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

Everyone loves a nice brown gravy to go with their meat and vegetables, especially when it's a roast. Traditionally gravy is made by using the wonderful tasty juices left after meat has been cooked. But as one reader points out, some people are opting for a healthier way of cooking which leaves little to make a gravy with: "I cook roast meat and vegetables on baking paper with a small spray of olive oil (which I'm guessing a lot of people do) which doesn't allow making gravy in the traditional sense, yet these meals do need some sort of sauce. I'm guessing these will be full of "bad" stuff, but maybe you'll offer an alternative?"

The packet tell us there is no MSG or artificial colours in the product. Rather disturbingly there is no reference to what kind of gravy it is - beef, lamb or pork. And we are told this gravy comes "from our kitchen to yours ..." by the "Maggi Team".

Ingredients (in order or greatest quantity first)
Potato starch

This is like cornflour but made out of potato instead of corn. It is a thickener and the main ingredient of this powder sachet.


(from corn) This is a form of sugar obtained from corn. The corn is cooked and then acid or enzymes are used to break the starch down. Some people have a sensitivity to maltodextrin if it is made out of barley or wheat so it is good that this label tells us where it has come from. Maltodextrin is commonly used in processed foods as a thickener, which is why it is probably in here.

Soy sauce powder
[soybeans, wheat, food acid (260), dextrose, vegetable oil, maltodextrin, yeast] Many home cooks will put a splash of this in their gravy. The recipe for soy sauce differs greatly, with some including colourings and MSG. This soy sauce has acetic acid (260) which is basically vinegar and will be in here as a preservative.

[(glucose syrup solids, vegetable fat (contains soy), sodium caseinate (from milk) mineral salts (340,451), emulsifiers (471,481), anti-caking agent (551), antioxidant (306)]

Creamer is a substance which basically replicates creamy milk and is made out of oil and milk. Real gravy doesn't use milk so it is a mystery why this is in here.

This creamer does have some glucose added, perhaps for a sweet flavour. It also has the mineral salts potassium phosphate and potassium tripolyphosphate as preservatives, emulsifiers mono and di glycerides of fatty acids and sodium lactylate to keep the oil and water mixed together and anti-caking agent silicon dioxide to stop it clumping. Anti-oxidant 306 is a version of vitamin E.

There is quite a bit of sodium per serve at 270mg. Health experts say we should keep our sodium levels between 920 and 1600mg a day.

Vegetable fat
(vegetable fat, rosemary extract) This is a fat from a vegetable such as olive oil, coconut oil or corn oil. The rosemary extract will be flavouring.

At 0.4g of sugar per serving there's not a lot in here to worry about.

Yeast extract
This is similar to Marmite or Vegemite which some people add for colour and flavour.

Onion powder
This is dried onion, in here as a flavouring.

Colour [105a (contains wheat)]
Of all the caramel colours this one is thought to be the safest because there is no ammonium or sulphites used in its production.

These will be artificial flavours.

Vegetable gum (412)
This is a natural product called guar gum. It will be in here most likely as a thickener.

Flavour enhancer (635)
This is disodium 5'ribonucleotide which is a chemical compound and may cause an itchy rash and welts in sensitive people. Asthmatics, gout sufferers, infants and children should avoid it.

Food Acid (330)
This is citric acid.

Spice (pepper)
My recommendations: It takes 30 ingredients to make this powder mix, which when reconstituted with boiling water forms a gravy but has little in common with a real gravy which by definition is a sauce, made from the juices that run naturally from meat or vegetables during cooking.

If we were to make a gravy at home there would only be two ingredients - the flavourful stock left by the roast meat and cornflour to thicken it.

If you're watching your weight you can drain off the fat in the stock and make the gravy without too much fat. If you cook on baking paper you could make a cheese sauce or buy a good liquid stock and make a gravy with that.