Monday 20 November 2017


It has been a while since we did some food science, so we'll start with a[lmost] non sequitur:
Q. How many multinational pharmaceutical companies are there?
A. errrm, Six? aNNyway it's lot fewer than there were 25 years ago when my pal Liz joined Glaxo as one of their early bioinformatics hires . . . or was it Wellcome? I can't remember; in any case those two companies merged in 1995 to become GlaxoWellcome which merged in 2000 with SmithKline Beecham (itself also a mega-merger) to become GSK. Pfizer, Novartis, Sanofi, Merck, Hoffmann-LaRoche are all bigger and have also been rapaciously engulfing smaller companies. On reflection, I may be talking tosh here: for all I know pharma companies are spawning faster than they can be gobbled up.

Years ago I jested that everything was ultimately owned by either those three famous soldiers of fortune General Foods, General Motors or General Electric. In the feeding frenzy sector you want to be careful about taking tooo principled a stand on what you buy, because the food, inside the packing, may be exactly the same as some other product at which you are baulking. A curious thing happened to me this week when I bought a packet of six (6!) mince-pies from Aldi . . . and then bought, for the same price, a packet of six (6!) mince-pies from Tesco. It would have been justifiable if I was researching for Consumer Reports but it was much more plain honest gluttony. Six (6!) mince-pies at 89€c is 15c for each pie.  There isn't much you can buy for 15c, and there isn't much you can buy for €2.54/kg that isn't a family pack of root vegetables.

I checked the sell-by date to see how likely it was that the inside was a mass of blue-green mycelia.
J294 A97(3)
13 Dec
J295 A96(3)
. . . notice that the date was 13 Dec [no year for Tesco] on both packets. Furthermore the code underneath was suspiciously close. And, ahem, since when does a product go 'off' to the minute? These pies are okay up until 16:30 but by 16:35 they are not quite safe?

It look like, at 1600hrs a few days ago, the General Foods product line was switched from generously size Aldi mincers to 'neater' = meaner Tesco pies with a star on top to indicate gold-star quality. Somewhere in England this mighty factory is supplying mince-pies for everyone in this NW corner of Europe. I hear you ask: But never mind the price what about the quality, or at least the table of contents?. So that you don't have to,  I've transcribed this info here:

Aldi Holly Lane Mince Pies
Mincemeat [48%]: Sugar, Apple puree, Sultanas, Glucose syrup, Apricot filling [Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Apricot puree, Sugar, Gelling agent: Pectins, Acid: Citric acid; Preservative: Potassium Sorbate; Acidity regulator: Sodium citrate], Candied/Mixed peel [Orange peel, Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Lemon Peel, Sugar, Acidity regulator: Citric acid, Preservative: Sulphur dioxide] Currants, Palm oil, Rapeseed oil, Maize starch, Mixed spice, Barley Malt Extract, Acids: Acetic acid, Citric acid, Preservatives: Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Metabisulphite, Sulphur Dioxide, flavourings. Wheat flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Glucose syrup, Butter (milk), Palm oil, Rapeseed oil, Sugar, Salt, Dextrose, Whole milk powder, Raising Agents (Diphosphates, Sodium carbonate), Preservatives: Potassium Sorbate. Each pie claims to weigh 58g, but my scales say they are heavier - more like 66g or a full 15% more massive than Tesco.

Unnecessarily complicated to read, especially in tiny white print against a red background, with several sub-lists of ingredients. It's also a bit ominous in these adulterated times to have 'Wheat flour' qualified with all sorts of additives.

Tesco Reg'lar Mincers
Mincemeat (49%), Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Glucose Syrup, Butter (Milk) (6%), Palm Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Sugar, Salt, Raising Agents (Disodium Diphosphate, Sodium bicarbonate).
Mincemeat contains: Sugar, Apple, Sultanas, Glucose Syrup, Currants, Raisins, Glucose-Fructose Syrup, Orange Peel, Palm Oil, Rapeseed Oil, Maize Starch, Ground Mixed Spice, Lemon Peel, Apricot Purée, Malted Barley, Acetic Acid, Citric Acid, Gelling Agent (Pectin), Preservatives (Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Metabisulphite, Sulphur Dioxide), Flavouring, Acidity Regulator (Sodium Citrate). Each pie weighs 54g.

By way of comparison, I've also managed to clip the ToC from the up-market version which is available at Tesco.
Tesco Finest
Mincemeat (50%), Wheat Flour (Wheat Flour, Calcium Carbonate, Iron, Niacin, Thiamin), Butter (Milk) (14%), Sugar, Dextrose, Salt, Raising Agents (Disodium Diphosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate),
Mincemeat contains: Sugar, Apple Purée, Sultanas, Currants, Glucose Syrup, Glucose-Fructose Syrup, COURVOISIER® VS Cognac (1.5%), Sunflower Oil, Orange Peel, Almonds, Apple, Brandy, Cherries, Cornflour, Walnuts, Port, Mixed Spice, Lemon Peel, Preservatives (Acetic Acid, Potassium Sorbate), Acidity Regulator (Citric Acid), Colours (Plain Caramel, Anthocyanins), Orange Oil.

Finest appears more expensive mainly because they have more than 2x the butter and a dribble of Cognac. Why would you bother to add port at quantities much less than 1.5%?  The deficiency in butter in cheap mincers is made up for with oil.  The cheap filling is missing other pinches of fanciness like walnuts and cherries and clearly needs gelling agent and maize-starch to make the inside gloopy enough not to run down your chin.

Further information that you could go further than Aldi and fare worse.

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