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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
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
*about half the salt is discarded after the initial overnight soak by my reckoning
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:
|Onions||4 large white||500g|
|Malt vinegar||1 bottle||750ml|
|White sugar||2 cups||500g|
|Curry Powder||1 tablespoon||10g|
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|
|Onions||4 large white||500|
|Malt vinegar||1 bottle||750|
|White sugar||2 cups||500|
|Curry Powder||1 tablespoon||10|
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|
Then I re-wrote this as a straight list in descending order starting with the biggest ingredient which is tomatoes:
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.