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: Artificial cherries unwelcome in Xmas fruit mix

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

Tasti Fruit Mix - 400g for $3.79

As Christmas approaches, the demand for dried fruit to make mince pies or Christmas cakes and puddings increases. For years I have bought this mix to make Christmas cakes and painstakingly picked out the bits of artificial cherry, not really knowing why I did it, just that I didn't want them in the mix. Artificial cherries have nothing to do with maraschino cherries which are real cherries that have been bleached, dyed and flavoured. These are pieces of jelly which are coloured red and green and added in place of cherries.

Fruit 83 per cent

Sultanas
Sultanas are a type of white seedless grape which are dried to form the sultanas we are familiar with as snacks or in baking.

Mixed glace peel
(orange and lemon peel, sugar, acid (citric), preservative (202,223))

Glace peel is made by putting orange and lemon peel in a sugar syrup and heating it to preserve it. This process has been used since the 14th century. Included here is citric acid and two preservatives: potassium sorbate (202) is the potassium salt of sorbic acid which is considered safe and sodium metabisulphite (223) which some people have an intolerance to and asthmatics are advised to avoid.

Raisins
Raisins are also dried grapes but unlike sultanas, they come from a large, dark grape.

Currants
Currants are much smaller than raisins because they are dried from a grape called the Black Corinth. Currants have a more tart flavour than sultanas and raisins.

Artificial cherries
(sugar, glucose, invert sugar)

As we can see, the main ingredients in artificial cherries are: sugar, which is the same as table sugar we use, glucose, which is a liquid sugar, and invert sugar which is sugar that has been treated to split it into glucose and fructose. This is sweeter than sugar and when used in processed foods, remains moist and less prone to crystallisation.

Vegetable gum
(401,415,410)
These gums will form the jelly-like consistency of the artificial cherries. Sodium alginate (401) is a salt extracted from brown algae. Xanthan gum (415) and locust bean gum (410) are natural gums.

Preservative (202)
This is potassium sorbate as above.

Flavour
Not sure what flavour is in these artificial cherries as when I tried them they tasted of nothing really, just sweet jelly. The label doesn't tell us whether it is artificial, natural or nature-identical.

Colour (124,142,102)
Ouch, these are not good colours as they are all banned in other countries. They will give the artificial cherries the red and green colours and possibly yellow although I couldn't find any artificial yellow cherries in the bag I bought. The first is Ponceau 4R (124), a red synthetic colour banned in the United States, Norway and Finland. It can cause allergic reactions and there are concerns that it could be carcinogenic (cancer-causing).

The second is Green S (142) which is banned in the United States, Sweden, Norway and Britain. There are concerns about hypersensitivity and allergic reactions.

The third is Tartrazine (102), an artificial yellow dye banned in Norway and Britain due to links to hyperactivity in children.

Despite being banned elsewhere, all three colours are allowed in our foods according to the Food Standards Authority.

Vegetable oil
Not sure what this oil is but there won't be much of it as it comes so low on the ingredients list. The oil and water (below) will probably be in here to keep the fruit mix moist.

Water
My recommendationsIt turns out my instincts were right when I spent ages picking out the red and green bits in my fruit mix.

There are three banned colours in the artificial cherries which seems like a high price to pay for the pleasure of having bright green and red bits which don't even taste like cherries.

Instead of buying this fruit mix, you could get almost the same result by purchasing raisins, sultanas and currants and adding some mixed glace peel, which is also made by Tasti, to get the orange and lemon flavours.

Most commercial dried fruits use sulphites to preserve them so you need to be aware of this if there are any sulphite allergies in your family.

Highlights

* Artificial cherries contain three food colours banned in other countries such as the United States and Britain.

* Uses sulphites to preserve dried fruits.

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- NZ Herald

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