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

Sizzlers Cheese

$3.73 for 450g or 8 Sizzlers

It's not hard to find a pack of Sizzlers at most Kiwi barbecues. They have become a Kiwi institution whose most notable claim to fame was featuring in a "security scare" when a radio station employee tried to drop off bread and a packet of Sizzlers to Prince William during his tour here last year.

Blokes in charge of the barbecue love these little pieces of skinless processed meat because they won't burst on the grill like other sausages and take only 10 minutes to brown and heat through. That might be because they are not actually sausages.

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In order to call themselves that they would need to contain 50 per cent meat, which they don't. And the meat they do contain has more to do with leftovers than prime beef.

Ingredients

(in order of greatest quantity)

Meat including pork (45 per cent)

Because there is only 45 per cent meat in this product it can't technically be called a sausage, as the NZ Food Standards Authority defines a sausage as containing 50 per cent meat. Thus the name Sizzlers.

People love to hazard a guess as to what part of the animal actually ends up in sausages or Sizzlers in this case. Rumours of ears, lips and snouts abound and it is true that the tradition of making sausages came out of the need to use up all of an animal's carcass, which is a good thing if you are at all interested in economy and honouring the death of an animal by bothering to eat all of it.

A call to the Goodman Fielder consumer line confirmed that meat trimmings are used in this product, which is what's left over when main cuts are boned and trimmed.

All external parts of the animal are used so that'll be skin and I presume ears etc but internal parts such a liver and heart are not used.

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If they were they would have to be clearly labelled in this ingredients list as offal. And because pork is listed, you can be guaranteed there is pork in there.

Water

Water is often used in processed meat products to bulk it up

Cheese [contains milk] (3.5 per cent)

This will be the small lumps of cheese you can see in the product. It's not clear if this cheese is processed - which means there have been some additives put in it to preserve, colour and emulsify it - or whether it is just ordinary cheese.

Soy Protein

This is textured soy protein which is commonly used in processed foods as a meat extender. It will be in here to make up for the lack of meat.

Flour (wheat)

This will also be in the product to bulk it up.

Thickener (1412)

This is Distarch phosphate added in here to thicken up the mix and possibly help it stick together as it doesn't have a sausage skin to hold it together.

Salt

This is a concern with processed meats and the salt level in here is reasonably high at 527mg, which equates to 1.3g of salt per Sizzler (remember you multiply sodium by 2.5 to achieve the salt content in foods).

Sugar

This will most certainly be in the product for flavour.

Stabilisers (407, 451)

The first additive 407 is Carrageenan which is a gel extracted from seaweed and I suspect is in here as a filler of some sort. It has concerns from health activists because it can be an intestinal irritant and the joint Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Health Organisation expert committee on food additives advises it be kept out of infant formulas [WN1]. I last saw this additive in my analysis of ham.

The second additive is 451 is sodium triphospate a mineral salt used in foods as a preservative to keep meat tender and moist [WN2].

Flavouring

I'm not sure what flavour is in here or whether it is to make the product taste like sausage or cheese, but you can be sure it is a man-made cocktail of chemicals.

Antioxidant (316)

This is Sodium erythorbate which is a synthetic compound of Vitamin C. It is in here as a preservative.

Flavour enhancers (627, 631)

Additive 627 is Disodium guanylate which is naturally derived from fish. But it is not safe for babies under 12 weeks, and should also generally be avoided by asthmatics and people with gout.

Additive 631 is Disodium inosinate, which doesn't appear to have any health concerns listed. Both 631 and 635 are used in processed foods to give the taste of umami, which is a Japanese word for flavour or taste, and is commonly used in processed foods to give a meaty flavour.

Preservatives (223, 250)

The first preservative (223) is Sodium metabisulphite. Some people have an intolerance to sulphites and asthmatics are advised to avoid them. The second (250) is our old friend sodium nitrite which is found in most processed meats such as ham, bacon etc.

It is used to inhibit the growth of the bacteria which causes botulism, as a colour fixative, but there is concern that it reacts with stomach acid to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds during digestion. A study found that adults who consumed the highest amounts of nitrate and nitrite were almost 30 per cent more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who consumed the lowest amount of the compounds [WN3].

My recommendations:

It takes 16 ingredients to make these Sizzlers and there are sausages on the market with very similar ingredients. The problem for me is that more than half of each Sizzler is made up of filler such as soy protein, flour, water and additives.

If you're looking for a quick meat product to throw on the barbecue, meat patties for hamburgers would be a healthier option. Many local butchers are now making their own sausages so you could support them in their endeavours and while you're buying find out what he puts in them.

I'm not going to suggest you make your own sausages because it's a fiddly business but you can make sausage-like products by making up a meatloaf mix, rolling them into sausage shapes and coating them in breadcrumbs or panko crumbs which are Japanese breadcrumbs available at specialty stores.

Highlights

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They look like sausages but don't have enough meat in them to be called sausages.

*

The 45 per cent meat is made up of leftovers, including skin.

*

Contains sulphites and nitrites which some people like to avoid.

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