What’s in your biscuit?
Biscuits (Cookies for Americans) are our daily bread but times have changed. We now know more about biscuits and what they contain. Ingredients in biscuits like hydrogenated vegetable oil aren’t good for us. Nor is refined sugar, refined flour or additives. That’s what most biscuits are made of, even the so-called “healthy” ones.
In this post I have examined a few biscuit brands from two companies – Britannia Industries (a multi-national) and Parle Products (an Indian company). I chose these two as they are giants in the biscuit market in India and well, I buy their biscuits.
Goodday from Britannia has the following ingredients: Wheat Flour, sugar, edible vegetable oil, nuts (cashews and almonds), butter, milk solids, raising agents, salt, emulsifiers, synthetic food colour and artificial flavours.
According to Indian law, manufacturers and marketers need not detail the exact percentages (or the exact amounts) of each ingredient. However, we can guess how much is present because the law stipulates that the ingredients have to be listed in descending order (the ingredient which is present in the greatest quantity is to be listed first). So, if wheat flour (which is white refined flour or maida) is listed first as in this case, it means that this is the major ingredient in the biscuit. This is followed by sugar and edible vegetable oil. Both refined flour and sugar (which form the bulk of the biscuit) are bad for our health. But luckily this biscuit does not contain hydrogenated vegetable fat which is unhealthy, but just vegetable oil, which means no transfats.
It’s said that naturally occurring transfat (found in dairy products and some meats) is not harmful (though more studies are underway to confirm this) but artificially produced transfats (produced when hydrogen gas reacts with oil) as in hydrogenated vegetable oils are extremely bad for health and are a factor in causing heart disease. This relationship has been proven beyond doubt.
Gooday also contains nuts, butter, milk solids, but they are present in tiny quantities and in any case all are highly processed. As such they are not as nutritious as they would be in their natural form. And then there are the additives and chemicals.
The good thing is that Britannia is one of the few biscuit companies in India which has started to give out nutrition information on its biscuit packs, although the relevant draft regulation of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (Amendment) which will make this compulsory in India will only be passed this October. I guess this is because Britannia is a multinational and it is compulsory in Europe and America.
The biscuit (per 100 gms) provides 23.5 gms of fat and the actual types of fat has been listed. As one could guess, no trans fat.
Britannia Marie is a biscuit that has been positioned as a tea-time biscuit. The ingredients are as follows: Wheat flour, sugar, edible vegetable oil, invert syrup, milk solids, raising agents, salt, emulsifiers, dough conditioner, permitted natural food colours and artificial flavours.
Hmm, looks like there is no transfat here either as there is an absence of hydrogenated oil. I confess I am a little surprised. It certainly has something to do with the fact that Britannia’s multinational stakeholder is Danone (headquarted in France) and in the EU now there is a growing awareness about the dangers of transfats and usage of transfats is being restricted. Plus, it is mandatory in the EU (as in the United States) to give out nutrition information.
Here is the nutrition information given on the pack (per 100 gms):
As expected no transfats in Marie. And they have advertised the fact:
Next is Britannia’s Cream Cracker which is positioned as a health biscuit. But is it really healthy? The ingredients are as follows: Wheat flour, edible vegetable oil, sugar, yeast, salt, milk solids, malt extract, emuslifiers and raising agents.
Well, refined wheat flour (maida) which comprises almost 80 percent of the biscuit is certainly not healthy and therefore there is no way that this biscuit or any biscuit made from white refined flour can be healthy. However this biscuit has no hydrogenated fat, like the others.
Britannia’s claim that this biscuit is healthy makes no sense! For one thing, the 79 percent cereal may be cereal but this “cereal” is nothing but maida (white refined flour) which is not healthy. And calling this biscuit ‘Pure Health’ is another misnomer. Even if this biscuit is more healthy than many others (fewer additives and no transfats) that does not justify this kind of labeling. They should just say zero transfat and leave it at that!
Pure Magic is another biscuit from Britannia Industries and here we come across the dreaded transfat, which must be present because of the cream in the biscuit. Here are the ingredients: Wheat Flour, sugar, edible vegetable oil/hydrogenated vegetable oils, cocoa solids, invert syrup, raising agents, salt, milk solids, starch and emulsifiers.
Again, like in all biscuits the major ingredients are refined white flour and sugar followed by oils. Some of the oil used is hydrogenated and this is what results in transfats which is bad for health. Hydrogenated oils are the fourth most important ingredient in this biscuit. Unfortunately, this biscuit is usually consumed by children. Transfats can be specially bad for kids as children who grow up eating transfats have a tendency to get heart disease earlier than those who don’t. Here is the nutrition information on the pack:
The transfat is lower than I expected but well 2 gms or not, it’s still transfat and it’s still bad for health.
Hide & Seek from Parle Products is a similar biscuit, but it is not a cream biscuit. It is a chocolate chip one. Ingredients: Wheat flour, cocoa solids, sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, invert syrup, leavening agents, salt, emulsifiers, dough conditioners.
I was shocked to discover that this biscuit, even though it does not contain cream, contains partially hydrogenated oils. The transfats must be much higher than most other biscuits as only hydrogenated oils have been used. However we have no way of knowing how much as the company has not bothered to give any nutrition information on the pack. They are getting away with it now as the law hasn’t yet come into effect. Anyway, it is a few months away and then they will have to. I don’t understand why the company hasn’t been responsible and done it already.
Even if you take another biscuit of Parle’s (Krackjack) there is no nutrition information. The ingredients present are: Wheat flour, sugar, edible vegetable oil/ partially hydrogenated edible vegetable oils, leavening agents, invert syrup, salt, yeast, emuslifiers, acid regulators, milk solids and dough conditioners, and artificial flavours.
Here perhaps the transfats are lower (we have to guess!) as edible oil is used alongwith the partially hydrogenated oils.
Parle’s Glucose biscuit does have nutrition information given on it and that is probably because it is positioned as a “healthy” biscuit, but we already know that no biscuit made of white refined flour and with additives can be healthy. And what’s terrible is that this “healthy” biscuit contains hydrogenated fat. Here are the ingredients: Wheat flour, sugar, partially hydrogenated edible vegetable oil/ edible vegetable oils, invert syrup, leavening agents, baking powder, salt, milk solids, emuslifiers, dough conditioners, improvers (amylases and other enzymes) and artificial flavours. Now I wonder how this biscuit can be sold as a biscuit for children when it contains more hydrogenated oil than edible oil?
Here is the nutrition information. There is no mention of transfat at all, just the total fat. How much transfat this biscuit contains is anybody’s guess. The biscuit seems to have some nominal amount of calcium but even then this biscuit isn’t for kids, that’s for sure.
Monaco is another biscuit of Parle’s which gives nutrition information. First the ingredients: Wheat flour, Edible vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated edible vegetable oils, sugar, leavening agents, invert syrup, salt, yeast, acid regulators, emuslifiers, dough conditioners, improvers (amylases and other enzymes) and artificial flavours. Here again you have hydrogenated oil, but it seems to be present in lesser quantity than in the glucose biscuits. Odd huh, considering that it’s the glucose biscuits which are aimed at kids?
Here is the nutrition information but just the bare minimum is given.
It is also significant that biscuits such as these which proclaim themselves to be a “light” snack are not light. Just note the calories per 100 gms in this biscuit – over 500! This is higher than Britannia’s 495 calories for their goodday biscuits, and guess what – it has more energy/calories that Parle’s own glucose biscuit!!
Overall, all biscuits are of similar calorific value and Monaco will contain higher amounts of sodium as well.
Mcvites Hobnobs (oat and wholemeal biscuits) are an imported biscuit widely available in Mumbai. The ingredients: Rolled oats (38 percent), wholemeal flour which means Atta (23 percent), sugar, palm oil, glucose fructose syrp, raising agents, salt, gluten.
This is a nutritious biscuit. Perhaps I should compare this to Britannia’s Digestive biscuit, but I don’t like Britannia Digestive as it crumbles to pieces even before you put it in your mouth. And once I got a whole pack of burnt biscuits which the company did not bother to replace. I guess Britannia’s Digestive biscuit is made at least partially from whole-wheat flour and probably does not contain transfats but I did not want to buy it for this photo-shoot as I did not want to waste my money. Anyway, I think Mcvites hobnobs can be compared to all biscuits which claim to be a “healthy” choice.
What’s important is that Mcvite has now pledged to remove transfats from all its biscuit brands. This is the nutrition information on the hobnobs: They have given values per biscuit too, and one biscuit is 67 cal and 3.1g fat.
The purpose of this post was to make us aware that manufacturers’ claims are almost always exaggerated and at times are outright lies.
Though I have not mentioned it here, don’t forget that bakery products (cookies, pastries) and fries contain significant amounts of transfats too unless they are made from (and/or fried in) pure ghee (clarified butter) or butter or non-hydrogenated edible oil. But as hydrogenated fat is inexpensive and also gives the product a longer shelf life, this is what manufacturers prefer to use.
To read more about the dangers of transfat you can try this site.
(All photographs are by me and copyrighted)
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