In Melbourne, a city full of food and obsessed by coffee, I cook, I eat, I share the good news and the bad. essjay eats

I really should know better…

Look I’ve been unwell OK? And I rarely go into a supermarket these days (thank goodness!), but, but … OK so my defences were down.

When I saw the innocent looking plastic jar on the shelf I thought – well I read the other day that I should eat more cashews for pre-biotic goodness and I’d had a stomach bug. So I picked it up. I didn’t read the label, and I popped it into my basket.

I didn’t expect it to be as delicious or tasty as I’ve come to expect from the brands of nut spread I usually buy, but how hard is it to take some nuts, roast them and blend them up? The price wasn’t cheap so I expected it to be ok at least. 

And so I am now the proud owner of a jar of Kraft’s Cashew “Spread” smooth.

When I got home I had a better look at my newly acquired … “spread”. I note that the spread is made in Belgium, I think about this for a bit, connect Belgium with a long history of doing business with South America, the home of the cashew, I think – ok that kind of make sense  (in the way that making ice cream in Europe and shipping it to Australia doesn’t) (I’m looking at you Magnum).

But wait for it … first ingredient – vegetable oil,  second – maltodextrin. 

In Australia ingredients are listed in descending order of content, with any significant ingredient (like the CASHEWS in the CASHEW SPREAD) listed with percentage content as well. 

Third – cashews … 25% … TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT!!! (yes three exclamation marks – so sue me)

By comparison – Daryl’s Peanut Butter contains peanuts and salt. You can do the math on those ratios yourselves I reckon.

So, for a bit of analysis (and some maths).

per 100g Cashews (raw average) Kraft cashew spread Ceres organic cashew butter
Kilojules 2431 2460 2408
Fat (g) 48 (8 sat) 43 (13 sat) 44 (7 sat)
Carbs (g) 31 (6 of sugar) 46 (15 of sugar) 27 (6 sugar)
Protein (g) 17 5 18.2

For the same amount energy and a little less fat than cashews themselves you get a 2/3rd less protein and almost three times the amount of sugar in the spread.

That’s what we call “less nutrient dense” food boys and girls.

Maltodextrin is basically the white powder form of glucose syrup. It’s made from grain starch, often  corn, it’s high GI and almost certainly cheaper than cashew nuts. 

When you see fancy-pants things like bay oil powder on restaurant menus they’ve combined the flavoured oil with maltodextrin which absorbs it and stays powdery. Kinda cute and a bit of fun. But more than 25% percent of a product is this powered, and more than that is again is oil. Basically this is cashew flavoured grain starch mixed with oil.

Kraft are proud to tell us that these are the “right kind of nuts” and  “All KRAFT nut spreads are made with wholesome ingredients and contain no added colours, flavours or preservatives”

This is why labels are important. This is why being close to the maker or grower of your food is important. This is why I promise I will read the bloody labels ALL the time even if people think I’m a boring old food nazi. 

Words like “preservative free”, “wholesome ingredients”, “no added colours” are meaningless marketing words. Words that make you think you’re buying a better choice. 

I read with interest this article in the New York Times on “A Seismic Shift in the Way People Eat” in which food manufacturer “General Mills will remove all artificial colours and flavours from it’s cereals”. So their cereal will now say “no artificial colours”, or “no added flavours”. Feel better? 

Neither do I. The big food manufacturers won’t like losing market share. And they won’t want to drop profits to use better ingredients. They’ll use more spin. They’ll suck folks in, folks like me who consider themselves educated and almost immune from their hype.

If I’m going to pay for cashews, I want cashews. If I’m going to eat a tablespoon of nuttiness I want all the protein, fibre and other good stuff as well, not 2/3 tablespoon of cornstarch and oil. Natural nut butters are nutrient dense and a fine part of your everyday food intake. I can’t say the same for Kraft’s Cashew Nut Spread.

Stay alert – read your labels. 

And if you have any ideas on how to use my corn starch spread please let me know below. I don’t want to eat it.


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