caramel syrup, whey prod­uct (milk), lac­tose, ox­tail meat (0.3 per cent), herbs (thyme, bay leaves) and turmeric.

Sugar pops up three times listed as mal­todex­trin, sugar, caramel syrup and lac­tose, which is the sugar in milk. The fin­ished prod­uct has 1.5g in a bowl, which is not es­pe­cially high.

But do you want sugar in your meat soup?

There is not a lot of meat here, how­ever, with just 1.7 per cent beef and 0.3 per cent ox­tail meat. Hence the need for sug­ars, the yeast ex­tract and name­less “flavour­ings”. A home cook would prob­a­bly use at least half a kilo of an an­i­mal’s tail.

It was shock­ing to see salt as the third in­gre­di­ent on the list mean­ing that there was more salt than beef or ox­tail meat put into the fac­tory pot to cook.

Check out the nu­tri­tion in­for­ma­tion and you will see there is 2g of salt in a stan­dard 250ml serv­ing. Adults are ad­vised to have no more than 6g, which is about 1tsp, in a day. So if this is your only pro­cessed food of the day, that’s fine. If not, take a closer look.

Com­par­ing brands for salt and sugar con­tent is not easy. Knorr counts 250ml as a serv­ing, which is about the size of a stan­dard soup bowl. Tesco’s own brand mea­sures a bowl as 180ml.

Lidl’s New­gate brand has put a red light on its packet in­di­cat­ing it is high in salt as one serv­ing of its soup has 2.22g of salt, but then it is 282ml. Other than that, the New­gate soup dif­fers in that it has 3 per cent beef. That sounds good un­til you no­tice that 100g of the fin­ished soup prod­uct has 11g of salt and 11g of sugar.

Ex­tract Erin soup, which is owned by Boyne Val­ley Foods in Drogheda, doesn’t do any bet­ter. It con­tains: po­tato starch, salt, wheat flour, mal­todex­trin, colour (plain caramel), onion pow­der (5 per cent), veg­etable oils (rape­seed, palm), flavour­ings (con­tain wheat), glu­cose, yeast ex­tract, skimmed milk pow­der, beef ex­tract (2 per cent), tomato pow­der (1.8 per cent), spices, emul­si­fier (mono- and diglyc­erides of fatty acids), acid­ity reg­u­la­tor (cit­ric acid) and beet­root con­cen­trate. So there’s no ac­tual beef or ox­tail meat, just an ex­tract. Mak­ing ox­tail soup is a la­bo­ri­ous process that in­volves us­ing the tail of an ox or most likely a cow, with all its fat, bone and gris­tle. These soups may be warm and com­fort­ing but they bear lit­tle re­la­tion to the orig­i­nal for nu­tri­tion.

There is a dab of meat, but no an­i­mal fat or bone as there would beina home­made ver­sion If this is your only pro­cessed food of the day, that’s fine. If not, take a closer look

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