I-Spy Hidden Sugar! The unsavoury truth of savoury sauces

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 20 April 2016.
Tagged: carbohydrates, carbs, food labels, health, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, nutrition, sugar

I-Spy Hidden Sugar! The unsavoury truth of savoury sauces

Tomato, barbecue, chilli, mustard, horseradish. We all love a slurp of sauce and it’s so easy with store-bought brands as you just squeeeeeeze or plop it on your food. Sauces add that appetising mix of tangy and sweet to steaks, sausages, ribs and heaps of other savoury foods. What we often don’t realise is that they contain a fair whack of added sugar. Do you know how much hidden sugar there is in your favourite sauce?

Here’s how much hidden sugar is in your tomato, barbecue and sweet chilli sauces

Sauce labelsWe did an inventory of three popular sauces – tomato, barbecue and sweet chilli – for their added sugar and sodium, a measure of salt (salt is sodium chloride).

Sauce Sugar position in Ingredient List % sugars Sodium - mg/ 100mL
Tomato sauces      
Average   23 878
Range   16 - 29 110- 1350
Fountain Tomato Sauce 2L 2nd  22 846
MasterFoods Squeezy Tomato Sauce 2nd 21 744
Rosella Squeezy Tomato Sauce 500mL 2nd 16 1180
Fountain Tomato Sauce Glass Bottle 600mL 2nd 28 930
MasterFoods Squeezy Salt Reduced Tomato Sauce 500mL 2nd 18 547
Heinz Tomato Ketchup 1L 2nd 26 1350
Dick Smith Squeezy Tomato Sauce 500mL 2nd 24 626
Outback Spirit Tomato Sauce 245mL 3rd 19 936
Three Threes Tomato Sauce 275mL 3rd 23 1205
MasterFoods Squeezy Australian Grown Tomato Sauce 500mL 2nd 29 844
Pops Tomato Sauce Dispenser Pack 600mL 2nd 20 110
Heinz Organic Tomato Ketchup 500mL 2nd 25 1220
Barbecue sauces      
Average   37 852
Range   23 - 54 473 - 1102
MasterFoods Squeezy BBQ Sauce 500mL  2nd  54  1051
Outback Spirit BBQ Sauce 245mL  2nd  23  473
MasterFoods Squeezy Smokey BBQ Sauce 500mL  2nd  43  836
ETA Original BBQ Sauce 375mL  2nd  46  1102
MasterFoods Squeezy Reduced Salt BBQ Sauce  2nd  38  683
McCormick Grill Mates Vintage Smokehouse BBQ Sauce 500mL  2nd  28  868
 McCormick Grill Mates Brown Sugar Bourbon BBQ Sauce 500mL  2nd 29   950
 Sweet chiili sauces      
 Average    56  1202
 Range   42 - 69 183 - 1930
 Fountain Sweet Chilli Sauce 250mL  1st  42  1085
 Trident Sweet Chilli Sauce 285mL  1st  69  1650
 Trident Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce 730mL  1st  69  1650
 Ramasa Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce 250mL 1st   43  183
Mae Ploy Sweet Chilli Sauce 730mL 1st 61 1930
Ayam Sweet Chilli Sauce 435mL 1st 61 715

Footnote: tomato and BBQ sauces contain both natural sugars from tomatoes as well as added sugar so the % sugars figure is the total. However the added sugar is much more than the naturally-occurring in these sauces.

Don’t be fooled by Health Haloes

Many sauces carry fat-free, gluten-free, MSG free, preservative free and other health halo claims. This doesn’t mean they’re healthy. Many are still high in sugar and salt. Take Heinz’s Organic Tomato Ketchup! Yes, all the ingredients are ‘organic’ including the added sugar BUT sugars make up 25 per cent of the sauce and it has a hefty 1220mg of sodium per 100mL.

So what does it all mean?

Sweet chilli sauce is, hands-down, the sauce with the highest sugar content. For many brands like Master Foods’ range of chilli sauces, sugar is the second ingredient after water! For Ayam, Mae Ploy, Trident, Coles, and Fountain Sweet Chilli Sauces and for the Ramasa Thai Sweet Chilli sauce and the Outback Spirit,Kakadu Plum Chilli Sauce, sugar or sugar syrup is the number one ingredient!

Some manufacturers are addressing the problem of added sugar and high sodium levels in their sauces. So when you buy your next bottle of sauce try some of these instead:

Fountain 'No added Sugar' Tomato and Barbecue sauces

  • No added sugar
  • 25% less added salt*
  • With Natvia Natural Sweetener

Ayam Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce Light

This has no sugar and uses the sweeteners 951(Aspartame) and 950 instead (Acesulphame Potassium Acesulphame K). However, it’s salt level is still relatively high at 1555mg per 100g.

The bottom line

Again I’m going to repeat my two nutrition mantras – moderation in all things and read the label! A little chilli, barbecue or tomato sauce occasionally won’t kill you but consuming them in large quantities will rack up the kilojoules/Calories and increase your sodium (salt) load. Choose the lowest salt and sugar levels you can find and then enjoy!

Credit: Thank you to student dietitian Marthury Jeyalingam for help in compiling the sauce figures.

Images: courtesy of shutterstock.com

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.