Cupcakes can be full of additives. Photo: Sarah Shull

Should food last so long?

The other day, Mr T Jr. cleared out his van and came across a box of assorted butterfly cupcakes. The label looked artisan and the look of the little cupcakes was what you expect from factory-made cakes. Coconut sprinkles, chocolate glazing and all looked perfect (for what it was).

I don’t have a sweet tooth, so said thanks but I’ll leave them for Mr T but Junior shook his head and pointed at the best before date – 3 December 2020! These were a year old! A year! Not a mark on them. Not a bit of mould. Nothing. As fresh looking as they were from the day they left the factory.

When I looked rather confused, he said he remembered even the day he purchased the box and it was indeed a year ago. He just forgot about them in the van.

Obviously, I had to have a look at the ingredient list and counted 19 (nineteen) E numbers. These numbers (the E stands simply for Europe) are codes for food additives and replace the actual name of the additive.

E492 (one of the 19) is sorbitan tristearate which is a dispersing agent which can be made from vegetable or animal fat and is entirely made in a laboratory. It is basically used as a stabiliser in baking.

Not all E numbers are as dubious as this one, some are indeed rather natural (E500 is sodium bicarbonate – baking soda for example) but I find it extremely scary that cupcakes (or indeed any food other than honey) can look as good and be as soft a year later than on the day of manufacturing.

The ingredient list on the pack was simply frightening and the thought that ingredients are hidden behind number codes simply angers me. There’s something to be said for home-baking. My grandmother used to say if she couldn’t pronounce an ingredient, she wouldn’t eat it – yes, she was one of the first people I met who read the label and asked uncomfortable questions.

How would she have fared with the vast amount of E numbers today? The FSAI (Food Safety Authority Ireland) has a list of E numbers on their website which features over 300 of them while Wikipedia shows a list of 400, divided into types.

What outrages me the most is the artisan bakery feel of the package. It looks like a local bakery around the corner or even a home baker’s creation while in fact it is made in a factory – misleading the customer into buying something that is assumed to be a good product.

Don’t get me wrong – these number have been approved across Europe so are thought to be safe for consumption but do we really need 19 of these added ingredients in one product?

And if so, should it not be advertised very clearly on the front of the package like ‘hey guys, this is almost plastic you are buying’.

Thankfully, bakeries are popping up again in our streets – let’s support these and their freshly made bakes instead of large food factories that only think of profit and not our enjoyment.