Monday, 8 August 2011

Food: Now With 25% More Tomatoes!

Hello there, and welcome back to these pages after a (not so) brief self-imposed hiatus. No, I won't tell you why I was gone. It's not important, and, more importantly, it's also not very interesting. To you, at least. Yes, I know it's patronising. But then that's why you come here, isn't it? To be patronised, or hoping to see somebody or other beign patronised. I know how you people are...

But anyway, back to the business of patronising...

I've recently bought a bottle of Hellman's ketchup. I think it was this one. Actually, on careful inspection, it is that one. You can just make out the breathless claim of having "over 25% more tomatoes".

What you may not make out, even if you hold the bottle quite close to your nose (which you may have to do if you're as short-sighted as yours truly, are the two little marks urging you to look for the fine print. There's a tiny little asterisk, and right next to it an even tinier cross. I'll ignore the fact the cross is the one Christians use as their fetishsymbol, and plough on on a different topic.

(Don't you just find it weird how Christians can use such a horrible instrument of torture as their symbol and something they treat almost as a fetish. Well, not almost - a lot. There's something morbid about idolising alleged pain and suffering of their chosen deity. But then religions are often like that. Weird. Anyway, back to tomato ketchup...)

So, the little asterisk tells you that the "25% more" claim refers to the fact that "normal" Hellman's ketchup uses 132g of tomatoes for 100g ketchup. Meaning, of course, that this new and improved one uses (fetches his trusty calculator) a whopping 165 grams. This, after some googling, tells me that one average sized tomato is used to get a 100g of new and improved Hellman's ketchup. Which sounds like a good deal. Or does it?

Let's look at it from another angle...

The bottle in question holds 430g of ketchup (don't ask why 430 and not 500 or at least a pound). This means that 4.5 tomatoes have been used to make it. Let's be generous and say five. Or, better, let's apply Hellman's own data and some maths and get to 710g of tomato going into a 430g bottle of ketchup. This still sounds like a reasonable amount. It's almost a kilo, and substantially more than a pound.

But have you actually seen what 700g of tomatoes look like? Well, by virtue of having a tomato addict in the house, I actually see all sorts of quantities and types of tomato all the time. And from that (not as traumatic as it sounds) experience I can tell you that 700g of tomato on a plate or in a plastic bag does not look like something that can reasonably produce 400g of quality ketchup, let alone 430.

Just try it for yourself. Go to your local supermarket, weigh, buy and bring home 700g of tomato. Remove all the green bits (one hopes Hellman's do, too). Put in a blender. Blend. Check consistency. Realise the stuff needs a lot of reducing over slow heat in order to come close to being considered a ketchup.

Now, Hellman's also boast their fare has no artificial whatevers. Which is good. But they still obviously had to add something to make the required amount out of the advertised quantity of tomatoes. And, while probably really all natural, I do wonder what is it that has been added to that "tomato" ketchup. My bet would be on flour. That's nice and thickening, barely detectable, and probably also can be made "vegan", too.

So, in conclusion, don't fall for headline advertising. Too often when you scratch the surface you find quite a lot of unflattering facts. Or at least facts which, while supporting the headline, don't really add up to an exciting improvement of the product in question.

Oh, and sometimes you will find, as I did with Hellman's ketchup, that the product itself leaves you a bit wanting. Yes, it may be true that Hellman's now has "over 25% more tomatoes". Yes, it may be that their ratio of tomatoes to ketchup is the highest in the industry (that's what that little cross tells you, if I remember correctly). But in the final analysis, Heinz ketchup wipes the floor with this one any day of the week.

Caveat emptor, indeed...