Good Food Blog
Sweet nothingsPosted at 12:02PM, 18 August 2008 by Stuart Walton - Food and wine writer
"Your sweetness," Michelle Gayle once sang, "is my weakness," and the lyric might have stood as the British national theme song. We can't get enough sugar, and are being scolded from all directions like disobedient kids for our tooth-rotting, trouser-busting penchant for the stuff.
While we all know, though, that we shouldn't be gorging on chocolate as though the calendar were permanently stuck on Easter, what we often don't acknowledge is that sugar is in all kinds of officially savoury foods. From pasta sauces to breakfast cereals, gourmet soups to Chinese takeaways, sweetness is everywhere. It keeps us running when we need to get through the working day, and it makes us wilt in the afternoon when the levels in our bloodstream tail off.
In many respects, this is all insidious enough. Health campaigners can plead with us to read ingredient listings, but when you have no particular reason to suspect sugar may be lurking within, are you necessarily being that careless? Why is there added sugar in a drink marketed as a 'smoothie'? Why is there sugar in mayonnaise?
What in all creation is a sweet Cumberland sausage?
There is a whole category of products, however, that make a virtue of their sweetness, as though it were a sophisticated type of seasoning. How many versions of 'sweet Thai chilli' are there out there? Barbecue foods are not thought edible by many unless they have been caked in sugar. The ingredients on a leading brand of barbecue sauce begin 'Water, sugar, molasses...'. A new flavour of crisps from Britain's biggest brand is Sweet Cumberland Sausage. What in all creation is a sweet Cumberland sausage? Who's ever eaten one of those?
And don't get me started on 'caramelised', which has passed from being a favoured technique on expensive restaurant menus to high-street product terminology. That barbecue sauce ingredient box goes on to list 'Caramelised Onions,' which have been cooked in muscovado sugar. Onions will perfectly well caramelise without the addition of sugar, but best pile it in to be on the safe side.
I'm not suggesting we all give up sugar overnight (the withdrawal symptoms are a nightmare, believe me), but there is such a thing as deciding like adults when to do something bad. When it's being slipped into our food like the slug of vodka in the teenager's alcopop, then we are conversely being treated like overgrown kids.