Wendyl Wants To Know

Each week, Wendyl Nissen takes a packaged food item and decodes what the label tells you about its contents.

Wendyl Wants to Know: Yum, but why not go for real thing?

By Wendyl Nissen

Photo / File
Photo / File

Sipahh - Milk Flavouring Straws
Strawberry, $4.99 for 10 straws.

All children love flavoured milk. Chocolate, banana, strawberry and even blue and green milk have been marketed over the years. No one is disputing the fact that a glass of milk is an ideal health food for a child, but flavoured milks come with added colours and flavours and a lot of sugar.

On the surface, these straws, containing tiny beads that release flavour when a child sucks the milk through them, looked like a gimmick to me - yet another way to get children so excited about a food product that pester power takes over and they get placed in the shopping trolley.

I was deeply suspicious of the beads in particular, because I noticed when my daughter had finished her drink of milk that the beads remained in the straw. "Surely they're not plastic?" I asked myself and, to find out, tipped a straw's worth of beads into a glass of water and left it to see what would happen. Thankfully, they slowly but surely dissolved and, from the ingredients label, I can safely report that they are made from gluten-free starch.

The straws were the brainchild of Aussie Peter Barron, who launched them in October 2005 as Sipahh.

Sugar
One of the main marketing messages on this package is that there is "less than half a teaspoon of sugar per straw". But when served with milk, the nutrition label tells us there is 15.1g of sugar per 250ml serve, so that's closer to 3.5 tsp of sugar, which is more accurate as I doubt anyone is going to just eat the straw contents. Most of that sugar would come from the milk - there is 12.5g of sugar in 250ml of reduced fat (light blue) milk. By comparison, 250ml of Anchor Calci Yum strawberry milk contains 23g of sugar or 5.4 tsp, so you are 10g of sugar better off if you use a Sipahh.

Gluten-free starch
This must be the flour-like substance I found in the bottom of my glass of water when I dissolved the beads found in the straws.

Flavour
On the packaging, it clearly states there are no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives in these straws. Yet if a manufacturer uses natural or nature-identical flavours, they will usually state that in the ingredients panel - and all it says here is "flavour". I rang the company and was told that the strawberry flavour is nature-identical.

I asked what that meant and what natural products the flavour was taken from, but the woman said she didn't know. By definition, nature-identical means the flavour will be obtained from a natural source such as plants, meat, fish, fungi and even wood. The flavour is a very concentrated chemical extract from natural sources - not strawberries, which would be very expensive to use as a flavouring.

They are so chemically similar to real strawberry extract that they are allowed to be called "nature-identical".

Maltodextrin
This is a sugar which is taken from a starch. Sometimes food manufacturers will state where it is from, such as wheat or corn.

Sweetener (sucralose)
This is otherwise known as Splenda. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories. It is a relatively new sweetener on the market, approved for use in 1998. It will be in here to sweeten the product without using sugar.

Colour (162)
This is a natural colour called Beet Red, taken from beetroot.

My recommendations:
On their own, these straws are essentially some starch, sugar, flavour and colour, so nutritional claims on the packet about calcium, protein riboflavin and vitamins A and D are actually for the milk you mix with it, which I think is a bit naughty.

Having said that, this product delivers less sugar to your child than other flavoured milk products and is a way of encouraging them to drink milk.

But despite there being no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives, I would still regard this product as a treat food, simply because a child should not be discouraged from liking the taste of real milk, without additives, artificial or not.

They should also be able to enjoy the taste of real strawberries.

So while they are in season, why not take a moment to throw some strawberries, milk and a little sugar or honey if needed into a blender and serve them completely naturally flavoured and coloured milk instead when they get home from school?

Price-wise, once you've bought the milk, this product works out at about $1 per 250ml serve, compared with $1.59 if you bought a ready-made milk drink carton like Calci-Yum.

Highlights

* 10g, or 2.3 tsp of sugar less than other ready-made strawberry milks.

* Uses nature-identical flavouring.

* Cheaper once you've bought the milk than ready-made alternatives.

Do you have a food product you would like featured in Wendyl Wants to Know?
Email wendylwantstoknow@gmail.com with suggestions. Unfortunately Wendyl cannot correspond with readers.

- NZ Herald

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