Wednesday, January 12, 2011

0 The Real Scoop On "Pre-Fab" Matzo Ball Soup

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After typing up the previous recipe, I got through the actual recipe-writing & then began writing the "Chef's Notes" section. What began as a small series of footnotes gradually expanded into its own post. :) Rather than subject the reader to a really long recipe post (especially as they probably just want to get down to the business of making the recipe!), I decided to end the "Chef's Notes" after the final preparation tips, & instead, break off & expand upon the nutrition section in a separate post.

I did a lot of research on matzo ball soup products, & learned a great deal in the process. I hope you will enjoy this post & benefit from the information I've gathered, as it took a long time & a lot of effort to put together. As they say, information is power. :)

A word about the nutritional value (or lack thereof!) of frozen matzo ball soup & matzo ball mixes: There are several reasons why I prefer to make matzo ball soup from scratch, using only natural ingredients. And of course, aside from the taste, there are a plethora of health reasons as well. :) First, you can control what you're putting into your own soup, and second, just read the labels of many pre-packaged, commercial versions, & you'll easily find your own reasons. :) But of course, I'm going to be helpful, and provide a small list of my own. :)

Frankly, the fresh stuff is typically way more healthier than the boxed (i.e., pre-prepared mixes or frozen soups), canned, or bottled kinds. However, let's not speak in generalities; let's talk about specific nutritional facts that form the basis of this evidence. So, let us review the various products on the market, shall we?

First off are the mixes: If you want to use a matzo ball mix, know this. There are two basic, but very different, products: The kind with the soup mix included, i.e., Manischewitz Matzo Ball & Soup Mix, & the kind that just has the matzo ball mix, i.e., Manischewitz Matzo Ball MixBluntly put, the latter is definitely the lesser of two evils. Actually, aside from the high sodium content, the latter doesn't have any particularly objectionable ingredients or chemicals. As for the former, it contains a ton of sugar & salt, as well as MSG & the much dreaded trans fat, partially hydrogenating cottonseed oil. This is, of course, due entirely to the contents of the soup mix packet. Blech.

And that's just for starters. :) (Yes, there's more nutritional analysis to follow.)

Then, there's the canned stuff & also the bottled kinds as well. Most versions of both contain a ton of sodium as well, which isn't really all that surprising, since salt is frequently used as a preservative. Furthermore, depending on which brand you choose, there are any number of additional additives & preservatives, many (or most!) of which are just plain bad for you.

And now, finally, let's address the boxed, frozen stuff. I'll use Tabatchnick's matzo ball soup, or "Chicken Broth & Dumplings" as they call it, as an example, because it's probably the most readily available example of frozen matzo ball soup, as its found in most national chain grocery stores. (Is their little renaming trick -- from the term "matzo ball" to the much more generic-sounding "dumpling" --  a marketing ploy to appeal to a broader audience?!)

Nutritionally speaking, Tabatchnick's frozen, boxed version doesn't stack up much better: First of all, there are several not-so-great additives. For starters, let's consider the soup itself: After we get past the water, egg noodles, & carrots, etc., the next few listed ingredients are as follows: chicken flavor base, which is comprised of salt, hydrolyzed corn protein, corn protein, chicken flavor, chicken fat, sugar, etc.. Corn protein? Wait, I thought this was supposed to be matzo ball soup? Not corn chowder. ;) About half-way down the list are the vegetables. :) Now, I won't rattle off every single ingredient, but the next few ones after the veggies are ones that definitely grabbed my attention: soybean oil, sugar, salt, canola oil, & hydrolyzed corn gluten. (OK, anytime I see the word "hydrolyzed," warning bells go off in my head ;) ) Click on those last two links & read them. Didn't know you were actually consuming MSG by eating hydrolized proteins, did you, eh?! Also, you'll be pleased to know that hydrolyzed corn gluten is also used as a natural pesticide. What?! You're not pleased? ;)

This is a clever little loophole, courtesy of the FDA, that allows companies to skate around the truth & get away with falsely advertising & labeling products as "No MSG" or ""No MSG added," etc. Pretty sneaky, huh?! Wonder what else food manufacturers are trying to hide from consumers? ;)

And now onto the "dumplings," as they are labeled on the box: When we get past the eggs & bleached wheat flour, next listed are the bread crumbs. Bread crumbs? Really? Now that's a new one on me. :) Where's the matzo meal, eh?! Maybe that's why they can't legitimately call it "matzo ball soup" on the package. ;) OK, aside from that little hiccup, I see that, besides flour, the bread crumbs also contain dextrose, which, although it's a naturally occuring substance, has an extremely high glycemic index, i.e., a GI of 100! For those who might be unaware, this is at the very top of GI index range. That can really cause a spike in one's blood sugar levels (BSL). Ya think?! ;) And that's not really a good thing if you're trying to maintain an steady BSL or sustain your energy levels over a long-term period. When it comes to managing hunger, it's better to keep those levels at an even-keel.

OK, now please bear with me, I'm almost done. :) Next on the "hit list" is yeast (OK, that's a naturally occurring substance & not typically harmful when added to baked or cooked goods), then canola oil -- Wonder if it's unrefined & expeller-pressed? Somehow I doubt it ;) -- followed by sugar, baking powder, & salt. 

Looks like salt, & more salt -- Did I say salt? ;) Hmmm, how many times can they mention sugar & salt in a single list of ingredients?  Experiencing déjà vu yet? ;)

And while we're on that subject, let's address exactly how much sodium there is in a single pouch of Tabatchnick's matzo ball soup. Alright, now brace yourself. :) Tabatchnick's matzo ball soup contains a frightening amount of sodium -- 1480 mg. of sodium per box of soup! (Now stay calm; you don't want your blood pressure to rise while thinking about this. ;) ) To me, it appears that they are being a bit sneaky about the way they list it on the box too, because they count one soup pouch as 2 servings. This way, they can list that each serving contains only 740 mg. of sodium.  (To be completely fair, this is what almost every food manufacturer does when it comes to labeling practices. Are they hoping we won't notice or do the math?! ;) ) Of course, the truth of the matter is that 1 portion is realistically not enough to constitute an actual serving of soup, unless you plan to eat the soup as a very small appetizer to precede a main course. Either that, or you happen to be (a) a small child under the age of 6, or (b) a small field mouse. :) Or, and I'll admit that this is a highly unlikely possibility at best, (c) you are Alice in Wonderland and have just drunk the little bottle labelled "DRINK ME." ;)

So, as you see, many of the above ingredients aren't the greatest, health-wise.

Please keep in mind that I don't bear any ill-will towards any of these companies. I actually like & consume a lot of their products, mostly just the healthier ones. :) Of course, I'm just doling out the nutritional facts & in the process, hopefully helping out the consumer to make heads or tails of the information, plain & simple.

Of course, this is a free country, & it's their prerogative to do as they choose. However, we as consumers can also do as we choose. :) And let's not forget: These companies are also perfectly capable of making decisions regarding which products they choose to offer to the consumer. That being said, these companies, like all companies have to cover their bottom line & still make a profit, or they won't be in business for long. Of course, if consumers start demanding healthier products, I'm sure they'll get their collective acts together & offer healthier alternatives. In fact, many of them actually do, just not for most of their matzo ball soup-related fare. So, matzo ball soup manufacturers, please feel free to make the appropriate changes to make the aforementioned products healthier, & I will gladly tout your matzo ball soup-related products to the skies. :) 

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