No time to mince my words

Deep-filled pies are of­ten the most calorific, though not nec­es­sar­ily the ones with the but­tery pas­try

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

Given that many of the pies sold here are made in fac­to­ries in the UK or far­ther afield, it shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing how sim­i­lar some are

Once De­cem­ber ar­rives it’s open sea­son on mince pies in our house. Pud­ding and cake can wait un­til Christ­mas week, but those fruity pies are per­fect for the run-up.

The best ones may be home­made, but there are some pretty good ones in the shops too. My favourites are the Starry Pies from the Foods of Athenry be­cause they are as Ir­ish as they can be, taste great and have few al­ler­gens, which is help­ful when you don’t know who may be pop­ping by for a Christ­mas drink and a lit­tle some­thing.

They have nuts, but no gluten, eggs or dairy. In place of but­ter, they use non-hy­dro­genated mar­garine made us­ing rape­seed oil and sus­tain­able palm oil. They also have glu­cose-fruc­tose syrup, which is sim­i­lar to the high-fruc­tose corn syrup blamed by many in the US for some of its obe­sity prob­lems. This syrup is cheaper than sugar and easy to work with so in­gre­di­ents man­u­fac­tur­ers love it. It pops up here as an in­gre­di­ent of the glace cher­ries and the mixed peel, which are bought in ready made.

Even those who make their own pies will find that the glace fruits on sale in su­per­mar­kets are of­ten half glu­cose-fruc­tose syrup. Ready-made mince­meat in jars has glu­cose-fruc­tose syrup for that same rea­son. It’s not some­thing you would want to have all the time, but then mince pies are not on sale all year round.

So this sweet syrup is in most of the mince pies I found on sale, ex­cept for those in the Tesco Free From range. These have their own foibles in­clud­ing an al­lergy warn­ing in pink that they may con­tain peanuts. This means they have been made in a fac­tory that also han­dles prod­ucts with nuts in them.

A sur­pris­ing num­ber of brands in­clud­ing Lidl’s Fa­vo­rina range have a sim­i­lar note in tiny writ­ing on the back of the packet, which is shock­ing con­sid­er­ing peanuts can be fa­tal to those with an al­lergy.


Given that many of the pies sold here are made in fac­to­ries in the UK or far­ther afield, it shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing how sim­i­lar some are. Aldi’s All-but­ter Spe­cially Se­lected clas­sic mince pies with Cour­voisier VS co­gnac are re­mark­ably like Tesco’s finest All-but­ter pas­try deep filled mince pies with Cour­voisier VS co­gnac.

The biggest dif­fer­ence is that the Tesco ones have cot­ton­seed oil, a cheap by-prod­uct of the cot­ton farm­ing in­dus­try, which is com­monly used in the US in may­on­naise, mar­garine and baked goods.

So don’t be fooled by the words “all-but­ter” on the cover of pack­ets of these or other mince pies, those words re­fer only to the pas­try, not to the fill­ing which usu­ally con­tains other oils such as sun­flower or rape­seed.

Bri­tish con­sumer mag­a­zine Which re­ported re­cently that the ris­ing cost of in­gre­di­ents, such as but­ter and dried fruit, means that man­u­fac­tur­ers are switch­ing to cheaper op­tions to keep prices down.

Serv­ing sizes on sweet treats in su­per­mar­kets can of­ten be more con­fus­ing than help­ful. With mince pies, how­ever, one pie is a serv­ing. So it’s eas­ier to com­pare. It’s worth tak­ing the time to look be­cause the size of each pie and the num­ber of calo­ries it has can be quite dif­fer­ent. Ig­nor­ing the mini-ones, the av­er­age size varies from a stan­dard 54g to 75g from the Foods of Athenry. The calo­rie count varies too rang­ing from 210kcal for Marks and Spencer’s stan­dard all-but­ter pies up to 260kcal for Tesco’s Free From pies, though to be fair they weigh a hefty 68g each.

Deep filled pies are of­ten the most calorific, though not nec­es­sar­ily the ones with the but­tery pas­try. It’s writ­ten on the front of most pack­ets for easy com­par­i­son or on the nu­tri­tion in­for­ma­tion panel.

There are other sym­bols that have noth­ing to do with food. One of these is what looks like a lit­tle draw­ing of a tree with a tick at­tached and the let­ters FSC un­der­neath on Marks and Spencer’s pack­ag­ing. It in­di­cates that the Bri­tish re­tailer has made a com­mit­ment to use sus­tain­able wood cer­ti­fied by the For­est Ste­ward­ship Coun­cil, an in­ter­na­tional non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­motes re­spon­si­ble man­age­ment of the world’s forests.

M&S asks sup­pli­ers to use FSC wood not only for its fur­ni­ture but also for the wood used to build and fit its stores, to make the wood and pa­per prod­ucts used to run the busi­ness, in mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als and its pa­per pack­ag­ing. So even in eat­ing mince pies, we can help to make a dif­fer­ence.

Mince pies from Aldi; the Foods of Athenry; and Tesco

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