(Yes, I know, a bit fuzzy and not up to my usual quality for a picture. What can I say. Early morning, bad light, no coffee, and some, er, ‘intestinal distractions’… I may replace it with a better picture later).
Prgresso Screws the Pooch (or Haddock)…
For years I’ve eaten Progresso soups (especially their Clam Chowder). They had been good and ‘clean’ soups. Reading the label typically looked like what I would put in soup in the kitchen. Clam chowder would be things like: Clams, Milk, Potatoes, onions, butter, Salt, Pepper, … So I didn’t think much about it when the label on the front had changed just a bit. Yeah, a ‘facelift’. “Progresso” was written a bit smaller. A bit more color. The fine word “Traditional” oozing soothing comfort. A very prominent “Gluten Free” (so who in their right mind would be putting wheat in clam chowder anyway?). As one friend is Gluten intolerant and I’m fond of Clam Chowder, a half dozen cans went into the cart….
But no more.
OK, so they have hired a “new kid” who’s not a cook, but a “food scientist”.
IMHO, what has likely happened is they got big enough that using Grandma’s recipes on a large scale with only minor modifications for canning lost it’s charm. At some point a growing company hires a “food scientist” and suddenly the label starts to look like a page from Doctor Frankensteins Notebook. In this case, they sold out in about 1996 and it’s taken the purchaser a while to get around to screwing with the products.
http://www.progressosoup.com/progresso-soup-story.aspx confirms it as a family operation that got sold to Pillsbury in 1996, that then merged with General Mills in 2001. Guess they finally got around to buggering the product.
I’m going to try a couple of other stores and see if the ‘old soup’ is still lurking on some shelf, but it’s been a few months since I bought any, so most likely the whole inventory has turned over.
What’s on the new label? Plenty of stuff that is not “clams”…
Now, the big deal for me is that “corn protein (hydrolyzed)” down near the bottom of the ingredient list. I ‘have an issue” with corn. (Lets just say I’ll never need to buy Exlax again…)
So having read the Progresso Label for years, and always being pleased. I let my guard down. When? Who knows. A year ago? Just last week? Doesn’t really matter. We ate the soup, and a few hours later I’m “in the little room”.
But wait! There’s More!
The spouse has a different food allergy to a particular shell fish. (No, not clams, and not listed on the label). And SHE has a reaction. Now both of us had fairly mild forms of our reaction. That indicates the percentages are very low. But still “an issue”.
So I went to read the labels on everything we had eaten in the last 48 hours (that was mostly all home made from scratch so nothing to read… part of WHY I cook so much from scratch.) And ran right into a FrankenFoods Label.
Can anyone tell me what idiot would think CLAM chowder ought to be made with Soy, Lobster, Shrimp, Crab, Tuna, Cod, Blue Whiting, Haddock, Pollock, Halibut, AND Redfish?
Yeah, I know, it’s buried in the “fish powder”.
But that just means they took the floor sweepings (metaphorically speaking) of the fish packing industry, tossed it all in a vat, and after cooking and macerating, blew it out a nozzle to powder it. It’s still in there.
And none too cleanly, either. The spouse is NOT allergic to any of the listed species, but is horridly allergic (as in hospitalization scale) to a non-listed species. My best guess is that there were traces of that other mollusk in the system somewhere. Just enough that a single diphenhydramine cured the minor symptoms of throat scratch / tightness.
Freeze Dried, Cooked, Canned, Mystery Meats
OK, I know I’m going to be eating canned soup when I buy canned soup. I got that. But I don’t expect to be eating freeze dried soup when I buy canned soup. (the taste is different). So this lead me looking more closely at the rest of the label. What does it say about the “new” processing?
They have moved to blending up a lot of dried ingredients and calling it soup. They have gone to a lot of “cheapened” ingredients to avoid using real quality products.
Down the List:
Clam Broth. Fine with that.
Potatoes. Fine with that too, though in the #2 position it means we’re really getting clam flavored potato soup, not Clam Chowder. But all the canned stuff is like that. If I want real Clam Chowder, I make my own. Recipe is trivial: Clams (in broth), milk, onions sauteed in butter, salt, pepper, potatoes and / or a small bit of peas as I feel like it – but always less than the clams.)
Clams. Hey, in the #3 spot! Good! Decent level of clams. Now just put in some milk, butter, salt, pepper, maybe a bit of herbs and call it done! But no…
Soybean Oil: OK, I know soybeans are dirt cheap. But a lot of folks are allergic to them (like my niece – so she can’t eat this soup either…). And WHY put soybean oil in clam chowder? Because we’ve not run into “milk” yet. They are cheapening the product by substituting SOY fat for MILK fat. Maybe you won’t notice that it doesn’t have that buttery flavor.. or they can add a load of chemicals to simulate it… At any rate, when Soy is in #4 position, you have a problem. (Things are listed in order of concentration). I’m not thrilled at the idea that I’m mostly eating a can of potato water and soy oil with some clams to flavor it.
Water: Speaking of water… At #5 in addition to the water in the clam broth is more water. So we’re working our way up to a nice can of oily water with flavorings. There is never, ever, any reason to add water to CHOWDER. Most of the time you are trying to get it out to thicken the stuff or absorbed into a starch to thicken.
Modified Food Starch: Oh. That’s why we have the water. So the food starch can jell up and make a ‘white sauce’ of sorts. (Note that it does not say WHAT food starch. Corn? I hope not, but who knows. Now when I make chowder, I use potatoes for the starch, but that’s just me…)
So at this point we have a nice can of starchy oily water with some clams in it. But darned near no flavor. Guess that at this point they figured they would need to fix that. So it’s “off to the lab”.
Onions: Hip Hip Hurrah! A real ingredient. I sometimes put onions in my chowders too. “Without onions there would be cooking, but no cuisine”…
Then the dreaded “Less than 1% list”. Where lurks both spices and daemons. The things they add to fix bad ideas and lousy ingredients, and the things that add the spice of life. The things that tell you how the cook thinks. When you see “spices” and nothing else, it’s a pretty good sign (though it would be better if they listed what those spices were for those of us with allergy issues…)
Soy Protein Concentrate. Oh YUK! Not only have you lost all the soy allergic folks, but given cross reactions between the legumes you are likely to have some folks with other bean allergies having mild responses. And for what? Something to make it taste like there is real milk in it or more clams than really present?
Sugar. In chowder? Has to be there to fix a deficit in the ingredients they did use. Maybe the complete lack of Lactose due to not using milk? CLUE: Use Milk. There, now they have a clue…
Salt: OK. About the right place.
Cream and Butter: LESS of them than there is salt? Oh come off it. You are waving a bottle of milk near the can so you can put it on the label. That’s just legal fraud. You have soy oil / water emulsion with sugar in it, not milk, in the can. Man up and admit it. You have “plastic milk” as your soup base.
Sodium Phosphate: Added to control texture and flavor a bit. Makes canned milk keep better IIRC. OK, a necessary evil in most canned milk products. But you don’t really have any milk in the can… is it needed in Soy Emulsion too?
Potassium Chloride: Non-salt salt. No idea why… Perhaps so they can get the “sodium’ level down below some PC point for folks in the Salt Nazis to leave them alone?
Artificial Color? It’s CLAM CHOWDER fer crying out loud. It’s WHITE. All I can figure is they needed to make soy / oil emulsion look like milk instead of soy oil emulsion…
DATEM. What the hell is DATEM?
DATEM, (Diacetyl Tartaric (Acid) Ester of Monoglyceride) is an emulsifier primarily used in baking. It is used to strengthen the dough by building a strong …
Oh… something to turn the soy oil and water into a milk analog while toughening it up so it feels creamy instead of like oily water. Welcome to Dr. Frankensteins Laboratory…
News Flash: THAT is not a “Traditional” clam chowder…
OK, that’s the bulk of the rant. The rest of the list is an odd mix of things that just don’t belong being used to jack up the (missing) flavor and some proper spices (but all as dried ingredients… I’ve nothing against dried and use them often, but fresh is always better. And if you are canning a million tons of something you OUGHT to be able to get truckloads of fresh ingredients delivered…) So I’ll list them, but with minor comments, and not in order but in groups.
Lobster Powder, Shrimp, Crab Powder, Fish Powder, Tuna Extract. What ARE you thinking? I know, I know. You’ve got to do something to cover up the low level of clams used and the funky flavor of soy oil / water emulsion. But My God Man, are you TRYING to hit every possible sea food allergy in one go?
I’ve got a news flash for you: Allergies are SPECIES SPECIFIC. A friend can not eat abalone. All other shell fish are fine. Another can’t eat scallops, all others are fine. Another has an issue with shrimp, but not crabs. Get it? You are excluding every possible person with a sea food allergy of any kind from buying your product. (The abalone friend read the label and said “not going to risk it – too much mixing going on” ).
Oh, and those things are NOT CLAMS. If I want Lobster Bisque, I’ll buy Lobster Bisque. When I want Clam Chowder I want CLAM CHOWDER. (My god, you’d think clams were as rare as gold… )
Parsley, Celery: Fine. Nice touches in chowders. But DRIED? Look, parsley and celery are available year round now. And you use nearly none of it per can. Dump the Franken Fish, put in some real milk and more clams, and use fresh herbs. Add a dime to price of the can and we’re good.
Spice: Ah yes, the generic “spice” that hides seasoning secrets AND abuses. I’d guess your “spice” is MSG or something like that… not pepper or a real spice. Why? Because the rest of your label has made me paranoid. I now KNOW you have a FrankenFoods Fetish. So at this point I’m assuming the worst.
Yeast Extract, Corn Protein (Hydrolyzed): Added to improve the flavor of things that are dull and lifeless, like Soy Oil Emulsion. Drop them, put the milk back in.
Whey: A cheap product from butter making that is often fed to cows. Why is it there? Probably so you can put “MILK” in the warning list following the word “Contains”. Lord knows there isn’t any milk anywhere else in the ingredients. Yeah, you have “Cream” listed. Less than you have Salt. So what, two drops? Three?
So this is why it takes me 5 hours to do the grocery shopping and why I buy 4 dozen cans of something at a time. Because I have to read Every Single Label – Every Single Time. Because somewhere out there is Dr. FrankenFoods working to turn a fine old family recipe for a decent honest product into a Recipe From Hell that will make me and mine sick.
Congratulations, General Mills, you’ve succeeded.
There are a variety of ‘follow on’ consequences from this kind of event.
First off, since I now know that Dr. FrankenFoods is working on the Progresso Line EVERY SINGLE PROGRESSO SOUP is now CONTRABAND unless I’ve read the label and assure that it’s not a problem by eating it (since the label failed to predict the spousal reaction). So I’m shopping for a new brand…
(And it’s not just me. My spouse has told her sister, and her daughter who is allergic to soy. I’ve shown the can to my abalone friend. Offered him the half dozen cans for free, even. He declined due to the risk… And they will tell their friends… Of 7 folks in my home last night, only 2 would be able to eat it. My daughter and her SO. The “abalone friend”, me, my spouse, her sister and her sisters daughter could not. Each for a different reason. But my daughter doesn’t like clams and her SO is a vegetarian. So ZERO of us can / will eat the product.)
Since the spouse reacted, and her species was not on the list, I now get to add “fish powder” to the ‘problem ingredients’. Clearly either the folks making it are sloppy about perfection in cleaning, or about exactly which shell fish guts where what, or whatever. I can’t trust them in any case. (Yes, it could have been an alien in the clams or clam broth, but I doubt it… never had a problem with any other clam chowder before. What’s changed is the “fish powder”.)
Further: Since many restaurants no longer actually cook anything, they just “open the can and heat” or “microwave the TV dinner entre” I now get to play “20 Questions” with any restaurant that has “Clam Chowder” on the menu?
Is it Progresso brand or house made?
Does it contain “corn” in any form? “Fish Powder”?
etc. etc. Which means I’ll probably not bother to order clam chowder at any restaurant (unless I eat there often and I’m willing to put in the time to find out if they actually make it…)
Further, the same now goes for the spouse. Since she can no longer depend on the label to indicate what’s really in the can, she’ll not be ordering ‘fish soups’ either.
Now that means that when we want some (which we love) I’ll most likely be making it. Since I can do this easily with a hot plate, pot, can of clams, milk and potatoes; odds are we’ll just eat in the hotel room and not bother going to the restaurant at all. (At least when we want chowder).
So much damage from so little gain. Is it REALLY that hard to just use milk and clams in clam chowder?
Postscript on Allergies
For folks without allergies, you are most likely thinking “Glad I’m normal”.
What you don’t know is that allergies means we have an added immunoglobulin – igE. What igE does is give us a fast response / hyper response to foreign proteins. This confers, at a minimum, better resistance to parasites. It may also help with second exposures to some non-parasitic diseases. We trade comfort for survival. Not so important in a world of antibiotics and modern medicine; very valuable in a primitive world of little bugs trying to eat you…
I’ve had a lot of time to think about this Faustian Bargain. At the end of the day, I think I’d rather have the hyper immune response and the occasional food allergy or watery eyes. I’ve had various illnesses that I just fought off with no problem, while others had Doctor Time. The spouse had a flue last year that the Doctor said was almost certainly the Swine Flue H1N1, and it was mild at worst. So we just walk through most ‘bad’ infective agents.
Our ancestors survived The Plague in Europe, the Ague (Malaria) for generations in Britain, and God only knows what other wee beasties; all with no medicines. I’m “good with that”. And if I have to visit the little room a bit more often from time to time, well, I’m happy to know I can probably eat raw fish that was not handled right and the worms will end up in the pot, not living in me…
So it’s a bit of a burden, having a hair trigger immune system that goes “crazy open loop” on things. But it will be very much a feature as the antibiotic resistance genes circulating today become more widespread in bacteria…