Food manufacturers

Good taste or good health?

The emphasis by food manufacturers on good taste

Where is the nutrition? The emphasis by food manufacturers to increase the taste of foods at the expense of good health and good nutrition is all about making a bigger profit. Taste is seen as the only factor important to certain food manufacturers because this usually equates to more money ij the bank thanks to some consumers who are not well educated, not well-motivated and disciplined to choose the right foods, or simply choose foods that they enjoy the most because it may alleviate some kind of emotional or physical stress. Consumers are partly to blame. In our increasingly busy lifestyle, it is tempting to look for the easy and cheap options of buying ready-made and tasty meals from food manufacturers to meet an immediate need, which is hunger. And if it tastes great, that is like the holy grail of life for some people.

For those food manufacturers looking to increase the taste in their food products, the most common way to achieve this is by adding extra sugar and/or more salt.

If you need an example, let us look at Sanitarium's Weet-bix. Now the adult version of this product contains around 80mg of salt per 100g of the food. This may not seem very much (we are talking about milligrams), but nutritionists say this is quite a lot of salt. Why this amount of salt in what is essentially a healthy food? Apart from making extra profit from the "adult" product by selling more of it, the added salt must somehow be helping to increase the taste of the product for most adults (1). If this is not true, Sanitarium does surprisingly offer a kids version with, you guessed it, much less salt. The amount of salt is typically less than 20mg per 100g. Why give children less salt? Why not give adults the same level of salt as the kiddies version? Must be something about the fact that children are not complaining about the taste. Or does the manufacturer have a guilty conscious and realise kids need healthy food (who gives a rat's arse about what the adults need). Otherwise the product would not exist. Even more odd is the fact that the price of the kids version is inexplicably more expensive than the adults version. Why should this be so? Either it is because the manufacturer is using the latest hi-tech machines (with Artificial Intelligence to run them) to carefully extract the salt content (or is this done by hand by the hundreds of poor people living in India and getting an extremely low wage?), or perhaps the company can skip on sprinkling extra salt and simply ask for more money from health-conscious parents who are trying very hard to look after their kids and who are themselves addicted by good taste (perhaps the taste buds are not working as well as they should as we grow older)? Whatever the truth, it is looking decidedly like the food manufacturer is cashing in on the gullible adults who are prepared to be sucked in by any good health message given to them by the manufacturer for their kids, as well as better taste of the adult product for themselves.

Seriously, avoid excessive amounts of salt in your foods. Salt is known to raise blood pressure, which can lead to strokes or a heart attack. It is important to check the information on the pack to see what the levels of sodium is like. Basically, the lower the sodium levels, the less salt the product will have.

Yet even if you could lower the salt levels, manufacturers have other tricks up their proverbial sleeve to get consumers to purchase their products.

Adding extra sugar is a classic approach.

For example, you can buy the familiar soy milk brand called So Good by Sanitarium, and while it may look just like milk and even have the creaminess of milk, you taste it and wonder, "Geez, that has got a fair bit of sugar in it!" Well, it can only happens should you get use to eating foods without the extra sugar. So you look at the ingredients list, and yep, it definitely has sugar added. Then a new brand of non-genetically modified soy milk product comes along from Silverwater, NSW, Australia. Simply called Soy Milk, it is not quite as creamy as Sanitarium's product, but creamy enough. It is advertised as having no sugar and looking at the ingredients list (filtered water, soy (28%), natvia (erythritol, steviol glycoside), calcium carbonate, natural gum (gellan), and quillaja extract), it does not have it. Yet, incredibly, the taste is slightly sweet and is great. Is this the true taste of naturally cold-pressed soy milk straight from the beans? If this is true, then it is hard to understand why any soy milk product should have sugar added. Let consumers decide if they want to make it more sweeter, but you can be sure most people will be happy with this new product.

Even if sugar and salt levels are not enough to entice consumers to buy more, what about adding another ingredient?

For example, certain food manufacturers will think it is okay to bake the crap out of the food they produce presumably because the flavour of dark brown food (i.e. increasing concentrations of a pure carbon forming material known as charcoal) is better. As Australians would say, it is just like having a BBQ for meat. The taste of charcoal on meat seems so fantastic, so why not do the same with cereals? Just imagine how much better it would taste with a bit of charcoal in the cereal? And since it does not add calories to your diet, even better. We can call charcoal a health food, right? Do the same with nuts, or even toasting a bread bun in a hamburger until you swear it looks like someone had liberally spread vegemite all over the surface when it fact it tastes remarkably like, well, charcoal. Must be the in thing from a number of Australian Take Away shops (especially run by men). You see the same type of thinking among food manufacturers where profit is the prime motivator, or there is intense competition with other manufacturers selling very similar foods. A classic example has to be the competition between Uncle Tobys' Vitabrits and the biggest seller from Sanitarium known as Weet-bix. On the positive side, Uncle Tobys does make some effort to put in no sugar to what is effectively a pure wheat cereal product (potentially the healthiest cereal you can buy in the supermarket, but not in the marketplace). Only a small amount of salt may be added for flavour. Sanitarium, however, is prepared to not only add salt in abundance, but also plenty of sugar if it means selling more of its cereal. And, on top of that, the wheat biscuits are heavily baked to a dark brown colour. The perfect trifecta for a winning product, especially if the population of consumers have been dumbed down with less education in order to make them think they are eating a healthy product.

When Uncle Tobys Vitabrits first came out to compete with Sanitarium's, at least the wheat biscuits were not over-baked. Just a very light brown colour (nice). Nowadays, Uncle Tobys has gone in the way of Sanitarium to bake everything until it is dark brown and them claim the food is healthy (well, better than eating a bar of chocolate, but not as healthy as it could be). This has allowed Woolworth's own Select brand called Wheat Biscuits to fill the void left behind by the other two food manufacturers (and a better product it was too). But since too many people are buying the other products, Woolworths has struggled to get a foothold in this product market and eventually it has gone from the supermarket shelves.

As another example, the biggest manufacturer of corn flakes cereal is from Kelloggs. Despite their market dominance, the company has reached a point where it feels baking the flakes to a dark brown crisp and adding everything known to man that would help make the flakes tastier has been attempted.

Then Norganics, with its very lightly baked corn flakes and fewer ingredients and all natural, suddenly arrived on the scene. Clearly a much better product on close inspection of the ingredients and appearance. Only problem with this cereal is that it still contains just a little too much sugar. Oh well.

Look harder and it is possible to find NatureFirst Breakfast, another product from a different food manufacturer. Here the corn flakes contain only three ingredients: corn, salt and sugar in this order of highest to lowest quantities. More importantly, the product claims it is low in sodium (i.e., salt), and you can taste it too. Nothing salty about it. This means the sugar has to be even less (given the order in the ingredients list), and again you can tell the difference between this product and Norganics. Certainly isn't sweet. And it is not even over-baked to a brown crisp either. Perfect. All food manufacturers should follow NatureFirst's example right down to a tea (sorry for the breakfast pun!).

Consumers deserve to have clean, wholesome and fresh foods (and nutrient-dense straight from the farms) in the purest form possible and don't overcook or add extra things to enhance flavour. Sure, add a little extra thiamine, zinc and other beneficial substances to increase the health for younger and older people who may need extra vitamins and minerals to boost immunity and other biological systems. Sometimes we need a little extra boost in our diet from time-to-time. But always keep it simple and natural as possible. The quality of the original and principal ingredients making up the foods should provide virtually all the flavour and nutrients.

And if you want to add extra salt and sugar, feel free to laden it on your plate. Everyone else can have it pure and simple.

If you want another example, sesame bars consist of sesame seeds coated in a sugary syrup and baked. Later it is allowed to cool down leaving behind a soft, chewable sesame seed bar. Fine as a sweet treat, and quite healthy too. If done right, there should not be too much baking of the product. The seeds should also still look essentially white in colour (and taste like sesame seeds) and have a very light coating of the clear sugary syrup. However, some other food manufacturers suddenly decide to do too much by increasing the quantities of the sugary syrup added to the sesame seeds and how much caramelisation is allowed for the syrup to turn a dark brown colour. Then the syrup is mixed up with the sesame seeds and perhaps further baked until the seeds themselves look brown. The result is an overcooked sesame bar. Wake up! Keep the ingredients simple and in their purest and original form possible. Don't do too much to it. The product should sell well on its own without the food manufacturer trying to get profit-motivated and needing to do unnecessary things to the product.

Money and profit should be the last thing on food manufacturers' minds. Good health, followed by good taste, should be the priority. Achieve both and food manufacturers will have the profit aspect taken care of.