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

I have recently received a rash of emails from people making old-fashioned soups and looking for ingredients such as split peas, barley and lentils to add into them.

Many supermarkets now don't stock these simple staple foods and instead offer the King range of traditional soup mixes which give you the grains but also some additives.

This is what is concerning my readers who have read the ingredients label and have been surprised and worried to see additives they wouldn't normally associate with an old-fashioned soup like pea and ham or vegetable.


One reader wrote: "Would you please be so kind as to check out the genuine nutrition in King Traditional Soup Mix Hearty Vegetable, Pea and Ham etc.

As we give the above as part of a food parcel we are concerned that they do not contain any goodness at all for the recipients."

Another said: "I'd like to know what you think of King Traditional Soup Mix as I add healthy veges to it but wonder if the chemicals in it cancel them out?"

Grains and vegetables (86 per cent)
(split peas, pearl barley (contains gluten), lentils, peas, carrots, onion). These are all wonderfully healthy and nutritious additions to any soup. All provide good fibre, and the pearl barley and lentils give wonderful whole grains which are great for good health. Making soups which contain these grains can be an easy way to get kids and fussy eaters to eat whole grains which they otherwise might not like.

Flavour (contains wheat)
I presume this is some sort of artificial flavour to mimic the taste of chicken in this soup. I would much rather have seen "natural flavour" listed here for something which is essentially a very healthy food.

Most of us add salt to our soups (except perhaps pea and ham). Per 200 ml serving of this soup you will get 401mg.

Dehydrated chicken (2.6 per cent) (contains egg)
This is bits of chicken dried into little pieces which then reconstitute in the soup into rather tasteless lumps of chicken. At 2.6 per cent there isn't a lot in here. I also have no idea why it would contain egg.

This will be in here as a flavour.

Hydrolysed vegetable protein (contains soy)
Known as HVP, this is created when maize and soy are boiled in hydrochloric acid and then broken down with sodium hydroxide to release the protein. It is used in foods as a flavour enhancer but also as a filler.

Maize cornflour
This is cornflour which you might add to your soups as a thickener.

This is another form of sugar.

Yeast extract
Gives a meaty flavour.

Flavour enhancers (627,631)
These two additives usually form a threesome with MSG, but in this product they have eliminated the MSG from the formula which is great.

Instead we have sodium inosinate (627) which is prepared from meat or fish and disodium guanylate (631) which is commercially prepared from yeast extract or sardines and enhances flavours, reducing the amount of salt needed. Asthmatics and gout sufferers are advised to avoid this product.

Black pepper
Garlic powder
This is dehydrated garlic.

Anti-caking agent (551)This is silicon dioxide, which is commonly used in powdered foods to prevent the mixture from caking.

My recommendations
You will still get loads of nutrition from this product as the 86 per cent grains and vegetables will give you good sources of complex carbohydrates and some key vitamins and minerals.

But, if you made this soup at home by cooking a chicken carcass, grains and vegetables and water, you would be reducing the amount of additives such as flavour, flavour enhancers, HVP and dehydrated flecks of chicken.

Remarkably, it will take you the same amount of time, so your only problem is how to source the unadulterated split peas, barley and lentils that you need.

I suggest a health shop or better still complain to your local supermarket and ask them to start stocking them again.