How to create your own Ingredient List

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 12 November 2014.
Tagged: Food labels, label

How to create your own Ingredient List

Ever wondered how food manufacturers work out their long lists of ingredients? You know those lists of what’s in the packet or jar that are in small font buried somewhere on the back of the label? I decided to work out my own Ingredient List after cooking up a batch of tomato chutney at the end of summer when tomatoes were cheap, ripe and plentiful.

My old-fashioned tomato chutney recipe from the CWA

I started with an old, tried-and-true, recipe for ripe tomato chutney from a Country Women's Association (CWA) cookbook. Except that it didn’t have any quantities the first time I made it up. It just told me to “add enough vinegar to cover” (no help when I need to shop for either a 500mL bottle or a 2 litre tub) or “top up with water if necessary” (well, how much exactly and how do I tell?).

My 6 steps to creating an Ingredient List

Step 1

After making it up once and measuring and weighing everything, I settled on this recipe based on 2kg or 4.4 lb of ripe red tomatoes (see picture):

2kg ripe tomatoes (13 medium tomatoes)

4 large onions

1 tablespoon salt *

1 bottle (750 ml) malt vinegar

2 cups white sugar

3 green apples, grated or use 400g can of pie apple

1 cup sultanas

1 tablespoon plain flour

1 tablespoon curry powder

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Tomato chutney ingredients 01

*about half the salt is discarded after the initial overnight soak by my reckoning

Step 2

Next I converted all my ingredients from cups and spoons (i.e. domestic or household measures) and weights where given into a weight in kg or grams or mLs:

Ingredient Recipe quantity Weight
 Tomatoes 14 medium 2kg
 Onions 4 large white 500g
 Salt 1 tablespoon 20g
 Malt vinegar 1 bottle 750ml
 White sugar 2 cups 500g
 Green apples 3 600g
 Sultanas 1 cup 150g
 Flour 1 tablespoon 10g
 Curry Powder 1 tablespoon 10g
 Mustard 1 tablespoon 15g

Step 3

Then I converted each ingredient into its weight in grams so they were all shown in the SAME unit of weight:

Ingredient Recipe quantity Weight in grams
 Tomatoes 14 medium 2000
 Onions 4 large white 500
 Salt 1 tablespoon 20
 Malt vinegar 1 bottle 750
 White sugar 2 cups 500
 Green apples 3 600
 Sultanas 1 cup 150
 Flour 1 tablespoon 10
 Curry Powder 1 tablespoon 10
 Mustard 1 tablespoon 15

Step 4

Then I sorted all the ingredients into descending order by weight then added them up to give me a grand total of 4555g:

Ingredient Weight in grams
 Tomatoes 2000
 Malt vinegar 750
 Green apples 600
Onions 500
 White sugar 500
 Sultanas 150
Salt 20
 Mustard 15
 Flour 10
 Curry Powder 10

Step 5

Then I re-wrote this as a straight list in descending order starting with the biggest ingredient which is tomatoes:

Tomatoes

Malt vinegar

Green apples

Onions

White sugar

Sultanas

Salt

Mustard

Flour

Curry powder

Step 6

Finally here’s how my Ingredient list above would appear on a label of a jar of the finished chutney:

 Tomatoes (44%), malt vinegar, green apples, onions, sugar, sultanas, salt, mustard, flour, curry powder.

Tricks for reading the list

According to food law, everything is listed in descending order by weight. However, unless an ingredient has percentages mentioned after it, we have no way of knowing just by looking, how much of it there is in the product. For all the list tells us, all ingredients after tomatoes could be there in the same quantities - unlikely I agree - but possible from the information we have. Let's see what we can actually deduce from this list assuming we don't already know the quantities.

Tomatoes are the biggest ingredient by weight so they get listed at the beginning. Food law requires me to spell out the percentage of my characterising ingredient (which are the tomatoes in Tomato Chutney) so I need to work out that tomatoes make up 44 per cent of my total ingoing weight. I divided 2000g of tomatoes by 4555g of the total to get 43.9 per cent which I’ve rounded up to 44 per cent. The list is clear in this instance.

Green apples, onions and sugar are present at roughly the same weight which is around 10 per cent of the total – but you can’t tell from the List.

Sultanas are smaller still though you can't tell this, or that their percentage is 3 per cent.

Salt is where things start to get really small and this usually give us a clue for reading the list as any ingredient AFTER salt is present in tiny amounts. In this case it’s the mustard, flour and curry powder which are there for a burst of flavour and to thicken.

There are no preservatives (the vinegar, sugar and salt do that job), no colours and no flavourings.

The bottom line

It takes a bit of work to create an Ingredient List. Here you’ve learnt first-hand how to create one based on a popular home-made recipe that many of us cook up at the end of the summer season. Remember what an Ingredient List can and can't tell you about the food when you’re next out shopping for groceries.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.