Saturday, December 12, 2015

A test kitchen post

This post isn’t really a test kitchen: I was curious about a new variety of tomato sauce, bought it, tried it, and then decided to share my impressions of it. Because, I can.

The video up top is the ad that caught my attention. It features Mikey Havoc, who was regular on TV at the start of this century. He’s a little over the top, I think, but he certainly commands attention, which is kind of the point. At any rate, it got my attention.

So, I bought the new Wattie’s tomato sauce with “50% Less Sugar, Great Wattie’s Taste!”, as they put it. The comparison is, of course to the regular Wattie’s tomato sauce, as might be guessed.

I normally buy the Wattie’s “Lite Reduced Salt” version, which, the company says, has 25% less sodium than the regular version. What I didn’t realise until I started this post is that they also promote it as having a “Less sweet taste”, again, as compared to the regular version, and based on the opinions of 30 out of 57 people surveyed as part of a “sensory perception study.”

Tonight we decided to have fish and chips from the local takeaway shop, and it was the perfect opportunity to try the new sauce. I thought it was okay, but too sweet for my taste. To cut down on the sugar, they use Stevia rather than artificial sweeteners.

But it was because it tasted sweeter that I decided to read the labels (which is what led to this post). The results surprised me.

The sodium content of the new sauce is 565mg/100g, while the version I buy—the Lite reduced salt version—is only 340mg/100g—which is quite a bit less. For adults, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends no more than about 5g of salt per day (which is, of course, 5000mg, or about .18 US ounces).

The sugar content was similarly interesting. The new sauce has 14.1g of sugar per 100g, and the version I use has 15.6g/100g. WHO recommends no more than about 25g of sugar per day (25,000mg, or about .88 US ounces).

There are some important caveats to all this. First, it’s important to note that NO ONE would consume 100g of tomato sauce. The serving suggestion is 15g (maybe a tablespoon), and although, realistically, many people will consume more than that, they still won’t consume anywhere near 100 grams (which could be about a third-to-half a cup). Second, the amount of sugar listed on a label includes naturally-occurring sugars as well as added sugar. To see how prominent the added sugar is, it’s necessary to read the ingredients list.

So, what I thought was interesting is that the variety I usually use is slightly higher in sugar, but actually tastes less sweet. And, while the new sauce is promoted as having “35% less salt”, it’s actually higher in sodium per 100g than the variety I usually buy, which only claims to have 25% less salt. I have no explanation for that particular discrepancy.

The bottom line, though, isn’t really about labels or the amount of salt and sugar they list. Instead, for me, it’s mainly about taste, and I definitely prefer the version I normally use. I won’t be changing to the new sauce.

Finally, a couple other points: In New Zealand, tomato sauce is what Americans call ketchup. Also, Wattie’s was a New Zealand food products company founded in 1934. The company remained NZ-owned until American-based international food company H.J. Heinz bought it in 1992. The Wattie’s label above has the Heinz keystone shape in its design.

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