Mince pies – how I almost fooled myself by a well known brand
Here we go again. My habit of comparing the content of ingredients and also nutritional values seem to be an endless source of amazement, for me, at least. Once again I was in a bargain shop (there are many around where I live) and I was looking for a Friday treat for my colleagues. It was almost Christmas so what could be a better treat than mince pies?
As I walked along the shelves, I have spotted a box of six mince pies for £1. It was Huntley & Palmers. I put them into the basket, not really thinking about the content as I know this is one of the things in which I cannot win. It will always be caloric, loaded with sugar, fats (in the pastry) and not guilt-free.
This attitude has changed, when I spotted a well known brand of mince pies at another shelf. Mr Kipling it was. Now they got my interest. Which will I buy? I do not buy Mr Kipling cakes and other treats too often, but I thought they were worth to give a priority over some ‘anonymous’ brands (I beg your pardon, Huntley & Palmers, but I am not a biscuit person).
Now you know what works for me (and it should work for everyone to get a better picture what is in the products). I have turned the boxes and had a look at the ingredients. I was quite surprised to see that not only Mr Kipling lists sugar as the first ingredient in the filling (and as a whole product perhaps), it also had lower content of filling per cake (46%) than the less known brand of Huntley and Palmers (49%).
To be more precise, the Mr Kipling filling started with sugar, continued with Bramley apple puree and then there were sultanas and raisins. The brand which has a weaker grip of the market had apparently more genuine filling, starting with sultanas, continuing with sugar and then Bramley apple puree. However, to be fair, Mr Kipling seems to have more flavors in the filling, including currants and treacle, which the Huntley & Palmers did not have. Nonetheless, I have had two of their mince pies that Friday and they were very tasty. In contrast, one of my colleague shared her experience, saying that Mr Kipling pastry tastes like a cardboard to her. Well, after all, the deliciousness is in the taste buds of the consumer.
Regarding the pastry, I have another little discovery to share with you, which I have found quite interesting. This has two parts: the actual amount of the butter in the Mr Kipling mince pies pastry and the butter as such.
When you read the ingredients content of the Mr Kipling mince pies, you will learn that it has a butter enriched (8%) pastry.
What does that actually mean? Go back and note that the actual pastry forms ‘only’ 64% of the final product. That means the product as such does not contain 8% butter, but only 5.12%. But they are right in how they wrote it.
What made me really cross was when I realized that the butter in Mr Kipling product is not actually BUTTER. It is butteroil, as you can read in the lower part of the extensive list of ingredients. Butteroil is the butter fat that has been freed of water and dry mass (such as milk proteins), usual contents of the normal butter. Butteroil has 99.3% milk fat whereas the butter usually contains 82% milk fat. By definition they are different ingredients. Because some of the components of the butter have been removed to get the butteroil, it does not have that typical pleasant flavor of butter after all. Do you know ghee. That is a form of butteroil, after removal of water and dry matter. Me and my husband have tried to make scrambled eggs on either butter or ghee and we both agree that butter is far tastier. After all, would you spread ghee on your toast instead of butter? I wouldn’t. And that is probably why my colleague said that the Mr Kipling’s pastry tastes like cardboard to her if they implement this misleading tactics on a wider range of their products, or not including butter at all (none of these do, not even butteroil).
In addition, the butteroil ingredient in the Mr Kipling’s pastry can be found after vegetable oils (rapeseed and palm oil) and even after glucose syrup. This order can give you an idea about how significant the butter fat actually was in the pastry. I personally find it misleading to put that note of 8% butter in the pastry on top of everything, when it is not the proper butter and plant oils still form the majority of the fat in the pastry. It is like claiming that sweets are made with fruit, when the fruit content is only about 1% of the product, leaving the rest for the sugar and other flavorings.
I have no idea why Mr Kipling company tries to fool the customers with this trick. I approached them with a specific question back in December 2015 and that is the reason why I have not published this article earlier. I have turned into a detective, also asking various institutions about this matter. None of them seem to be either able or willing to help, forwarding me to each other all the time. You can read about my ordeal in another article dedicated to this messaging ping-pong. The article will come later so please subscribe for a newsletter to be updated.
Nonetheless, the Mr Kipling’s pastry seems to be more genuine than of Huntley & Palmers, because it contains less ingredients. Their pastry contained water and so they had to include some emulsifier to keep the oil and water together. Water, plant oil and emulsifier are definitely cheaper than butteroil or butter.
However, Mr Kipling is apparently richer in sugar and fat than Huntley & Palmers, having also lower protein and fibre content. See the table below:
|Typical values per 100g||Mr Kipling||Huntley & Palmers|
|Energy||372 kcal||376 kcal|
|Fat||14.8 g||12.7 g|
|Carbohydrates||55.0 g||59.1 g|
|– of which sugars||32.3 g||28.0 g|
|Fibre||1.7 g||4.3 g|
|Protein||3.7 g||4.2 g|
|Salt||0.29 g||0.1 g|
It can be done better
At some point of my ‘investigation’ into this matter, I have had a journey to the Tesco supermarket. Out of interest I have had a look at their products. I was quite pleasantly surprised that even their value range, which is aimed to be basic, has the first ingredients sultanas in the filling, with sugar being the second. However, the filling only comprises 40% of the cake, which is less than Mr Kipling’s and that is why it is a value product, with a cheap pastry forming the majority of the pies. Another Tesco product of the middle range (not value and not The Finest), had 49% mince meat, with the sugar in the first place. However, this product contains a real (unsalted) butter, followed by the plant oils. That really makes me feel betrayed by Mr Kipling’s promoting themselves as a special brand.
The Finest range pies had the mince meat filling 50% of the product, but sugar still the first in the list and the list of ingredients was twice as long as the value product (also containing cognac, brandy, port, nuts). Nonetheless, this product also contains real unsalted butter, instead of butteroil, and the content is 14%, which about twice as much as in the Mr Kipling’s product, while the energy content is comparable between those two. Now tell me what sounds as a special brand that should promote content of a real butter above all the ingredients, or even on the front of the package?
Going back to the initial two products, I have not tasted Mr Kipling’s mince pies so I cannot say which of those two compared earlier are tastier. However, the Huntley & Palmers were tasty enough for me to have two and I will not mind to buy them in the future again. Their nutrition profile is also better than of Mr Kipling. And if you were concerned about the energy content, then hear that their pie is smaller, containing only 199 kcal (53 g) per portion, whereas Mr Kipling pie will fill you with 226 kcal (60 g). And that is no brainer, is it?
I have also had a chance to taste the Sainsbury’s mince pie at their cafe very recently. The flavor was rather intensive, with detectable vinegar in there, or something similar. The taste experience was not great and my husband said he was glad we had only one and shared it. None of us is keen to buy it again.
What if you want to make your own?
I have also had a look at the mincemeat sold separately for people who would like to bake their own pies. That also took me by surprise. The branded and more expensive product contained sugar first while the cheaper Tesco product had the vine fruits on top of the list, followed with apples and then the sugar. So here you can see how the customers are being misled by the producers about the quality of the products.
The Robertson’s certainly omitted to mention sugar in the description on the front of the jar as well. I have not tasted these two products either so I cannot say which one would appeal more on my taste buds. The producers often make up for the lower quality of the content with more spices or other flavorings. But based on the list of ingredients I would certainly go rather for the Tesco’s mincemeat and I would also pay less for the real ingredients instead of paying more for the ‘branded’ sugar.
My article did not aim to promote one product or to discourage you to buy the other. Different people have different taste preferences and other reasons why they decide for a specific brand. There are many products on the market and they vary in quality, ingredients and nutrients content, not mentioning the price. This article was just to remind you that you have to be vigilant if you want to get the best value with the highest quality of content. So if you care about the better choice (and value, of course) like me, do some comparison when having a choice between two very similar products and do not rely on the brand name. I have made this comparison and I am glad I did it.
For your reference, below is the list of the ingredients in the Huntley & Palmers mince pies since this seems to be a challenge to be found online.