Every week, Wendyl Nissentakes a readily available packaged food item and decodes what the label tells you about its contents.

It's soup season and I am getting a lot of emails asking me to analyse the many powdered soups available in our supermarkets. One reader was concerned her workmates were not making the healthiest choice when helping themselves to the large tin of powdered soup offered to them with tea and coffee in the staff kitchen. Another reader worried that these were making her husband fat and someone else was concerned at the amount of chicken or beef present in the packets.

There is no doubting that simply reconstituting a packet of powder with some hot water to make a soup is a great timesaver. But is there any real food in it?

Ingredients when constituted (in order of greatest quantity):


Beverage whitener - contains milk and soy, mineral salts (340,451), emulsifiers (471,481), anticaking agent (551)
It's a bit distressing that the largest ingredient in a cup of creamy chicken soup is beverage whitener. One might have hoped it would be chicken.

This whitener is the stuff many Americans use in their coffee instead of milk. It is basically a liquid which replicates creamy milk, made out of oil and milk. Added to this are the mineral salts potassium phosphate and potassium tripolyphosphate as preservatives, emulsifiers mono and di glycerides of fatty acids, sodium lactylate to keep the oil and water mixed together and the anti-caking agent silicon dioxide to stop it clumping.

Modified Starch (1420)
This is in here to thicken the soup and is starch acetate esterified with acetic anhydride.

Maltodextrin (from corn)
This is a form of sugar taken from corn.

At 1.6g per serve this product isn't too high in sugar.

Chicken (0.5 per cent)
And there we have it. Just 0.5 per cent of this creamy chicken soup contains chicken. You have to wonder why they bother.

Flavours (contain wheat and soy)
These will be artificial flavours, in here to make it taste like chicken as it is doubtful the 0.5 per cent of chicken will do it.

Flavour enhancers (621,635)
The first flavour enhancer is MSG (621) which healthy eaters avoid and the second is disodium 5'-ribonucleotide which is a chemical compound that may cause itchy rashes and welts in sensitive people. Asthmatics, gout sufferers, infants and children should avoid it.

Chicken fat
This is a low fat product at just 2g per serve, so this is probably in here to flavour more than anything.

Vegetable gums (412,415)
These are guar gum (412) and xanthan gum (415) which are both naturally occurring gums with no health issues attached.

Yeast extract
This will be in here for flavouring, it is similar to Marmite or Vegemite.

Colours (100,150d)
Curcumin (100) is a natural colour taken from turmeric but Caramel IV (150d) is controversial due to a chemical called 4-MEI which is the result of the chemical reaction which creates this colour. There is concern that 4-MEI is a carcinogen after tests on rats but it is allowed in our food products.

My recommendations
As much as I love a hot cup of soup on a cold day I'm not about to eat a cup of steaming chemicals, which is basically what this is. Sure there is a tiny bit of chicken in there but it is mostly beverage whitener which is a processed food. I'm also not keen on eating MSG, disodium 5'-ribonucleotide or caramel IV which all have health concerns attached to them. And I don't want artificial flavours either. Instead walk down the soup aisle and opt for a canned soup instead. A Wattie's Ready to Serve Creamy Chicken soup will give you 10 per cent chicken, natural flavours and colours and no additives like this has. Unfortunately it does have some beverage whitener in it but at least it's not the main ingredient.