What's in a name? Well, if the name is 'chicken nuggets', it could be up to 14 different ingredients, according to research published by the University of Nottingham.
The study, called "Engineering Taste - Is this the future of our children's food?" was commissioned by the children's food company Organix. It makes the, erm, distasteful claim that the ubiquity of over-engineered food products is beginning to prevent an entire generation of children from enjoying 'real' foods.
Researching foods marketed at children, the team made the disturbing discovery that the boundary between 'real' and 'artificial' foods is blurring.
Increasingly, kids' food products may contain no artificial colouring or flavours. Sounds good, right? Instead, however, they have long and complicated lists of natural ingredients used in unlikely and unsettling ways.
Is a strawberry yoghurt branded 'all natural' still 'real' if it contains carrot juice, put there not to add flavour but simply to give it a bright and appealing colour?
Welcome to the future, where food isn't cooked but engineered, with the bulk of its ingredients often there simply to provide 'an enhanced eating experience' - an easier, more immediately gratifying flavour, texture or colour.
Does it matter? The report suggests it does, with 90% of the parents surveyed worried that the food industry was enhancing their kids' taste for engineered foods and altering their palates for life. Why crunch an apple when an engineered fruity snack bar is smaller, softer and more instantly gratifying? Will the next generation of adults never graduate to real food at all?
Over at The Two Hatties, we've been working on some healthy, easy and cheap alternatives to the most common of these comfort foods. Baked beans, for example, where carrots play a real nutritional role but also help to hoodwink kids with a familiarly sunny shade...
BAKED BEANS (LIKE FROM A TIN, BUT BETTER)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
20 grapes, halved
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 ½ tsp cornflour
1 tin of haricot beans
Add a splash of olive to a pan, and heat the onion, carrot, grapes and garlic over a low to medium heat till they are soft and the onions translucent.
Use a stick blender to whizz the mixture into a paste. NO BITS!
Now add your passata and simmer for 15 minutes before blending again to ensure it is perfectly smooth.
Mix the cornflour into a paste with a little water then whisk into the mixture, followed by the water. Add the drained beans and simmer to reduce to your favourite consistency.
Serve on toast or a baked potato, topped with cheese.