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

Wendyl Nissen: A good chicken feed

Waitoa Chicken Nuggets Gluten Free. Photo / Supplied
Waitoa Chicken Nuggets Gluten Free. Photo / Supplied

Chicken nuggets are a very popular food for kids but they have also attracted a great deal of suspicion after Jamie Oliver revealed that some versions were basically made up of pink sludge.

I've never been able to find any examples of these nuggets in New Zealand but a suspicious reader wrote to me last week:

"I would love for you to review the Waitoa free range chicken nuggets. My husband isn't that keen on buying them as there are a few numbers on the back, but it is supposedly a healthier choice, free range is great, and not a bad price point.

"So easy when there is a super-fast dinner needed for the kids!

"I'd be really interested to see what you think, I know he will listen if you think they are okay :) Thanks, Heather."

Waitoa Chicken Nuggets Gluten Free. $13 for 450g

Ingredients (in order of greatest quantity first):

Chicken breast (60 per cent)
If I was making some chicken nuggets I would estimate that once I had crumbed them the chicken content would be closer to 90 per cent, not 60 per cent.

But these nuggets have a very thick coating, more like a batter, so I guess that could take up 40 per cent.

As for the chicken the package clearly states that it is 100 per cent New Zealand-grown, free range, "grown in the green sunny valleys of the Waikato" and meets the SPCA humane farming guarantee.

So apart from actually visiting the Waitoa farms yourself, these assurances are pretty good that you are eating real chicken, raised humanely.

Water

Flour (maize, rice)
This product is gluten-free so the flour used has been sourced from corn (maize) and rice. Using rice flour usually ensures a much crisper result than flour from wheat.

Canola oil
This is a very common and cheap oil used in processed foods. This product isn't too high in fat at 8.7g per 100g serve (4-5 nuggets). And you don't add any fat to cook them as the instructions are to bake in a hot oven.

Salt
Quite a salty product at 320mg of sodium per 100g serve, but there are also a lot of mineral salts added - see below.

Spices

Dextrose (tapioca, maize)
This is a form of sugar, in this case taken from tapioca and corn. It will be in here for flavouring and there is very little sugar listed in the nutrition information at less that 1g per 100g serve.

Mineral salts (450,451,500,541,339)
These are all the numbers our reader's husband found off-putting. Mineral salts are natural and extracted from below the ground, but they are also found in vegetables, fresh fruits, milk, whole grains, legumes, meats, poultry, nuts, eggs and seafood.

Many of them are essential for good health. Increasingly these can be used in processed foods to reduce the amount of table salt (sodium chloride) which is used as a flavouring and needs to be avoided by some people. But mineral salts also have a use in processed foods as anti-caking agents to stop powdery substances, such as the mixture coating these chicken nuggets, from clumping and forming hard lumps. They can also be used as preservatives and can help with the texture of some processed foods. I'm not sure why there are five mineral salts used in this product but they are:

Diphosphates (450,451) which are salts of phosphoric acid, sodium bicarbonate (500) better known as baking soda, sodium aluminium phosphate (541) and sodium phosphate (331). There is some concern about phosphates in the diet after several studies found a high intake of phosphates as food additives could increase cardiovascular risk, however the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has assessed these studies and found more research is needed. It is conducting its own re-evaluation of phosphates as additives in food which won't be finished until December, 2018.

Thickeners (1422,1442)
These are acetylated distarch adipate (1422) and hydroxy- propyl distarch phosphate which are both treated starch.

Yeast extract
This will be in here for flavour, to give a meaty taste.

Vegetable gum (412)
This is guar gum, a natural product.

My recommendations:

Heather, you can tell your husband, from me, that these seem to be okay.

They taste great and more like real food than any of the other chicken nuggets I've looked at. But like your husband I am mystified by the number of additives listed on the label and would suggest to companies like Waitoa (which is owned by Inghams) that making an effort to really simplify their ingredients so that great long lists of numbers don't petrify their customers would be a great plan going forward.

I am a little concerned by the number of phosphates in here, as there is a study looking at their effect on cardiovascular health, so if you have heart disease maybe keep an eye on that study.

Highlights:

Free-range, humanely New Zealand grown chicken.
Five mineral salts, which are natural.
Uses phosphates which are being studied for their effects on heart health.
No artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.

- NZ Herald

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