Wendyl Wants to Know: Fish lifts dish above its cheesy basics
Dolmio Pasta Bake - Tuna Bake Sauce - $3.68 for 540g
Busy parents don't always have time to cook a meal from scratch and find themselves in the aisle rather subtly named "meal ingredients".
This aisle is the halfway house for home cooking because it allows you to spend some time in the kitchen even if it's just boiling up some pasta and opening a tin of tuna. You can have a home cooked meal in a hurry without needing too many culinary clues.
Dolmio has been around since the '80s and offers 21 varieties of sauces. This product comes with the promise that you'll have a meal baked in just 15 minutes and proudly claims no artificial flavours or colours. Let's see what else is in it.
Ingredients (in order of greatest quantity)
The first thing I notice about this ingredients label is there are no three-number codes which are commonplace on other food labels.
Each ingredient is simply named and I think this is very clever marketing because it makes the food look less like a chemical formula.
As the first ingredient this means that the biggest substance in this sauce is water.
17 per cent (milk, salt, starter culture, enzymes) This will be cheddar cheese most likely, although the ingredients list on the Dolmio website identifies some parmesan in there as well.
This is lovely nutritious stuff. It is lower in fat than regular milk because the fat has been removed to make butter. It is also high in potassium, vitamin B12, calcium and riboflavin as well as a good source of phosphorus. Traditionally it is the liquid left over once you beat cream until it becomes butter but this is more likely to be commercially made out of milk and lactic acid.
This could be palm, canola, sunflower, no idea. It would be nice if the label told us.
Cream (milk solids, emulsifier (monoglyceride), mineral salt - sodium citrate)
Cream usually has just one ingredient: cream. It is skimmed off the top of milk before it is homogenised. These ingredients tell me that monoglyceride, which can be synthetic or naturally occurring, has been added to keep the fat in the cream from separating and sodium citrate, which is salt of citric acid, has been put in as a preservative.
This is milk which has had the fat taken out of it.
Garlic 4 per cent
This is quite a lot of garlic but it is good to see Dolmio is using it as a flavouring rather than substituting with artificial flavourings.
Thickener (modified cornstarch)
This is cornflour but it has been modified. Which means it has been treated with enzymes or chemicals to enhance its thickening properties.
Not too high up on the list which means there isn't too much in here. The nutrition label says 7.2g or 1.5 teaspoons per serve.
Another natural flavour.
No surprises here.
Food acids (lactic, gluconic)
Lactic acid is found primarily in sour-milk products and is often called milk acid. Gluconic acid is also a naturally occurring acid found in fruits. Both are most likely here as preservatives.
Herbs 0.5 per cent
On the Dolmio website this herb is listed as parsley for this product.
It says natural, so we have to believe them but it would be nice to know which natural flavours are used.
Vegetable gum (xanthan)
This is xanthan gum, which is only of concern to people who may be allergic to corn, wheat or soy, from which the gum may have been derived. Some people also find the gum to be a laxative. It is in here as a thickening agent.
The same as Marmite or Vegemite and will be here as flavouring.
There is no legal requirement in this country to list which spices are in foods but, fortunately, the Dolmio website tells me it is pepper.
It takes 18 ingredients to make what is really a cheese sauce which you can make at home using four ingredients, butter, flour, milk and cheese.
But most of the added ingredients won't do you too much harm and all of them are naturally derived.
The addition of a 425g can of tuna means you are getting your kids to eat fish which can be difficult with some children. Health experts advise we eat fish three times a week and canned tuna contains essential vitamins and minerals and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are especially important during early childhood for eye and brain development.
There are concerns about overfishing of tuna so make sure the can you buy clearly states it is sustainably caught and opt for skipjack tuna, not yellowfin, which is overfished.
Some people are concerned about mercury levels in tuna but the Food Safety Authority says the tuna commonly used in canning are short-lived species which accumulate only low amounts.
Making a cheese sauce during the eight minutes it takes to cook the pasta is a more nutritious, real food option but for busy parents I think the tuna component cancels out some of the unnecessary additives.