Consumer watchdog Choice has taken its taskforce to supermarket cakes.
The investigation has found some contain more than 20 additives, including those used to prolong shelf life or cover up cheaper ingredients.
Of the almost 100 cakes tested, Woolworths Bakehouse Sponge Iced and Fresh-Filled Cream cake was the worst offender with 27 additives. Top Taste Rollettes Choc and Woolworths Bakehouse Sponge Single Birthday Fresh Cream were a close second with 26 additives each.
“Most people wouldn’t use 40 ingredients when baking a cake at home yet that’s what we found in a large number of these cakes, with some of the worst examples containing more than 20 additives,” said Choice spokeswoman Elise Davidson.
Food colours are used to enhance a food’s appearance but also enable manufacturers to get away with using cheaper ingredients such as apples instead of raspberries in jam filling and palm oil instead of butter.
More than half the cakes also contained food colours identified as increasing hyperactivity in children in a UK study published in medical journal The Lancet.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand has said that Australian parents should use labelling information to check for these food colours if they want their children to avoid them.
“Consumers expect the cakes they buy to be fresh and to maintain that freshness, so food manufacturers use additives, but we think consumers should be aware of the type of ingredients that go into a lot of these cakes,” said Davidson.
The study found that price was no indicator of quality with some of the most expensive brands among the heaviest users of additives.
Australians spend $312 million a year buying cakes from supermarkets, which equates to about 70 million cakes.
Is anyone else completely appalled by this? I've known for a long time that most supermarkets/chain bakeries use pre-mix (the industry term for 'cake from a box mix') and that those pre-mixes contain heaps of scary stuff we really shouldn't be eating...but I don't think I've ever really thought about it in these terms before. 23 additives? Seriously?!
Recently I learned that a well known wedding cake company here in Melbourne exclusively uses pre-mix for all their products. Horrendous..until you consider that the average Safeway mud cake costs LESS THAN $5 to buy (and is often on sale for less then $3) and feeds about 8-10 people. If they can charge $5 per cake, imagine just how cheap that pre-mix is for them to use in the first place. Consider also the taste - fact is, so much food engineering has gone into these mixes that the 'average' consumer not only thinks they taste fine, but also quite enjoy the taste of a supermarket cake. I've even been known to eat and enjoy a supermarket cake myself (although not the sponges...ugh!). So that wedding cake company technically speaking isn't really doing anything wrong .. other then decreasing their costs dramatically and feeding a bunch of chemical crap to their customers.
NN commented that this could almost be used as a marketing angle...why eat preservatives and scary stuff when you can get a cake made from REAL eggs and milk and oil and flour from us? She and I briefly considered using pre-mix for some of our cake flavours, but then we couldn't get past the fact that it's scary to be able to make 8 different cake flavours from ONE bag of cake mix (I'm not kidding. The sample bag we got came with 8 "recipes", most of which were "add caramel 'flavouring'" to 1 kilo of white cake mix...")
Let's face it, pre-mix makes perfect sense for enormous companies like supermarkets. Blind monkeys can make those cakes and it's all so precise and scientific that things like costings, labour, yield and profit margin are very easy to figure out.
I took a break from my own costings (see below posts) to post and write this article - and while it kills me to think I could swap to pre-mix and avoid hours and hours of costing out recipes...there is no way in hell I'd ever do it. I don't know about you, but I want my cakes to have no more than 5-6 ingredients, and I don't want ANY of them followed with a 3 digit number.