- Press release
, François-Xavier Branthôme
For once, TomatoNews has decided to look at an issue that is non-quantifiable and very subjective, but which conditions the final purchase by consumers – the image of our processed products – through the particularly demanding lens of the specialized press... The results and comments that follow have been reproduced with very little alteration from a report published in the April 2019 issue of French magazine "60 Millions de Consommateurs" (60 Million Consumers). This report explored and analyzed the aisles of our supermarkets, carrying out a close examination and comparison of the contents of canned products, with an uncompromising and nonpartisan approach. Overall, although the lack of technical knowledge of the contributing editors undermined the opinions expressed to a certain extent, tomato products are nonetheless reported to benefit from a fairly positive objective reputation in terms of "quality" and "health". This report also confirms the acceptance of the value of antioxidants among the general public, which industrial operators used to consider in the past as off-putting for consumers.
"Tomatoes may have the reputation of being healthy food, but the industrial version does not always "comply with the contract". However, in their various processed forms, they can also be an excellent product."
Report published in "60 Millions de Consommateurs"
"In the sauce department, the tomato is king. Whether in paste form, as purée or as an ingredient in sauces (basil, Provençal, Neapolitan, Bolognese, etc.), processed tomato has the advantage of being adaptable to all kinds of pasta sauces, pizzas and other dishes, and it makes cooking an easier task. But such a 100% industrially processed product causes a degree of distrust among consumers, both with regards to the origin of tomatoes and to their quality. So we have carried out a series of analyses that examine about 50 different tomato-based sauces.
The industry "could do better" in terms of pesticide residues
It comes as no surprise that with a fruit that is largely grown with an intensive agriculture approach, more than half of the items analyzed presented at least one pesticide residue, and as many as four different residues for two basil-flavored tomato sauces (Leader Price and Marius Bernard) and one double-concentrated tomato paste (Leader Price).
These product families were actually the least pure of the different items analyzed, with a respective average of 1.6 residue for the first two sauces and 2.4 residue for double-concentrated tomato pastes.
It is a fact that total pesticide residue contents remain well below regulatory levels, but the very presence of molecules suspected of being endocrine disruptors is a cause for concern, especially with a substance like carbendazim, the use of which is banned in the European Union, but which is tolerated as a residue. Our analyses detected trace levels of this substance in the Panzani basil-flavored sauce. Furthermore, doubts have been expressed regarding propamocarb, a fungicide that was found in close on 20 of the references analyzed in all four product families. In fact, only Provençal-style sauces came out clean with regard to this criterion... except for the Leader Price organic sauce, which can be considered as the exception to the rule, as all other organic sauces tested negative for pesticides.
According to the study carried out by the magazine, most sauces contain too much salt
Tomato is known particularly for its contents of antioxidants like lycopene, and is therefore considered a prime healthy food. But this feature is not so clear-cut for industrially processed tomato sauces.
The main reason is that the vast majority of them are too salty. For the sauces analyzed in our survey, the average salt content varied from 0.92 to 1 g /100 g, with the record being held by Lidl's Neapolitan Combino bio organic sauce: with 1.5 g of salt /100 g of sauce, one portion corresponds to 30% of our daily salt requirement (5 g per day according to the WHO)!
Close behind came another Neapolitan sauce, by Delicato (1.2 g /100 g), and several other references at 1.1 g of salt /100 g (Monoprix Neapolitan sauce, Marius Bernard basil-flavored sauce and five Provençal-style sauces).
It should be remembered that salt ingested in excessive quantities, whether from the salt-shaker or from consuming prepared meats, cheese, bread and industrially processed foods, is harmful for the cardiovascular system.
However, a few (rare) products were notable for their good results, particularly the double-concentrated tomato paste products (on average 0.62 g of salt /100 g).
Natural sugars... and added sugars
Tomato naturally contains sugars. But processors almost always add sugars in order to correct the acidity of the sauce. According to our analyses, these added sugars represent approximately half of the recorded sugar content. The only sauces that were not affected by this issue were the Provençal sauce by Maison Prosain and three basil sauces (Italians do it better, Rummo, Naturalia).
Although double-concentrated pastes, particularly the Cirio brand (15.3 g /100 g), were the worst with regard to this criteria (with contents approximately twice as high as the other ranges of sauces), at least they were natural sugars that only came from the tomatoes themselves. This was confirmed by our analyses.
That said, the small quantities of double-concentrated paste that most people use in cooking generally limit the doses of sugars ingested. In any case, these products cannot be considered as "sugar bombs". One portion of 100 g of industrially processed tomato sauce provides on average the equivalent of one sugar cube (5-6 grams).
Regarding the number of different ingredients...
As they are processed products, tomato sauces can feature long lists of ingredients and additives. As for ingredients, they can vary widely in number from one product to another, between six ingredients for the "Italians do it better" basil sauce and sixteen ingredients for the Reflets de France Provençal-style sauce. In addition to tomato pulp and purée, or paste, ingredients usually include fresh vegetables, sunflower-seed oil (or occasionally olive oil), salt, sugar (or sometimes glucose-fructose syrup).
As for additives, double-concentrated sauces gave nothing but satisfaction and, to a lesser extent, so did basil-flavored tomato sauces, over half of which were completely exempt from such added substances. The most frequently found additives were nothing more than citric acid, an acidity corrector, and texturing agents like modified starches from wheat, corn or potato. These substances help to adjust the texture, which is a useful ploy for manufacturers who want to save on actual tomatoes by adding water...
A good source of antioxidants
Lycopene is the red pigment in tomatoes. Of all the carotenoids, lycopene is the one that has the strongest antioxidant effect. Whereas the content levels of other nutrients contained in fruit and vegetables decrease with cooking (as is the case with vitamin C), cooking increases the levels of bioavailable lycopene in tomato preparations.
• Tomato sauce contains approximately 13.5 mg of bioavailable lycopene per 100 g, double-concentrated paste contains approximately 40 mg per 100 g, compared to only 3 to 5 mg per 100 g of raw tomato.
• In recent years, a number of beneficial effects have been attributed to lycopene, notably the prevention of prostate cancer and atherosclerosis. The actual mechanisms remain to be clarified.
• More than half of our 49 references contained at least one pesticide residue. But the pesticide levels nonetheless remained well within regulatory limits. Except for one reference, organic "bio range" sauces were proved to be satisfactory in that respect.
• Almost all of the sauces contained too much salt, with an average of 1 g of salt for 100 g of sauce.
• Although the ingredients lists were sometimes quite long, they contained very few additives and no preservatives. This is good news.
Some complementary data
Comparative tests carried out by our research centers
Four types of sauces were put through the tests of our analyses: 14 basil-flavored tomato sauces, 13 Provençal-style tomato sauces, 14 Neapolitan tomato sauces and 8 double-concentrated tomato pastes.
• 330 pesticide residues that are commonly used in agriculture and fruit and vegetable processing were sought by gas and liquid chromatography, coupled with tandem mass spectrometry.
• As for composition, our lab-technicians were seeking the presence, and sometimes the levels, of several preservatives (sorbates, benzoates, parahydroxybenzoates, sulfites), lycopene (a recognized antioxidant micronutrient), and sugars that might have been added in the event of fraud. In addition, the lists of ingredients were evaluated on the basis of product labels.
• As for the nutritional aspect, specialized analyses were carried out on the basis of the nutritional charts available on the labels, targeting the contents of salt, sugars and fats. Because fats were not a discriminating factor in this instance, they do not feature on the chart.
The periodical magazine 60 Millions de Consommateurs (previously 50 Millions de Consommateurs) and its website 60millions-mag.com are published by the INC (National Institute of Consumption), whose main missions include "gathering, producing, analyzing and publishing information, studies, surveys, and reports." The INC has a specific status as a public establishment with an industrial and commercial mandate, under the supervision of the Ministry in charge of consumption. "60 Millions de Consommateurs" is produced by professional journalists who work in close collaboration with INC engineers, legal advisers, economists and press officers.
The magazine and its website have the principle of never including commercial advertisement, in order to guarantee their editorial independence with regard to manufacturers and distributors."
Source: 60 MILLIONS DE CONSOMMATEURS - N° 547 / APRIL 2019, pages 25-31, midilibre.fr